Catering by Design has lost over 700 bookings since the pandemic began last March. “I’ve wanted to open a taqueria for about 10 years now,” said chef Roth Perelman last week, “but if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Peter Loevy, founder of Catering by Design (CBD), a firm that has been catering weddings and other events that have fed from two to 2,000 people at a time, has lost over 700 bookings since the pandemic began last March. In recent years they have averaged 130 weddings a year plus major events for museums, the Philadelphia College of Physicians, etc. “We lost 75 percent of our business,” said Peter, 64, whose firm has been headquartered at 18 W. Hortter St. in West Mt. Airy since 2009, although the company is 30 years old, starting in East Falls and spending several years in Conshohocken before moving to Mt. Airy.
Loevy, a 1979 graduate of the Philadelphia Restaurant School who worked in 16 restaurants before starting CBD, had employed more than 100 part-time employees and 25 full-time employees, 14 of whom he was able to keep working by starting a philanthropic program called Step Up to the Plate. Aided by donations, the program started providing 8,000 meals a week to homeless people as well as low-income residents of the Kensington area in early April. They are still providing about 2,500 meals a week to those recipients.
Also, the lost bookings gave Loevy and his executive chef, Roth Perelman, the time to pursue a dream of theirs — to open a Mexican and Asian fusion restaurant, DOHO (Dough Hortter) Taqueria, on the first floor of their massive Mt. Airy property, across the street from a five-story apartment complex that is under construction.
“I’ve wanted to open a taqueria for about 10 years now,” said chef Perelman last week, “but if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.” Working with the chefs in the kitchen, recipes were perfected, including their reimagining of the taco made with bao bun dough, which is much softer than the traditional taco pocket.
After a trial period, Loevy and Perelman had a grand opening on Jan. 12. For now, DOHO Taqueria is open only for takeout and delivery within a five-mile radius (“It has been about 50-50 so far,” said Loevy), but they also plan to open a sit-down restaurant on the premises with a liquor license in a few months that would seat about 40 diners. “Nobody knows how it will work,” said Loevy, “but we are crazy that way, or we wouldn't be caterers. Mt. Airy is a great area that Mt. Airy people are passionate about, but it has been underserved when it comes to restaurants.”
Roth, 38, a Roxborough resident and graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, previously worked as a chef at upscale restaurants such as Blackfish in Conshohocken and for the legendary Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who has a very upscale eponymous restaurant in the new Four Seasons Hotel in center city.
DOHO Taqueria’s logo and other icons were created through collaboration with high school students from Mural Arts’ “Artrepreneur” program and their director, Jane Golden. “I can't say enough good things about those kids,” said Loevy. “They will also be helping us by creating art for the walls of our new restaurant and other graphic art projects … I once said I would never own a restaurant, but I’ve never lived through another pandemic that canceled over 700 events!”
As of Jan. 16, there were six comments on yelp.com about DOHO Taqueria, which has a big off-street parking lot adjacent to the building. Five “reviewers” gave it five stars, the highest grade. Here is a typical review from Erin C., of Mt. Airy: “I'm so happy my husband and I tried this place. It's not a straight-up taco joint, so don't go in expecting that. The flavors have Asian influence, and it makes for a really tasty and interesting taco take … The plantains were some of the best I've had. I want to build a house out of them and live there.”
The sixth reviewer, Lindsey M.A., wrote, “I told my SO (Significant Other) that it's the kind of meal you'd think was incredible if you just smoked a ton of weed. Otherwise, it's kind of weird, and everything has a sweet component. Yeah, so if you're in your 20s and stoned, you'll probably love it.”
I don't quite understand that one, but we sampled several of the dishes, and there was not a joker in the deck, and the quality and quantity are remarkable for the price. For $50 we had enough food for two-and-a-half dinners for two. Some of the dishes we thought were absolutely sublime were the sweet plantains ($7), Napa salad ($6), rice and beans ($5), umami mushroom bowl ($11), shrimp tempura bowl ($12) and cheesecake bites ($5).
For more information, visit dohotaqueria.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org