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INSIDE DISH: Fairgrounds caterer revels in year-round gig

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Inside Dish

Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

With the Indiana State Fair in full swing, "Inside Dish" switches its focus a bit this week to catering. It might not occur to Indiana State Fair visitors gorging on country-fried bacon at the Barto's Catering & Concessions booths that the Fairgrounds buzz year-round with events that require food-and-beverage service. Barto's is the main caterer for the Fairgrounds throughout the year, in addition to running concession booths during the fair and other events. It's headquartered in the Farm Bureau Building with a 2,500-square-foot kitchen that can feed thousands per meal, plus event rooms that together can seat close to 1,000 people.

Owner John Barto, 51, started the business in 1990, after serving a managerial apprenticeship of sorts with the building's previous occupant, Berry's Banquets and Concessions. With $1,000 borrowed from his father to purchase equipment, Barto contracted with the Indiana State Fair Commission to take over the facility and began providing food at the Fairgrounds. Family and friends helped with staffing, and Berry's loaned him some additional equipment.

Barto's also provides catering for all manner of events outside the Fairgrounds, as big as the Indianapolis Air Show and as tiny as a backyard tea party for pre-teen girls. "How could I turn that down?" Barto said.

In the video below, Barto discusses starting the firm from scratch, the broad scope of events he now serves, and how the recession has tightened his customers' purse strings.



 

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Barto's Catering & Concessions
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The Farm Bureau Building on the Indiana State Fairgrounds, 1202 E. 38th St.
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(317) 926-4936
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www.thefoodguys.net
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Concept: Headquartered on the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Barto's is the Fairgrounds' main on-site caterer for events year-round. It also offers catering services for off-premises events.
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Founded: 1990
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Owner: John Barto
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Start-up costs: $1,000 (with some equipment loaned from John Barto's previous employer and staffing help from friends and family)
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Sales/profit: $1.2 million in gross sales/$87,500 in profit (2008); $902,000 in gross sales/broke even (2009). Gross sales for January through June 2010: $546,000.
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Employees: 5 full-time employees, with other workers hired as contractual labor as needed
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Seating: The Farm Bureau Building contains event rooms that can seat close to 1,000 people, but Barto's can provide catering for other indoor and outdoor spaces on the Fairgrounds as well.
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Goals: To better market the Normandy Barn facility on the north side of the Fairgrounds as an event locale, capable of seating about 150.
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Good to know:  Off-premises catering gigs not connected to the Fairgrounds account for about 20 percent of Barto's total sales.
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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.

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