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Martin's set to uncork 6th banquet hall

As of Wednesday, just two days before a wedding and a high school prom, just three days before a 400-person Greek wedding, dozens of tradesmen scrambled to finish the first new Martin's Inc. banquet hall in two decades.

Workers installed gold railings on a sweeping staircase. Paperhangers smoothed wallpaper into place in the grand lobby. Faux painters re-created one of the ballroom's ornate walls onto a huge room divider, brushing on intricate veins of marble and mirrored panels.

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In the ballroom of the new Valley Mansion by Martin's in Cockeysville, Martin Resnick, founder of the 43-year-old catering business, was surrounded by stacks of plastic-covered chairs and leafy plants yet to be arranged. His staff busily set up the kitchen and arranged glasses, plates and coffee cups to comply with a Resnick-devised color-coded system in the storerooms.

It seemed like a million details were left to be checked before the first partygoers arrive tonight. But Resnick relishes handling the details of a business that he says has been built on details, one that has grown from a single catering hall in Towson where Resnick's mother prepared cold buffets and his wife checked coats to the state's largest privately owned catering company.

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Today, Martin's boasts six locations, 800 employees and $32.5 million in annual sales. It has been the host for corporate conferences, political gatherings and private parties serving from 25 people to 5,000, and it is safe to say many Baltimore area residents have attended an event at a Martin's facility at some point.

The business is now evenly divided among conferences, trade shows and meetings; private parties; political fundraisers; corporate-sponsored and fraternal organization events, with Resnick's son, Wayne, as chief executive.

Martin's is estimated to be among the top 10 grossing privately owned catering companies in the country, said Michael Roman, president of catersource, a trade association of professional caterers based in Chicago.

"Certainly he would be a major player," Roman said of Resnick. "The most important thing about Martin's and Marty is he invented the new concepts of marketing, selling and performing what we call banquet service. It's an entertainment factor. He certainly has always had outstanding food, but what Martin pioneered is making customers and guests feel special."

Resnick won't let his staff use the word "small" to describe any detail.

"There is nothing small when it comes to a party," said Resnick on Wednesday, surveying the new, 1,300-person Cockeysville hall with its gleaming black granite floor, crystal chandeliers and illuminated plaster ceiling moldings that he and his son personally selected. "It is a detail crazy company."

That's precisely why bride-to-be Tricia Trintas chose to help break in the first new ground-up Martin's facility since Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt was built in 1986.

She's confident nothing will be left to chance tomorrow at her sit-down reception for 400, featuring crab cakes and prime rib, a champagne bar and a chocolate fountain. No matter that this newest $12 million hall was merely a demolition site when Trintas booked her reception in September. Or that it's not quite done - yet.

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'I am not nervous'

"I am not nervous about that," said Trintas who said her large Greek family, in the restaurant and catering business themselves, has turned to Martin's facility's again and again for christenings, weddings and engagement parties, lured back by attentive service, good food and an atmosphere of elegance.

Trintas also organized her five-year high school reunion at a Martin's.

"I cannot imagine having my wedding anywhere else," she said. "Everyone keeps telling me, 'You're so calm, you should be all wound up.' But not only will it be done, it will be fabulous."

For years, the Maryland Society of Accountants has scheduled its educational seminars at Martin's facilities, typically serving breakfast and a sit-down lunch to attendees about a dozen times a year.

"We go back to Martin's year after year because they're fantastic to work with, very conscientious," said Sandy Steinwedel,a coordinator for the society, which is headquartered in Westminster.

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The catering business is something of a second career for Resnick, himself the son of a caterer. He was a 32-year-old buyer for the Hecht Co. department store chain in 1964 when he opened his first banquet hall, Eudowood Gardens, in a Towson shopping center.

He got started with a $15,000 loan from the Small Business Administration and some savings. Resnick's mother, Esther, cooked, mostly food for cold buffets. His wife, Thalia, recalls how she not only helped with the food, but checked coats and washed dishes. The business served more than 50,000 in its first year.

Resnick, 75, credits his company's growth to the return business of satisfied customers, loyalty of longtime employees and tight control over every aspect of the operation.

He devised the form, known to every staff member as the MSWDMAM (Make Sure We Don't Make Any Mistakes) that each bride and groom fill out, specifying everything from the bridal party colors to whether the bride will bring her own cake knife. His managers send out questionnaires to every host after every event seeking comments, good and bad.

"We never had a customer complaint that has not been justified," Resnick said.

Kathy Summers, Martin's regional sales manager, said some complaints have had to do with servers' fast-paced clearing of tables, which they are trained to do to keep dishes from piling up at tables.

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Any host who checks off "unsatisfactory" or even "satisfactory" in response to a question is contacted by phone and any complaints are brought up and responded to at manager meetings,.

Typically, she said, "they're stunned," to get the call.

As for employee loyalty, Resnick is proud to say his nine vice presidents have been with the company an average of 21 years; his 15 general managers and assistant general managers have been around 24 years, and the tenure of the 64 sales and office staff averages 17 years.

Even servers, the wait staff, bartenders and porters, average a dozen years with the company, and cooks and the kitchen staff have an average tenure of 17 years.

Early on, because many of Resnick's friends and family members were members of unions, he brought union organizers in who signed up his waiters and kitchen workers. It helped to bring in some union and political business, but also has contributed to employee retention, he said.

'A good relationship'

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"It's been a good relationship, and it helps us because our people ... have health insurance and other benefits, and it helps us to get a better caliber of person and is why they stay with us," Resnick said.

Resnick says he tries to treat staff like family. None appear to think anything of his habit of hugging each employee he encounters each day.

"When you get hugged by the owner," said Charles Pinter, banquet manager at Valley Mansion, "that's good."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Martin's at a glance

Founded:

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By Martin Resnick in 1964

New location:

Valley Mansion by Martin's

Size:

44,000 square feet

Capacity:

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1,300 sit-down

Cost: $12 million

Other locations:

Martin's West, Woodlawn; Martin's East, Pulaski Highway; Martin's Crosswinds, Greenbelt; Martin's at Walkersville, Frederick County; Martin's Westminster.

Annual sales:

$32.5 million

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Employees:

214 full time, 596 part time

Payroll:

More than $10.6 million

Annual food, food services purchases:

$8 million

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Catered events in 2006:

3,600

Biggest food purchases in 2006:

150,000 pounds of chicken; 115,000 pounds of prime rib; 40,000 pounds of crabmeat

[Source: Martin's Inc.]


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