Steve Fortunato, Founder
Starting a business by taking 9 months to build tables isn't usually how companies are started, but when it comes to meals, for Steve Fortunato it's all about the table. In early 2007, Fortunato set out to open an up-scale neighborhood bistro, called roomforty. “Picture the tavern room at Gramercy Tavern”. A friend suggested he do some dinner parties to build a customer base for the restaurant, and as a twist, he invited Palmina wines to join in the first evening, and paired 5 wines with 5 courses. The juxtaposition of fine food and wine, against the ‘backyard atmosphere’ resonated with the attendees, and soon there was a calendar of un-orthodox winemaker dinners on tap. While restaurant property negotiations and costly design schematics plodded along slowly, winemakers began lining up to come to a roomforty dinner, attendees were spreading the word to friends, and before “pop-up dining” was the hot topic on food blogs, a grassroots movement in dining was taking shape. Soon, dinner party guests were requesting roomforty for weddings, milestone birthdays, and food-centered soirees. The long held pre-conceived notions and connotations of “catering” held by Fortunato and his gang from their fine dining restaurant days, kept the vision of a restaurant in full view—and the roster of catered events as a means to an end.
Circumstances converged however, and Fortunato realized there could be an approach to catering other than what he and his team refer to as “scoop and plop”. He had stumbled onto a business model—continuing with the pop-up winemaker dinners, to keep him, his team, and their ‘early adopters’ inspired, while leveraging that inspiration, innovation and creativity on behalf of private catering clients. roomforty was slow to embrace the word “catering” due to it’s desire to distance itself from the normal catering approach. Fortunato describes this as, “the dumbest business decision I’ve ever made” as roomforty pop-up guests would come to winemaker dinners telling horror stories of the catering they’d “just hired to do my wedding”. Realizing his team’s expertise in pairing food and wine, their passion for service and hospitality, and their determination that catered cuisine should inspire as much as restaurant cuisine, Fortunato knew roomforty offered something fresh in the events industry, and decided to fully embrace catering as the business of roomforty.