Friday, January 27, 2017

Local caterer ties the knot on consistency


by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

 If you’ve attended a banquet, wedding reception, chamber luncheon or corporate event in the Kansas City area where food was served, chances are you’ve tasted Affordable Elegance’s food. In 1997, Greg and Dee-Dee Stokes rented space in a building in Raymore and combined their talents to begin what is now a nationally-recognized operation.

With Dee-Dee’s background in catering and Greg’s background in the kitchen, the pair realized after working together on a job that they should be partners. After their first event, the two had their first date and were married six months later.

“We always know the anniversary of our first date because it was a Cinco de Mayo party,” said Dee-Dee. “The client wanted an on-site fajita bar, which was way out of my league, so Greg and I partnered on it. We went out for drinks afterward, and that was that.”

Working in restaurants since he was a teen, Greg began washing dishes and worked his way through different positions at a variety of restaurants, learning the ropes as he went along. Working as Affordable Elegance’s head chef, Greg says that his favorite thing to make is good food.

Affordable Elegance provides custom catering for all occasions, as their tagline suggests. The Stokeses tell their employees that a fringe benefit of working for them is that while they are able to eat a lot of really good food, they also have the opportunity to make people happy.

“We talk about offering brown-bags to black-tie,” said Dee-Dee. “Though, we’ve never really done brown bags, we have done a white bag, and a lot of black-ties. We never worry about whether or not the food will be good. We’ve got it down now, it just doesn’t happen. We can go out confident that everyone will be happy at the end of the day.”

A jack-of-all-food-trades, Greg offers clients the flexibility to customize menus for each event. Affordable Elegance is also a full-service catering business. Dee-Dee explains that they can provide as little or as much as the clients need.

“Some bridal clients just need us to do the food. They might have a venue that provides linens and bar service, or an Aunt Sally that makes cakes. We can help with the food,” said Dee-Dee. “Other clients may need all of those things, and we can be a one-stop shop for them.”

For six consecutive years, Affordable Elegance has been named as one of TheKnot.com’s Best of Weddings vendors, and is included in the Best of Weddings Hall of Fame. The Knot Best of Weddings 2017 provides a “by brides, for brides” guide to the top wedding professionals across the country and is a supplier for selecting the best-of-the-best wedding resources.

“There are not very many jobs out there where almost every day, someone tells you how good you are,” said Dee-Dee. “But, that happens with us. It keeps us motivated and keeps us coming back and doing what we love to do.”

At Affordable Elegance, they pride themselves on consistency. Dee-Dee believes that is why clients return, and that is why they have maintained five-star reviews from their brides. Their business receives inquiries from people through TheKnot.com each day.

“On-time, every time. Good food, every time,” said Dee-Dee. “If you ordered chicken spiedini this month, and a few months from now you order it again, it’s going to be the same. While consistency doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting, it is important. People will stop visiting certain restaurants because of inconsistency. It’s our job to remain the same.”

Affordable Elegance employs around a dozen full-time staff, and a number of part-timers. Nearly six years ago, the couple opened Gregory’s Sunday Brunch. Open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday, the brunch offers a buffet of breakfast and lunch items, including a made-to-order omelet bar, salad bar, homemade pastries, bananas foster French toast and chocolate chip bread pudding.

“I say our brunch is the best-kept secret in Kansas City,” said Greg. “We try to give our guests a good meal at a fair price, and that’s what our catering business is modeled after, as well.”

Because of the size of the Raymore restaurant, Gregory’s can accommodate larger groups up to 200 people, and the space is also available for special events and private parties throughout the week.

“People remember food, fellowship and fun,” said Dee-Dee. “Good food and plenty of it, fellowship with those we care about and a fun environment. I tend to think whether you have long linen or short linen, a square table or a round table, none of those things is as important as food, fellowship and fun.”

Greg and Dee-Dee Stokes also have a heart for community service, and give back whenever feasible. Food leftovers that are not given to clients are donated to a local ministry to help serve a community meal. Last year, over 5,000 meals were served with food Affordable Elegance provided to that ministry.

“We are blessed to have this business, and we make giving a priority,” said Dee-Dee. “We try as hard as we can to meet budgets realistically, and we donate to auctions and other civic events.”

Affordable Elegance, located at 407 W Pine Street in Raymore, can be contacted at 816-331-4528 or at www.affordableelegancecatering.com. Gregory’s Sunday Brunch, at 401 W Pine Street in Raymore, can be found at www.brunchkc.com.

“I do this because I love what I do,” said Greg. “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. If I wanted to go dig ditches for a living, that’s what I’d go and do. But I’m here because I love doing this every day.”

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