Simply Elegant puts life in corporate parties

Making It Simple For Businesses

Mario Toneguzzi

Monday, September 07, 2009

Small Business

Simply Elegant – Owner and CEO: Robert Vidra; – Location: #6, 3600 19th St. N. E.; – Phone: 403-242-0598; – Website:; – Founded: 1996; – Employees: 10 full-time, 30 part-time; – Description: Catering and event management company.

Robert Vidra throws great parties.

It’s actually his full-time business venture through Simply Elegant, which started as a catering company in 1996 and now has grown into a multi-faceted enterprise also encompassing event management.

“We are a full-service company. We work primarily in the corporate industry working with our clients to provide products for their needs, for their marketing, for their employees, for customer relations, employee retention. Those are the things we’re here for, ” says Robert Vidra, founder and CEO of Simply Elegant.

The company began in a small location on CFB Calgary land. Vidra says Simply Elegant started as a catering company with full intentions of expanding beyond catering to full event management. Today it has moved into other divisions which include event management, professional services and decor.

“We handle every single part of a party,” says Vidra. “The normal catering company handles just the food and that’s it. I never did. I grew up very differently. My mom’s a really good cook. Everything was garnished . . . So basically everything I did was always done way more than normal. People started recognizing that our strength was not just food. It was bringing on a party.”

The event management side of the business was a natural extension of the catering business. It began about two years ago.

Related reading:  News: Calgary Event Planners Swamped

Vidra moved the Simply Elegant operation to its current 5,000-square-foot location in northeast Calgary in 2002.

There are currently 10 full-time employees and about 30 part-time employees.
The part-time complement is flexible depending on business. There are three full-time chefs and a number of prep cooks.

Simply Elegant handles corporate meal catering. It also does full appetizer parties, which can be from butler service to help-yourself.

The company also handles weddings, corporate events such as annual general meetings, marketing campaigns and charities. It also does dinners at people’s homes.

“We’ve done really high-end corporate parties for $500 to $600 a plate where we’re going in and it’s a serious, serious schmooze where these companies are bringing in serious people to do major business and they need to impress,” says Vidra. “And that could be small, like about 25 people.”

The biggest event management job Simply Elegant has had was the Airdrie Regional Airshow in July with about 15,000 people. The company handled all the food, power and tents, as well as organizing the logistics of the show.

Simply Elegant has handled weddings costing $100,000.

“We’ve done the whole gamut,” says Vidra.

“A lot of companies have set menus. Nothing in this company is set. Everything is free-flowing . . . Every single day our chefs create completely new menus, which means that we have really well trained staff here.
“We don’t have recipes. Everything is off the cuff. And everything is highly creative and the reason is because our clients get so bored. They’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve had that before.’ The end result is what we’ve built is a business which is based on last-minute. We can put together a cocktail party for 150 people with probably four hours notice.”

Related reading:  Brenda Strafford Society

The catering side of the business serves about 75,000 people in a year, on average. On any given day, Simply Elegant produces about 250 to 300 meals between breakfast and lunch. That’s a far cry from its beginnings.

When asked if he recalls how many people he served through the catering business in the company’s formative year, Vidra sheepishly laughs: “20.”

The event management side of the business also works with other companies with specific work contracted out.
Simply Elegant is based in Calgary but does work in Edmonton and is looking at doing work in Vancouver and Toronto.

Vidra says since January, he’s put all his resources into re-defining the company. The website is being redesigned. Logos have changed.

When asked how much his business has grown from its humble roots 13 years ago, Vidra chuckles.
“This is what floors me,” says the 46-year-old born and raised Calgarian. “I used to tell my friends ‘you know what, if I made $50,000 a year and I had a kitchen that was 500 square feet, my life would be content.’ That was 1996.

“The business has changed my life. It’s given me so many opportunities that I never thought I’d ever do.”


© The Calgary Herald 2009