An upscale grab-and-go meal program launched during the pandemic has been a massive hit at a destination-worthy spot in Washington state’s Woodinville Wine Country.

A Recipe For Resilience

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve heard countless stories of chefs and restaurants reinventing themselves to stay afloat during these stressful times. Many gracefully made the shift to take-out and socially distanced in-person dining.

But what about catering companies that rely on events? Some reports show business down by 80 to 90 percent.

Before the pandemic, the future looked especially bright for A Platinum Event Catering based in Redmond, Wash., not far from the Microsoft campus. The small family-owned and operated company was on board to be the featured food purveyor for the award-winning DeLILLE Cellars in its stunning new tasting room space in the ever-expanding Woodinville Wine Country, 20 miles east of Seattle.

“We’ve had a great relationship with Platinum that goes back to the early 2000s, our go-to for private dinners and corporate events,” said Tom Dugan, DeLILLE’s CEO. “When they came to us with the Date Night Dinner idea, we said, sure, let’s try it.”

Nobody had any idea what a hit it would prove to be.

Picking up at DeLILLE Cellars

DeLILLE Cellars has long been recognized as one of Washington state’s top wineries, its reputation for spectacular Bordeaux and Rhone blends earning high scores and awards from respected wine critics.

One of DeLILLE’s founders, Jay Soloff, has been a tireless advocate from the start for partnering with wine-savvy folks in the food industry. That wasn’t always an easy sell in the early days, but early adopters of the date night concept included heavy hitters such as Metropolitan Grill and El Gaucho Steakhouse. A thick, juicy slab of beef paired up with the sophisticated reds from DeLILLE proved to be popular.

With the pandemic lockdown in place, Date Night at DeLILLE went in a takeout direction. Shortly after it was launched early this summer, cars lined up in the parking lot for contactless pickup. “It was hugely successful,” Dugan said.

There was a big bonus to both businesses as loyal customers made new discoveries. “This has brought in some guests who were new to us and the other way around,” Dugan said.

Since its inception, there have been more than 5,000 Date Night meals served. Not exactly a massive number unless considering the small size of the crew putting these five-course feasts together.

Dinner is served

Chef Michael Toni has been in the catering business for more than 20 years, often working with wineries. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Toni’s early kitchen gigs included Wolfgang Puck’s groundbreaking Postrio in San Francisco. (That spot shuttered in 2009.)

Looking at a bleak summer season, Toni approached the team at DeLILLE with the Date Night Dinner project. After the deal was struck, the chef had to revamp his commissary kitchen to accommodate the large numbers of meals for two that were prepared.

While the weekly numbers have dropped slightly since more dining options opened up, the Friday feast has become a tradition for many. Menus are posted early in the week, with online ordering offered.

The five-course feasts are made to be paired with the wines that accompany each order. Think about a perfectly seasoned shrimp pasta with seasonal veggies alongside DeLILLE’s beloved Chaleur Estates white blend.

“That’s the benefit of working together for so long,” Toni said. “We know and love their wines and know what will work well together.”

The generously portioned meals are packed in containers that are meant to be popped in the oven to finish or reheated on the stovetop. Detailed instructions are included.

The tab? Astonishingly inexpensive, especially given the quality. Dinner for two, with two bottles of wine is around $100.

“We’ve surveyed customers and everyone wants it to continue,” Dugan said.

Cheers to that!

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