by Sarah Lessing, Shalom New Haven Staff Writer
When one mentions Abel Caterers, the first thought that comes to mind is likely the mouth-watering foods and diverse options that Meredith Abel and her creative team have put together to tantalize the taste buds. As the fourth-generation owner of a successful family business, she shares with us the story of her business, her strong commitment to the community and the Jewish values she relies on.
FAMILY SPIRIT AND STRONG JEWISH VALUES
“That's always a fun story to tell,” she says with a smile in her voice when questioned on the birth of the business. Meredith Abel’s great grandfather, along with her grandmother, had a kosher catering business in Baltimore, Maryland.
“My father, Neil Abel, came to New Haven in 1971 to attend school and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America,” Meredith explains. In 1972, the New Haven Jewish community gave him a platform for a catering business. In the following decades, through hard work and dedication, Abel Caterers established itself as a household name within the Jewish community. Following Neil Abel’s passing in 2007, and while in the midst of applying for Ph.D. programs in history, Meredith made the decision to honor her family legacy and chose to jump into the business.
“It was a difficult transition, but the community was very good to me,” she recalls. “The Jewish Federation, the JCC, Ezra Academy and other organizations all helped to get me on my feet. Even with the crash in 2008, it took time to rebound from that. But we did it.”
Catering quickly became Meredith’s passion; word spread beyond the local community. Abel Caterers is now using creativity and a commitment to quality to serve innovative kosher cuisine from Boston to New York City. “We have been in business in New Haven for 48 years, and we are looking forward to celebrating 50 years in 2022,” she says enthusiastically.
Abel Caterers’ Jewish identity goes beyond providing high-quality kosher food. The Jewish values Meredith learned from her father hold a special place in her life. “I was raised to do mitzvot (good deeds); there has been a tzedakah box (collection box for charity) near me since the day I was born,” she says. “Being raised in this community gives you the feeling of belonging for life.”
Meredith is involved personally in many local and national Jewish organizations, including sitting on the boards of the JCC and Ezra Academy, and being a Lion of Judah with the Women’s Philanthropy. Being the local kosher caterer is a role she takes seriously. With almost no other local kosher options, Meredith is happy to make food for the community, whether it’s a dinner for four or a wedding. Cafe 360, located in the JCC of Greater New Haven, offers a selection of Abel Caterers’ products, allowing guests easy access to delicious kosher options.
BRINGING THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER
Abel Caterers started as a family business, and that family has since grown to include the entire community. “I was raised to be part of a kosher community. We know how important it is for some people to keep kosher and to have access to kosher food; that’s why we have a kosher certification,” Meredith says. “My father taught me it is important to have a way for people to have kosher food and to accommodate religious families with a proper supervision. We have three kitchens: one meat, one dairy and one parve.” Jewish customers from all levels of religious observance place orders. About 70% of the catering service’s customers actually don't keep kosher. People turn to Abel Caterers as the team has a reputation for quality, good portion sizes and great customer service.
It is precisely her love for the community that makes Meredith concerned for the future. “We see other communities across the country losing their Jewish school, their kosher restaurants, their JCCs; we need to continue to support Jewish life by making contributions, whether it is financial, giving time, sending kids to summer camp, going to the JCC or volunteering,” she says. She reminds people that these Jewish resources can be gone in a heartbeat.
With the current crisis related to COVID-19, community is proving to be more important than ever. “If I didn't have the support of the community, I would have closed my doors after spending the last 12 years building something I am very proud of,” she says. The support from the local community is making a huge difference as businesses—particularly small family businesses—are facing difficult times. With galas, weddings, baby namings and funerals cancelled, her season is gone, Meredith reveals as she tries to keep people employed. With great uncertainty as to when people will feel comfortable enough to have large gatherings and festivities again, the company is losing a considerable amount of business. Community members are helping to keep the service running by placing take-out orders, which is vital to Abel Caterers. They drop food at people’s homes; it’s also a relief for parents not to be worried about feeding their kids after a day of working and schooling from home.
Meredith, who recently welcomed a baby girl to the world with her wife, stays positive. She is looking forward to being able to share in many simchas (joyful events). “I am waiting to have our baby naming until we can gather all together,” she says. “I've been very lucky to have a lot of friends in this community who were very happy for us; it’s hard not to share our joy. But we know how to throw parties here, and we’re looking forward to celebrating!”
And when the time comes to once again celebrate together, the community knows just the people to call to feed guests.
For more information and to place an order, visit abelcaterers.com.