Catered events, from a wedding or family reunion to a corporate luncheon or dinner, aren’t thrown-together affairs. The organizers can spend weeks or months finding the right location, making the guest list and choosing the caterer. Given all that planning, it ultimately falls on the caterer to provide a memorable meal. Time and time again, Triple T Meats has met that challenge.

Based in Ackley, Iowa, Triple T Meats is a diverse processor run by Greg and Jolene Heikens. The company has its own retail location, and can custom-process everything from high-end cuts of meat to twice-baked potatoes for retail and foodservice customers. It has a snack stick program for fundraising efforts, and it has sent hundreds of thousands of them to members of the U.S. military stationed overseas. Catering is yet another of the company’s niches and has been since the company started in 1996.

“When we started the business, we needed some extra income,” says Jolene, president and CEO of Triple T Meats. “I do like to cook a lot, and I thought that might be a great opportunity to earn some extra income and do something we like, on top of the processing of meat.”

The catering operation began in a portion of a small locker plant, but as Triple T expanded into a new facility in 2000, the Heikens’ included storage space for catering supplies and a full catering kitchen. The company caters weddings, banquets, corporate events and more; the largest catered events can top 500 guests.

When it comes to the menu, Heikens says that the sky is the limit. Popular entrees include marinated turkey breast, prime rib, ribeye and chicken cordon bleu. Numerous types of salads, side dishes like green bean casserole and scalloped corn, and desserts are also available. The entrees are produced in the company’s smokehouses, while the rest of the dishes are prepared in the kitchen.

One of the factors that has made the catering business successful, Heikens says, is that the company is not set in its way and will customize an event to the customers’ satisfaction.

“We’ve had a lot of times where they will look at a menu and say, ‘We really want the potato salad, but we want Grandma’s recipe.’ No problem. You give us the recipe, we’ll make it that way,” she explains.

Triple T does extensive preparation before a catered event, scouting the location to determine the best place for the food table and to ensure there are enough places to plug in items like roasters.

“The other thing I think we do well is, especially with weddings, to have as many face-to-face meetings with the bride and groom as we can, so that we really know how they want their event to be and it turns out well for them,” she adds.

Heikens recommends that any company looking to get involved with catering look for grants to help with small or minority-owned businesses, as that can help defray some of the startup costs.

“Don’t think you have to go out and buy everything brand-new,” she adds. “Watch for some good restaurant options to keep your expenses down and yet have good, quality items.”