End of An Era: Philadelphia “Institution” Closes After 53 Years

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Food created for one of Barclay Caterer’s many affairs | Photo by Steve Hellinger

Barclay Caterers served as one of the go-to kosher catering companies in the Philadelphia area since 1966, but on June 29 third-generation partner Ian Drossner announced on Facebook that Barclay has been forced to shut its doors for good due to the financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To our customers, we have loved being a part of all of your celebrations over the past 5 decades,” Drossner wrote. “Your support has meant the world to us and it has been an honor to be a part of this wonderful community. Nothing made us happier than seeing you at a Barclay affair enjoying a frank-in-the-blanket or lamb chop.”

Barclay is far from the only outfit in the events industry to feel the pain from the pandemic. Across the country, Jewish caterers, entertainers and decorators and other event industry vendors have struggled through quarantine. In an article from July 6, Tablet quoted Rabbi Dov Schreier, who oversees the supervision of kosher caterers for the Orthodox Union, who estimated that caterers have lost 80% of their business during this period.


“Caterers are not doing well at all,” he said. “With some caterers their doors are literally closed. They have nothing to do, and if somebody calls, they don’t even know what to tell them.”

Since Drossner’s announcement was posted, hundreds who have partied at Barclay-catered events have chimed in to share their sadness.

“I am so grateful to you and the entire Barclay Caterers team for creating so many joyful experiences for our community and for my family over the years,” Jill Hammel wrote. “It was a privilege to work so closely with you and observe your professionalism, tireless attention to detail, generosity and dedication.”

Many commenters noted that they had hired Barclay for generations of simchas.

“We used Barclay for all of my children’s bat mitzvahs and three weddings,” Shelley Geltzer wrote. “My daughter just had her first son’s bar mitzvah in January and also used them.”
Barclay began serving the Jewish community in 1966. Marvin Drossner opened the original kitchen at Second and Berks streets, and Leonard Hellinger joined the operation in 1969. Until recently, Ian and Larry Drossner worked with Steve Hellinger out of a larger facility in Northeast Philadelphia.

Sally Mitlas, owner of Mitlas Productions, has so frequently worked Barclay-catered events over the years that she and Hellinger often joked that they should just open an office together. Barclay, “the consummate professionals,” she said, understood how the band and the caterer relied on the other to be great; clear communication between the two could be the difference between party guests sitting down to a hot plate of food or a cold one. She praised their presentation, and their lamb chops, too.

“They’re going be sorely missed,” Mitlas said.

Michael and Elyse Schatz hired Barclay for both of their children’s b’nai mitzvah at Beth Sholom Synagogue, their parents’ anniversary party, milestone birthdays and even some seders over the years.

“Larry personally attended all of our events to be sure they met Barclay’s high standard,” Schatz said. “He treated us like family and we thought the same of him.”

When Steve Romantz was getting married, every venue he and his soon-to-be wife spoke with was thrilled to hear that they had selected Barclay to cater their reception. Ian Drossner and Hellinger made numerous special accommodations for the party, Romantz said.

“Steve and Ian really took the time to ensure that everything we could possibly want was done,” he said. “The fact that Barclay had such good reviews across the board, and that they’re not going to be around anymore, it’s really going to be a detriment to the Jewish and the kosher community in Philly and the surrounding area.”

Arielle Davis, an event planner, worked with Barclay on numerous occasions. Barclay catered her wedding, and when her family suffered a personal tragedy earlier in the year, Hellinger personally delivered a Shabbat dinner to her family.

“They will forever be missed in the events industry and by my family,” Davis said.

Daniel Israel of Daniel Israel Kosher Catering has kept his business afloat in part by buying, butchering, packaging and delivering cuts of meat a few months ago. He praised Barclay, adding that his wife had hired the caterers for many events over the years.

Jeff Kalinsky, the longtime director of operations at Betty the Caterer, said that Betty has kept operating because of the many non-event services that they offer, but that many other catering companies aren’t so well-positioned. They’ve continued to provide meals for seniors, among other services, during quarantine. Of Barclay, he acknowledged them as Betty’s “strong competitors” for many years.

Barclay was “an institution for 50 years,” he said.

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