It took two Catering by Design event staffers to carry the massive “Community Salad Bowl” through the crowd of hundreds of guests assembled at Wall Ball, a fundraiser for Mural Arts Philadelphia. As the dish — which each of the guests got the chance to add ingredients to in the spirit of the beneficiary’s community-minded work — weaved its way over the heads of the crowd, Brooke Lutz ducked in and out of the packed room at the Fillmore, snapping photos of the procession.
As CBD’s director of marketing and communication, it is her job to capture both the food and the feel of the events the company caters. CBD, founded in 1991 and owned by Peter Loevy, provides catering and event décor for about 500 events per year throughout the region — from large-scale weddings to sweet-16 parties to office luncheons to 5,000-guest picnics.
As a one-woman marketing team, Lutz’s duties are varied: social-media management, photography, event-signage design, networking, website management.
“I’m tasked daily with making sure the essence of CBD is communicated through various promotional channels,” she said. “It’s pivotal that I keep up with the growth of the company, whether that be by promoting upcoming events, advancing our online presence or helping to conjure new ideas on how to illustrate our company’s individuality in a sea of sameness.”
Lutz, a resident of Manayunk, works out of CBD’s Mount Airy office a few days a
Week — starting each with La Colombe coffee from the CBD warehouse — and then gets to work coming up with social-media posts, editing photos and working with the executive chef for photo ops of new menu items. She takes part in a weekly managerial meeting and frequently touches base with event specialists to keep informed.
She is also in close contact with staff at the four exclusive venues that CBD contracts with — ONE North Broad, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The James A. Michener Museum and Bolingbroke Mansion — as well as preferred and off-site venues to ensure things will run smoothly.
Given the nature of the company’s work, Lutz is often on the go, usually attending about four CBD events per week, and sometimes several per day. While on site, her primary focus is photography.
At Wall Ball, before the venue got too packed, she toured the whole facility to check out which areas had good lighting, where different portions of the program would take place and the menus for the evening.
“I always make it a priority to make sure I absorb the event first and foremost. This way, I can funnel the sentiment to the rest of the world more accurately,” she said.
Then, armed with her Canon DSLR, she got to work documenting all aspects of the event: action shots of guests chowing down on CBD food, close-up detail pictures of the food, menu signage (which she created earlier in the CBD office) and panoramic views of the entire venue.
“The pictures of wonderful food and smiling faces create themselves,” she said. “I’m happy just to capture and represent what is already there.”
At all of the events Lutz covers, she has to be ready for anything. Photo opportunities can pop up at any time, such as at Wall Ball, when performance artists staged an impromptu show in the crowd, or a group of guests descended upon the CBD desserts as servers were carrying them through the room.
During each event, she’s usually doing double duty, switching between the camera and an iPhone to generate social-media posts. At Wall Ball, Lutz ventured up to a balcony to get an overhead shot, and then beelined to the lobby to come up with a few catchy hashtags, posted the photo on Instagram and got back into the crowd with the camera. The day after an event, she’ll download and edit the camera shots and share them on whichever social-media site she didn’t use the night before, and make them available for use on the CBD website and brochures.
The photography and social-media portion of the job aren’t just about showcasing a perfectly crafted cream puff; rather, Lutz aims to communicate the company’s mission of providing an all-around experience. Garnish is CBD’s in-house décor department that uses florals, found art and other objects to accentuate each event to the tastes of the client.
“Anyone who has worked with us can attest to the fact that we are detail- and design-driven,” Lutz said.
For instance, this year’s Wall Ball centered on Mural Arts’ Porch Light initiative, which features collaborative-art opportunities to empower local residents affected by trauma and mental-health issues. The event included an awards presentation for local community-arts pioneers, including Michelle Angela Ortiz, who led the Gayborhood community mural created in honor of late local activist Gloria Casarez. In keeping with the theme of the night, CBD encouraged guests to add veggies to the Community Salad Bowl on their way into the event, serving the finished product at dinner, along with offering cuisines from around the world.
“We try to understand each nonprofit’s mission and, by putting that understanding forward into our work, we become part of their arm of marketing. I respect that responsibility,” Lutz said, noting CBD’s community work is among the most rewarding aspects of her position.
In addition to Mural Arts, CBD has worked with the Eisenhower Fellowships program, the American Heart Association and is gearing up for the 30th-anniversary activities of the Michener; the nonprofit art museum in Doylestown is hosting Evening in Black & White Sept. 15 — starting with a ball and ending with a late-night party, for which CBD will have to vary both the dishes and décor.
So far, Lutz, who joined the company in March, said Wall Ball holds the distinction of being her most difficult CBD event — but also the most fulfilling.
“It was challenging because I could not move fast enough to capture everything I wanted. It was a three-hour swirl of color, art, food and community activism, but it was my favorite for similar reasons,” she said.
The company’s creative fusion of cuisine and conceptual design is similar for both special events and weddings, as is Lutz’s workload.
CBD works on close to 100 weddings per year and has created menus and décor to embrace everything from couples’ diverse ethnic backgrounds to their dietary needs. It also employs its own pastry chef, who decorates wedding cakes.
The company will be working a number of LGBT weddings this fall, and Lutz, who identifies as queer, said she has been impressed by the welcoming nature — both for employees and clients.
“There isn’t a hint of awkwardness or judgment that I have ever personally felt,” she said. “Individuality is encouraged here, and we treat each couple or client with the same undivided attention.”
That approach appealed to Lutz, whose own background includes work at mission-driven agencies: as an advertising account executive and freelance photographer at PGN, and with social-service agencies in Philadelphia and Boston, where she lived for several years, before moving back to the city last year.
“I’ve wandered more often than most in terms of career path, never finding something that fit or kept my interest,” she said. However, she said, the multifaceted, fast-paced nature of event marketing and the “creative clearance” the position allows are both motivating and energizing.
“This work is something I can honestly say keeps me on my toes.”