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Marc Giudice, left, and Henry Barone, right, hold up dishes in their store Prime Fine Catering in Garden City.

PRIME Fine Catering, 4 Nassau Blvd., Garden City South, 516-505-3255, www.primefinecatering.com

Henry Barone and Marc Giudice were working crazy hours running the kitchen at Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff when they opened PRIME Fine Catering seven years ago. The idea was that a retail business would afford them more time to spend with their growing families. "Then the catering kicked in," recalled Giudice, "and the hours became a monster."

Over the past two years, catering has grown to make up about half the shop's sales. The faltering economy has been hard on restaurants, but PRIME Fine Catering's customers seem to be entertaining at home in record numbers - and they are calling for help to do it. "We cater parties anywhere from six to 600 people," Barone said.

The key to the business' well-being, according to Barone, is diversification. Aside from catering, the shop does a brisk lunch trade - both eat-in and takeout - based around homemade soups and made-to-order sandwiches on Tom Cat bread.

Then there are the customers who come by in the evening to collect dinner. A fine meal can be put together from the prepared-food selections, but PRIME Fine Catering is also a butcher shop. "A lot of customers will buy two prepared sides - say, potatoes au gratin and haricots verts with carrots - and then get a porterhouse to cook on their own."

Butchering meat yields trimmings that a takeout shop can put to good use in burgers and soups. Regular takeout customers can be transformed into catering clients. Catering overages find their way into the prepared-food case. It's a good, smart business.

 

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