A catering empire in the heart of Gotham — the success story of two young FDU alumni

the caterers

Above: The team behind Riviera — Andrew Cavitolo, CEO and creative director (left), and Bobby Stern, president of special events (right). (Photos courtesy of Riviera Caterers)

By Kaidi Ilves

They are only 30 years old and they’re running one of the most successful catering companies in the world, working with big names like Nike, Google, PepsiCo, Usher, Jamie Foxx — the list goes on and on. Andrew Cavitolo and Bobby Stern expanded and refocused Riviera Caterers NYC into a corporate event and production-catering giant in 2012, traveling around in their signature chrome trucks. Cavitolo received his M.S. in hospitality management from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus in 2008, and a B.S. in the same field a year prior. Stern graduated from FDU in 2008 with a B.S. in entrepreneurship, and a minor in business management.

FDU: What is the Riviera experience all about?

Bobby Stern: We take catering and turn it into a show, incorporating the clients we are working with.

Andrew Cavitolo: It’s not just about the food, which, by the way, is excellent. Every presentation is customized with adding elements unique to the brand we are representing. It’s production style catering, as I like to call it. For example, we recently did an event for Bentley Motors, and we made all of our trays out of car materials such as carbon fiber and brushed aluminum in order to incorporate the car into the presentation of the food being served.

BS: And for Nike Airmax, we used air tanks as trays. It fit the theme quite well. The whole point is to ‘Wow’ people, to enhance the guests’ overall event experience, not just provide food.

Riviera events

Left: "Nike — Train with Hart" event, with paralympic athlete Blake Leeper (left), actor Kevin Hart (second from left), and basketball player Elena Della Donne (middle). Right: "Billie Jean King Leadership Gala" with tennis player Billie Jean King (top right), performer Billy Porter (top left), actor Alan Cumming (top middle), and singer Cindy Lauper (bottom).

FDU: How did the idea for Riviera Caterers come together?

AC: Our education had a big part in steering us to where we are. Bobby went into entrepreneurship, and I always wanted to study hospitality. My parents owned a catering venue in Brooklyn, N.Y., named Riviera Caterers, and I knew I would eventually take over Riviera, but I didn’t much care for just hosting weddings. I wanted to take it a few steps further and create world-class, innovative food experiences.

BS: Andrew and I became close friends in college. We stayed in touch after graduating, as he went into his family business, and I went into event production and experiential marketing. It was a natural progression from getting my degree, and I have to give a big thanks to FDU’s career development office, whose guidance helped jumpstart me in the city. After working for some top tier event agencies, I was hired by Publicis Group as an event producer. This is when the idea to start Riviera Manhattan really began to take form.

Catering display at Riviera

"Nike U.S. Open" — Burrata stuffed arancini with basil olive oil powder.

AC: He always told me I should go into corporate catering…

BS: We both wanted to take our expertise to the next level…

AC: We decided to give it a whirl in 2012, and our first customers were Verizon and Home Depot. Riviera wasn’t going to be boring catering though — I was determined to make it innovative, and more of an experience than anything. Combined with the awesome quality of food and customized selections, word of mouth just kept spreading, and the rest, as they say, is history.

FDU: You mentioned that Riviera was a family company before. Tell us more about that…

AC: My family has been re-inventing themselves for four generations, otherwise the company wouldn’t have lasted so long. We decided to do a spin-off, but keep the same name. The Riviera name has a legacy, which we thought would give us brand recognition in Manhattan.

BS: Initially, though, it did backfire — clients thought of us as a wedding catering hall in Brooklyn rather than a creative catering company in Manhattan. It took a lot of effort to build the new image but once it hit, our clients really saw what we were all about.

Catering display at Riviera

Top left: Poached shrimp with bloody mary pipette dipped chili salt. Top right: Dry-rub chicken with a Gorgonzola cube and celery skewer. Bottom left: One bite steak frites with shallot jam. Bottom right: One bite lobster roll with mini beer.

FDU: Did you hit any hard times?

AC: My family’s business was twelve feet under water from Hurricane Sandy; everything was destroyed. Our home got destroyed too. We lost our entire infrastructure in the beginning so we simply had to push, and go get the business for ourselves. There’s no such thing as a shortcut out there.

BS: There will always be challenges, but if you have a vision, focus and leverage everything, take every opportunity you can get, and put it together. We started off in a 10x10 office sharing a desk. Andrew created the culinary design and I produced the events.

Catering display at Riviera

Liquid nitrogen bar and s'mores table.

FDU: What lies ahead?

AC: We cater around 400 events a year. Manhattan is very corporate, and that’s our main focus. At our most recent big event, Pepsi flew our team out to San Fransisco to cater a Super Bowl 50 party with 15,000 guests. We also cater charity galas and work a little bit with the social sector. We have worked with celebrities like tennis player Billie Jean King, rapper and producer Puff Daddy, boxer Floyd Mayweather, actor Kevin Hart — different brands and celebs are actually starting to fly us around the world. I guess the Riviera experience is going global.

BS: One of the newer developments is a deal we made with Silverstein Properties, giving us a 34,000 square foot venue in the sky in Manhattan — we took over the 68th floor of 4 World Trade Center. It is one of the most spectacular venues in Manhattan, available for corporate events.

Riviera panorama

Day- and nighttime views at Riviera's event venue in 4 World Trade Center.

AC: We’re growing tremendously, going from just the two of us to 26 full-time and 250 part-time employees. Our goal was to become one of the most reputable catering companies in New York City. We’re now taking that to Miami, L.A., even Milan, Italy, and what’s best is that our first customers are still with us.

FDU: Any advice for current students?

AC: College is about so much more than classes! You’re not going to remember everything you learned in lectures. What’s going to stick is learning how to work with or around people. Get involved outside of the classroom, and remember to go for the experiences.

BS: Be yourself and follow your vision, you should always do what’s right for you and success will come after that!

Pretzel wall

24' custom built pretzel wall.