Some fathers teach their sons how to catch a ball or bait a hook, but Robert Ryan, founder of Robert Ryan Catering and Design, taught his son how to run a business. Bob Ryan started his eponymous catering business 25 years ago from a small office in his home. “I was in high school when he started, so I was with him along the way,” says Mark Ryan, now chef and owner.
Robert Ryan Catering and Design has indeed grown since then, now serving as a “one-stop shop and full-service caterer at three unique and historic venues.”
Those venues include Columbia Station, a restored railroad station dating back to 1858, the fully-restored 18th century-era Barn on Bridge, and the feather in their cap, the Philander Chase Knox Estate. Robert Ryan Catering, in partnership with Chris Caba of Party Center, has an exclusive 10-year lease with the National Parks Service on this historic estate tucked inside Valley Forge National Park. The team has made significant improvements to the building, including a removable raised patio that allows the original historic patio to remain unharmed. “It’s a gorgeous setting and we’ve had really great success there,” says Bob.
While Bob was the face of the company, Mark has seamlessly stepped into the top role, but not without hard work of his own. “I started 26 years ago, working as a dishwasher,” he says before adding, “I had known since high school that I wanted to join full-time.” After graduating from culinary school, Mark came onboard, but not behind the stove. “There wasn’t an opening then, so I worked in operations for six years.” It proved to be a great training ground where he implemented procedures that remain in place today. He eventually assumed the executive chef role before Bob suggested he learn the final piece of the business: sales. “I hated it,” says Mark, who laughs, adding, “now it’s my favorite part of the business.”
While Robert Ryan Catering is indeed a family business, that family extends beyond the surname. “This business will kill you,” says Bob of the long, hard hours and high burnout rate of catering, “but we don’t let that happen. We are really serious about quality of life here.” says Bob. “Hats off to my father who really embedded that in me,” says Mark.