Flea Catering Manager Deena Cavallaro

The day starts early for Catering Manager Deena Cavallaro – 5AM to be exact. After all, there are 800 school breakfasts to pack, a half dozen pharmaceutical client breakfasts to prepare and 16 members of the Flea Market catering team to lead through a fast-paced, highly orchestrated drill that delivers what many call “the most important meal of the day” to dining tables all over Kansas City. And that’s just breakfast – another dozen or so lunch orders flutter on a master catering board, patiently awaiting Deena’s attention.

By 6:00 AM the pharmaceutical breakfasts are packed into catering vans and on the road – followed by even more vans at 6:30 with breakfast deliveries to four elementary schools. On any given day there may be nine, ten or even more breakfast deliveries. And once breakfast rolls, lunch prep begins. Over 1,000 Missouri school children depend on Deena to do her job well, preparing healthy (and tasty) lunches to help fuel them through their school day.

On most weekdays another 150 or more business lunches are prepared by Deena’s trusted catering team – including Deena’s right hand man, the affable and genial Chef Sergio. Says Deena, “Without a good team, the job couldn’t be done – or it certainly wouldn’t be done very. Kudos to all of the kitchen crew on the catering team that make our catering operation run like clockwork!”

By 9:45 lunches are well underway and, on each Tuesday, Deena’s team starts setting up for the weekly Tiger Club meeting – held in the Buffalo Room at the Westport Flea Market. Anywhere from 50 to 150 Missouri Tiger alumni use the room to fraternize and enjoy a guest speaker associated with MU Sports. “We’re all pretty aware that (owner) Joe Zwillenberg is an ‘enthusiastic’ Missouri alum.  We take care of that group pretty well!” says Deena.

In addition to the 150 seat Buffalo Room (which converts to an avant garde performance theatre on many nights), Deena also handles in-house catering for two other banquet spaces at the Flea Market: The front-window-facing Party Room (seating 60), and the Backstage Banquet Room (which can hold up to 200). From holiday and office parties, to graduations, birthday celebrations, receptions and other special events, Deena and her team cater it all – on site or on the go.

For Deena, once the outside catering meals for the day are “on wheels” and any internal lunch and dinner banquet catering set up is complete, the day isn’t nearly over. “We’re getting ready for the next morning, preparing school menus for the next month – even sending out after school snacks to a few of the schools.”

When Deena does take a break she’s has her own small crew to feed at home – with five children ranging in age from 7 to 28. “We’re Italian, we like to eat!” says Deena.

What does Deena do for fun? A movie, or reading a good book. “I like true stories,” says Deena, “and my little one is a Brown Belt in Tae Kwon Do, so that keeps me busy!”

The best thing about her catering job? “It may sound trite, but I have to say it’s the people. We have an awesome team. And I really do enjoy catering for the school children – it feels good to know they’re getting fed properly. It makes me feel like we’re doing something that really makes a difference in the community,” says Deena. “Of course I need to mention Joe. He’s been a great mentor. He has incredible business knowledge – I’ve really learned so much from him. I’m very grateful.”

And if she could take a deserved vacation somewhere? “The Bahamas!” says Deena. I’m packed and I’m ready! Well, almost ready, I’ve got to finish up tomorrow’s breakfast prep first!”