Lashunda Allen, left, and Laresa Davis, cooks with the DoubleTree by Hilton catering staff, share a laugh while preparing a meal Feb. 4 in the Gateway Convention Center's kitchen. Among the center's marketing points are its ability to cater meals for crowds as large as 400 and the number of nearby hotel rooms.
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Telegram photo / Alan Campbell

Lashunda Allen, left, and Laresa Davis, cooks with the DoubleTree by Hilton catering staff, share a laugh while preparing a meal Feb. 4 in the Gateway Convention Center's kitchen. Among the center's marketing points are its ability to cater meals for crowds as large as 400 and the number of nearby hotel rooms.

Center caters to guests’ many needs

By John Henderson

Staff Writer

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Located near the interesection of two major highways, the Gateway Convention Center increasingly has become a popular venue for groups looking for large space to hold catered meetings.

Its space can be leased out for a variety of corporate meetings, seminars, conferences, dinners and events. Seating more than 400 people with a full kitchen to cater meals, the center also recently has been used for large events such as the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting and the statewide convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The center, which is owned Rockbridge Capital in Columbus, Ohio, offers about 6,000 square feet of meeting space and has about 8,000 square feet overall, including its lobby and offices. It is part of the Gateway Centre Hotel Complex near the intersection of N.C. 64 and Interstate 95.

It’s selling points include not only the location but also the motel rooms next to the center that can be used by event patrons, said David Joyner, marketing director for the complex.

The complex offers 452 guest rooms and suites at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Courtyard, Residence Inn and Comfort Inn hotels, and more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space between the convention center and hotels. Texas Steakhouse and Outback Steakhouse also serve guests, and Tesla Motors recently built a station next to the DoubleTree to charge electric cars.

Space in the center that previously was leased to the Nash County Visitors Bureau has been renovated into a VIP gathering area.

“Essentially now there is a bar in there,” Joyner said. “There is a bar and TV that is in a private area that can hold about 15 to 25 people, and we use that for companies having a big event but want to have a private meeting space for execs to go in and have some drinks or a private event. It is more set up almost as a sports bar kind of atmosphere.”

The center is operated by the DoubleTree, Joyner said.

The center also has been increasing its off-site catering business, which can serve up to 2,000 people, with food prepared in the center’s kitchen.

Q: What products or services do you provide?

A: We offer an array of meeting and event space. We cater to any type of meeting, from church services to lecture-style series or forums. But we also do events ranging from a birthday party to a wedding to a business dinner or cookout type of event.

We do have a full catering menu. We do a little over $1.5 million in catering revenue every year.

One big local event we had here recently catered the Nash County Firefighter EMS Association. They had a big dinner for 400-plus people. We just had a really big event for the Cheesecake Factory plant in Gold Rock. We catered their event for 600-plus people at Nash Community College.

The center is fully equipped with a full kitchen and service area. We cater and cook all the food out of the convention center.

Q: Who are your key leaders?

A: Catering coordinator Jacqueline Elder, kitchen manager Melvin Arrington, assistant banquet and events manager Willie Mason, director of sales Alana Napora and marketing director David Joyner.

Q: How many people do you employ?

A: 50.

Q: What is your business philosophy?

A: Our entire sales and marketing strategy as it pertains to catering events is to offer an experience that is unique and excellent. We want the guests, no matter what type of meeting they are having, to walk away feeling like they had an excellent experience that is specially catered to what they were looking for.

Q: What makes your business unique?

A: The unique part of our business is that, compared to most of our competitors in the region, we have a very diverse client base, meaning we don’t specially just do lavish weddings. We don’t specially just do certain types of business events. We literally in one day may have five to eight events because we are the only operation in the region that will do multiple events in day like that. All we need is usually an hour to an hour and half to change the Gateway Center around from having a business event during the day for 300 people to have dinner that night for 400.

Q: How has your business grown?

A: Our business has grown substantially into marketing to out-of-town associations, to out-of-town corporations. Our key goal in sales and marketing is to market the area of Rocky Mount and where we sit off of Interstate 95, playing up the fact that we are easily accessible. That has been a huge plus in drawing events. Probably 50 percent of the corporate events we do are corporations that are not based in Rocky Mount or in the region.

Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?

A: We want to see off-site catering continue to grow. That has become a substantial revenue stream. But essentially it’s in addition to all that we do in the center, so we continue to push off site catering as well as drawing in association business. We’re going to be extremely happy with the revenues that we are seeing, the business trend we keep seeing, the increase in people spending money on conventions, business and especially associations.