Jim McMerty, president of Minneapolis-based Mintahoe Catering & Events, leads a family-owned company that will cater more than 5,000 gatherings this year — including 450-plus weddings through this fall.

Numbers aside, McMerty wants every wedding reception, corporate meeting and event, gala and picnic to be special.

“We don’t sell catering; we sell unique experiences,” McMerty said, for groups from 20 to 25,000.

This spring marks the grand opening of Inwood Oaks, formerly the Prom Center in Oakdale, which Mintahoe bought last year and remodeled with state-of-the-art lighting and audiovisual technology.

With space for 1,000, Inwood Oaks, at Interstates 94 and 694, gives the company a venue in the eastern suburbs that can handle large or small groups, McMerty said. It’s also the first venue that Mintahoe has owned. The company manages catering at eight other venues in the Twin Cities and has access to dozens of others.

McMerty has built Mintahoe into what he describes as Minnesota’s largest “pure” catering company — one that doesn’t operate restaurants. Mintahoe has 200 employees during its busy season. Clients include Mall of America, 3M, Cargill, Target, U.S. Bank and Medtronic.

A former accountant, McMerty consulted with and then acquired what then was Twin City Catering in 1992. In 2008, McMerty acquired competitor Mintahoe and its venue relationships.

Daughter Suzi McMerty Shands, already sales manager at Twin City Catering, rose to vice president of sales with the merger. Son Shawn McMerty, vice president of finance and business operations, joined in 2009 after working at Cargill hedge fund subsidiaries.

Mintahoe’s other ventures include catering the Minnesota Wine Country location at the State Fair and launching Authentic Gourmet Bakeshop, a specialty commercial bakery.

Q: What goes into making Mintahoe’s catering experiences unique?

Jim: Selling catering is who’s got the lowest price. We’re not the lowest-priced caterer. We’ve got the service and the trained staff throughout the sales staff, the operations staff and the culinary staff so that we function effectively. We’re giving the clients a smooth performance.

Suzi: The first word is catering. We cater to our guests’ needs. We take their vision and make it a reality.

Q: What has the Mintahoe acquisition meant for the company?

Jim: The addition of the venue relationships was very important. In some cases we helped with construction or the acquisition of a venue. In a couple we’ve built out kitchens to accommodate the venue. Up until the time we put the Mintahoe acquisition and merger together we were just a business getting by. It changed the relationship with the family. Before it was a job. Now it becomes a career. Here’s a future. We can make this into something.

Shawn: It doubled in size with the merger so I came to help support the family business.

Q: How does working with family members go?

Suzi: I love it. It’s the best of both worlds. We’re very close and we’ve always been close. It gets to be a gray area between what’s business and what’s not.

Shawn: It’s nice because we have a family atmosphere here. It’s nice to see family every day. You have more support this way, both business and personal.

Jim: I know what I’m getting. We talk frankly with everyone. We put it in a very open way with anybody. Having family members here is great. It works out very well.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.