The Story of Cameron Mitchell Premier Events

From Zero to $16-million: The Cameron Mitchell Catering Story


“There’s no name. No budget. No plan. It’s yours to figure out and grow.”  

With those words, Cameron Mitchell handed Melissa Johnson the keys to an entrepreneurial adventure.


It was 2001 and ‘Mel’ (as she’s known to friends) was happily running Martini Italian Bistro (now Martini Modern Italian) in the Short North. Downtowners and out-of-towners filled the bar and kept the dining room buzzing every night of the week. She loved the energy. Making general manager was the realization of a career dream.  

But Cameron was getting pressed to bring his team’s magic out of the restaurants and into guests’ celebrations.  He knew that Mel was inventive and challenge-driven. She’d be a force of personality who could see and create opportunity. 

The catering adventure was on.

Start with what you know

Mel knew she had great people, great food and a culture of “yes.” What she didn’t know was what it would take to deliver Cameron Mitchell food quality in unpredictable environments. The risk seemed really high. If she blew it would she damage the brand? 

In these early days, it was rented vans and trucks that moved the food and set-ups. When she took the front fender off a rented minivan while parking, Mel handed off driving duties but stayed shoulder-to-shoulder with her team, loading in and setting up.

She pulled favors from Cameron Mitchell chefs and borrowed servers who were happy to pick up event shifts. One event at a time, processes got refined, the team learned new things about guest expectations, problem-solving and creative event management. Staying ahead of operational challenges and always having a ‘Plan B, C or D’ was the order of the day.  

See Opportunities To Be Of Service

In large event situations, many things can be going on for individual guests that should get attention. We were catering the Make-A-Wish Gala for 800 attendees on the OSU Football Field. One of the young Make-A-Wish recipients who was fighting cancer wasn’t feeling very well. We got her to a quiet spot to relax and all she really wanted was ice cream. 
Our VP of Operations left and brought some back for her.

The Second Lap

It took a couple years but growth was steady. Catering was bringing in their fair share, topping a million a year in booked events. The team needed to grow. Event and sales coordinators were hired and the former Mitchell’s Steakhouse at Crosswoods space became Cameron Mitchell Catering’s heart of house and team office.  

Fun ideas, meant to spark awareness, became raving fan favorites that are now traditions like Valentine’s Day in a Box and Thanksgiving in a Box. (Ready to heat and enjoy holiday meals packed for two or many.) Some experiments proved harder to deliver in a way that made for great experiences and business. Cams2U was a small order, boxed and catered lunch service that was time and team intensive yet not always profitable.  

The team turned their focus to building their event planning capabilities. Cameron Mitchell Catering signed an exclusive agreement to manage catering and events at The Darby House, then added The Ivory Room at One Miranova Place. The Exchange at Bridge Park in Dublin will join these in 2017. Having exclusive venue agreements allows the team a lot more freedom to execute clients’ wishes by flexing the house rules. 

In addition, the team is now partnered with The Columbus Museum of Art, providing venue catering and management of The Hawk Galleries, The Pizzuti Collection and Laurel Run Farm in the Hocking Hills. A host of preferred caterer relationships are in place across a dozen highly popular mansion, public and private event spaces in Central Ohio including The Franklin Park Conservatory, Griggs Boathouse, The Ohio Statehouse and The Wexner Center / Mershon.

A major part of the recent journey is the group’s entry into Sports and Leisure event production and catering. The CMPE team is the official service of the Memorial Tournament, the President’s Cup and Senior Open, and occasionally caters Athletic Department events including Buckeye Team dinners for The Ohio State University.  

lemonade-stand
Top 6 “Wow” Presentations

  • The Ohio State University National Championship Trophy Dessert
  • The Adult Lemonade Stand
  • Tomato Salad
  • Truffle Ice Cream Cones
  • The Woody Hayes Hat Dessert
  • Champagne with Fresh Fruit Pearls
Top 4 Unusual and Fun Requests
Top 4 Unusual and Fun Requests

  • Tethered Hot Air Balloon rides at Darby House.
  • Helicopter rides over Columbus.
  • The Russian Delegation VIP Event with vodka shots after each course in shot glasses made of ice.
  • The Floating Wedding Cake – a bridal request brought to life!
marcellas-meatball
Top 8 Most Requested Items

  • Marcella’s Meatballs – individually or served as a slider
  • Cap City Meatloaf in smaller bites with a dollup of mashed potatoes and barbecue gravy
  • The Pearl’s Deviled Egg, Jalapeno Corn Spoon Bread and Grilled Cheese (made with Brie, Pear Jam, Roasted Squash and Arugula Pesto)
  • Mitchell’s Ocean Club Crab Cake
  • The Guild House Smoked Trout Dip and Carrot Hummus
  • M Kobe Beef Sliders
  • Cameron’s American Bistro Walleye
  • Martini Modern Italian Hand-Pulled Mozzarella and Butternut Squash Tortelloni

The Glide Path

Over 15 years, as word spread that it was possible to arrange a Cameron Mitchell catered experience for weddings, corporate events, sporting or life events, Mel’s team grew to 20 managers, 75 full time associates and 300+ part time associates. The capstone was the creation of an umbrella company to house all the catering-related departments the team had developed over the years.  

Cameron Mitchell Premier Events was christened in 2013 and includes Cameron Mitchell Catering for off-site services; the on-site venues (such as Darby House, Ivory Room and The Exchange); Sports and Leisure; Cam’s 2U; and Specialty Services.

When asked to name three people who have been instrumental in supporting her team’s ideas and guests, Melissa first gives credit to her husband who “supported me 1,000 percent through every challenge” and then focuses on three groups:

Be Ready With A Milkshake (at any moment)

Cameron Mitchell tells the story of dining with his young family. He requested that a chocolate sundae on the menu be turned into a milkshake for his toddler son and was told,"milkshakes aren’t on the menu."

From that moment forward, the chocolate milkshake became the iconic representation of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants’ service standard. Many people have heard the story and will request a chocolate milkshake when visiting a Cameron Mitchell Restaurant just to see what happens.

It was 2013 and the team was catering the Memorial Golf Tournament for the first time. The team was running full-on that busy Friday. It was turn-time -- lunch service was switching to afternoon snacks -- when a prominent CEO approached a member of the catering team and wondered about getting one of those creamy delights. 

It took 20 minutes but he got the famous Cameron Mitchell Chocolate Milkshake.

The executive team at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants who allow the Premier Events team to own their path and to be entrepreneurs while being available for guidance, growth and cheering on the team at every step.  

The vendor partners who support every event and the Premier Events team with the same “The answer is ‘yes’ what is the question?” attitude that drives every Cameron Mitchell service interaction. 

And her personal favorite – Cameron Mitchell Premier Events’ associates and managers. “No matter what the venture, event, situation, challenge or distance, the associates of Team CMPE are the most passionate, hard-working, durable, hospitable, genuine and amazing people I have ever been surrounded by! They always rise to the occasion and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to ensure success. This team can and will make ANYTHING happen.  I am lucky and blessed.”

It's said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Congratulations to the Cameron Mitchell Premier Events team as they celebrate a continuing journey of many thousand miles and steps together.

See opportunities to be of service

In large event situations, many things can be going on for individual guests that should get attention. We were catering the Make-A-Wish Gala for 800 attendees on the OSU Football Field. One of the young Make-A-Wish recipients who was fighting cancer wasn’t feeling very well. We got her to a quiet spot to relax and all she really wanted was ice cream. Our VP of Operations left and brought some back for her.

Be ready with a milkshake at any moment

Cameron Mitchell tells the story of dining with his young family. He requested that a chocolate sundae on the menu be turned into a milkshake for his toddler son and was told that ‘milkshakes aren’t on the menu.’

From that moment forward, the chocolate milkshake became the iconic representation of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants’ service standard. Many people have heard the story and will ask for a chocolate milkshake at a Cameron Mitchell Restaurant just to see what happens.

It was [year?] and the team was catering the Memorial Golf Tournament for the first time. The team was running full-on that busy Friday. It was turn-time -- lunch service was switching to afternoon snacks when a prominent CEO approached a member of the catering team and wondered about getting one of those creamy delights. It took 20 minutes but he got the famous Cameron Mitchell Chocolate Milkshake.


© 2017  |  Cameron Mitchell Restaurants’ Home Office  |  390 W. Nationwide Blvd.  |  Columbus, Ohio 43215 |  614.621.3663

Facebook logo Twitter logo Instagram logo LinkedIn logo

Community & Donations  |  Responsible Sourcing  |  Privacy Policy  |  Site Map  |  Rusty Bucket  |  Buckeye Hospitality  |  2020 Vision