There’s no smoke and mirrors when it comes to the success of Little Miami River Catering. Well, smoke for sure, but mirrors? Not so much.

That’s because the catering company got its magical start by smoking and roasting pigs in founder Glen Penquite’s backyard in 1986, says Penquite’s daughter Molly McConnell.

Her father, a self-taught chef, then started grilling steaks and hamburgers at the event locations to go along with the pig roasts, says McConnell, who along with her husband, Matt McConnell, bought the business from her father in 2013.

The local catering business has since grown and evolved tremendously through hard work and perseverance. “It kind of evolved from that backyard barbecue feel from the beginning to now where we’re doing plated dinners and carving stations with beef tenderloins,” says McConnell.

The couple even added a food preparation and event facility to the company’s assets when they bought The Mandalay Banquet & Event Center at 2700 E. River Road in Moraine in 2018.

“We started out in a small kitchen in Bellbrook and then we rented a larger facility out in Xenia for a few years,” she says. “And then we came back to buy The Mandalay where we moved all of our operations.”

The company has 10 full-time employees and up to 65 total employees, including part-time seasonal staff, during the summer, says McConnell.

McConnell says Little Miami River Catering kept some of the key staff members when it bought The Mandalay facility. “Melvin (Holmes) is still our executive chef for both sides of off-site and Mandalay events,” she says.

Even though Holmes and Little Miami River Catering’s staff can prepare a mouth-watering entrée like New York strip steak with Mandalay steak butter or a chicken breast garnished with crab meat, asparagus and Hollandaise sauce the company’s bread-and-butter brand goes back to those original smoked meats her father prepared, says McConnell.

“The smoked meats are the thing,” she says. “All the meats are smoked so that’s going to give that completely different flavor. That’s what we’re known for.”

And it’s that down-home, make-you-feel-good, southern-style cuisine that remains the heart of the catering company, says McConnell. “I think our brand that the customers for all these years have gone back to is comfort food, southern-style cooking,” she says.

So how much does all that delicious food cost someone who uses Little Miami River Catering to feed lots of guests? McConnell says the price per person ranges from about $10 to about $35.

Most of the events the company caters are weddings, she says. About half of the business is weddings, 30% is corporate events and 20% is personal events, says McConnell.

The business can cater for groups as small as 15 and as many as 5,000, she says. “We do your friendly box lunches for meetings or a hot lunch for those smaller groups,” says McConnell. “We can handle any type of event, but mostly that’s weddings,” says McConnell.

Little Miami River Catering will cater events in about a 50-mile radius from its headquarters at The Mandalay, she says. “We travel down into West Chester, up to Sidney and then over to Springfield and over to Greenville. It’s basically a 50-mile radius from here,” says McConnell.

Although she grew up with the family business it wasn’t automatic that McConnell would end up working at Little Miami River Catering. In fact, after graduating from Wright State University with a marketing/management degree her father told her not to come and work for him.

“He said, ‘Oh no, no, go work in the real world first to make sure you really want to do this,’” says McConnell. So that’s exactly what she did. “I spent a little bit of time in corporate America and it was probably two years I decided I didn’t want to do that,” she says.

“I wanted to be in the family business. It was just kind of where I my passion was,” says McConnell. “I felt more fulfilled here.”