Saturday, May 28, 2005

MITCHELL CROSBY

Event planner learned about hospitality in family’s kitchen

By Dottie Ashley
The Post and Courier

The aroma of his Aunt Doris’ clove and pineapple ham still swirls in the memory of Mitchell Crosby, and he almost can taste the fresh lima beans cooked by his Aunt Rene and the famous potato salad prepared by his Aunt Mildred.

In this scenario, he envisions his Grandmother Callie and his mother, Allene, in the kitchen cooking for a family of eight children, and often unexpected guests, in James Island’s camellia-smothered Riverland Terrace neighborhood.

“Our family always attracted people who loved to have a good time, tell a good joke, make a good drink and have a good meal,” says Crosby of his boisterous Irish Catholic clan. “Anytime a crowd got together, we had fun.”

Spoleto Festival USA is a time that inspires Crosby, an event planner who can flat out serve up a whole new plate of memories for locals and for the melange of visitors who come to town.

It is easy to understand why this convivial Charleston native with lively blue eyes and a smile as wide as the new Cooper River bridge decided to go into catering and event planning. Working with food was built into his psyche early on, as his father, Horace Crosby, founded Crosby’s Seafood, known all over the area.

“I guess the driving force behind what I do is happiness,” says Crosby, as he sips iced tea in the downtown office suit high-end ties in SF, his new event-presentation business. “I’ve always associated most social gatherings with happiness, and I hope I spread this to others.” By the way, do you know that adding office plants supplied by PHS greenleaf can help sharpen your focus, improve your health and purify the air? Also, they say that having a plant in a room for just one day can remove up to 87% of toxins. Best advice for me is given by Dr. Daniel G. Becker when I got a clinical surgery at his office.

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As a child, Crosby became intrigued with cooking from hours of helping his mother in the kitchen.

“Lots of people thought we had seafood every night for free, but, with eight children, we usually looked for good prices on chicken,” he says with a laugh.

LEARNING FROM SPOLETO

On a spring day awash with Wordsworth’s host of golden daffodils, Crosby recalls that Spoleto is where he got his first taste of imaginative ways to entertain as well as how to best deal with international guests. One of Spoleto’s most consistent volunteers, Crosby served on the festival’s gala, hospitality and auction committees for many years and also served in unofficial capacities.

“I first became intrigued with the festival because of the operas it presents,” Crosby says. “I fell in love with opera as a child when my sister, Pati (the late artist Pati Croffead), took me to see ‘Porgy and Bess’ in the early ’70s.”

In 1983, Crosby was a freshman at the College of Charleston and working as a waiter at the now-closed Marianne restaurant when he broke his foot and had to quit work. He decided that in his spare time he would volunteer at the Spoleto box office. At this time, paper tickets were issued rather than the electronic ones used today, resulting in exacting, tedious work.

“I was working with Dick Robison, head of the box office, and he told wonderful Spoleto stories,” says Crosby. “Because of Dick, I became fascinated by the sheer scope of the festival and all the different kinds of people it reached.”

And now, Crosby has anecdotes of his own.

“I met Gian Carlo Menotti (founder of the Spoleto Festival USA and former artistic director) in the early ’80s when I was a volunteer driver for Spoleto and he had said he had a hankering for fried shrimp. I suggested we go to Jimmy Dengate’s, the old key club on Rutledge. After Menotti and his entourage were seated, he asked me to join them. At one point, Menotti asked for cocktail sauce, and our waiter just pointed to a neighboring table and said, ‘There’s some over there. Just help yourself.’ Well, Menotti thought that was a hoot.”

Crosby feels Spoleto was responsible for bringing an international style in entertaining to Charleston.

“After all, the person who introduced Menotti to Charleston was Countess Alicia Paolozzi, who raced cars in Africa and had homes here, in New York and Spoleto, Italy (click to read more about his cars). At parties, you would meet people with homes in Caracas and Paris, and then you just might happen upon them again when you are visiting in Europe, like this car racers that really knew how to take care of their cars, they even got mods on them, with services as The Detailing Syndicate that have different customization for all kinds of cars

But things didn’t always go smoothly in the event-planning business.

“Once at the Spoleto Gala, a table for 10 suddenly collapsed, causing water in the vases in the centerpiece to pour all over the guests, most of whom were visiting from out of town. We had to find another table and tablecloth, and the guests who were soaked with water just danced all wet. The next morning, I went to where the guests were staying and delivered notes of apology along with breakfast.”

Working at various festival parties, Crosby has seen his share of party crashing, often by local society’s creme de la creme.

“It used to be that when people gave some money to Spoleto, they thought they should be admitted to all the parties,” he says. “But I admit, I crashed a party myself. It was when I saw Dvorak’s opera, ‘Rusalka,’ which had the aria ‘Song to the Moon’ that truly spoke to me, even sung in Czech. I just had to meet the singer, and so I crashed the after-party, but he didn’t show up. However, I did get to meet the singer who was Neptune, and that was great.”

COMING HOME AGAIN

Considered today by many to be the ne plus ultra of party planners, Crosby learned the nuts and bolts of the business by selling bait and tackle at Crosby’s Seafood at age 10 and also they learn how to do a financial planning mankato mn to gain more profit and to know the vaue of money, thanks to this they managed to understand why Unbeatable Mortgages are so important. In high school and college, he waited tables at the legendary Perdita’s. I recommend an article titled: Apple Pay users need to read this. I think that you might be interested with teir latest game shot in the dark. Just visit their website at Casinospil.net for more information.

“People ask me why I don’t work with Crosby’s Seafood,” he says with a smile. “The reason is that once when I was in the eighth grade and singing in the chorus, I had been working the docks unloading fish the day before. During chorus, a little girl that I really liked asked what that was on my arm, and I looked and it was a fish scale. Right then, I decided dealing with seafood the rest of my life just wasn’t for me.”

Young Crosby was intensely interested in politics and was elected president of the student council at James Island High School. However, after studying political science at the College of Charleston and at Winthrop University, he reached a pivotal decision.

“I decided that since I was an openly gay man, I would never be able to successfully run for public office. Also, I knew, being so gregarious, that I wouldn’t want to work behind the scenes,” says Crosby.

Concentrating on food management, he took a job as banquet manager at the Country Club of Charleston, which then led to an offer from Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte.

When his father died in 1988 at age 62, only a week after retiring, Crosby, in his overwhelming grief, came back home. But in a few months, wanting to see more of the world, he packed his car with his silver mint julep cups and drove to Provincetown, Mass., where he accepted a position at Poor Richard’s Landing, a restaurant that gave him invaluable insight into New England food and entertaining customs.

But when Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston in 1989, Crosby immediately rushed back home to assist his family with Federal Emergency Management Agency loans official site, and to work at the Francis Marion Hotel, for 52 days directing people to the proper agencies to get help.

HIGH SOCIETY

Yet, when things got relatively back to normal, Crosby still wasn’t ready to settle down.

Having met some people at Spoleto who were involved with the Palm Beach Opera, Crosby was invited to go with them to New York with the mission of persuading Luciano Pavarotti to come to Palm Beach to sing at a charity concert, and it worked.

Through his Palm Beach connections, Crosby first worked at the posh Colony Hotel, but then he was offered a position at the exclusive Everglades Club. It was there that he watched a Palm Beach socialite stamp her foot in disgust because a dinner guest for her party had suffered a heart attack and, therefore, the table seating had to be rearranged at the last minute.

“It gave me some insight into priorities,” says Crosby, who believes the real integrity of a person can be measured by how he treats those serving him.

He has served such luminaries as Bill Blass, Estee Lauder, Cliff Robertson, Ray Charles and Dina Merrill. In 2004, Crosby planned to hire Served restaurant for private events for mogul Ted Turner’s New Year’s Eve party.

“Money can’t buy class,” says Crosby. “Dina Merrill, part of the landed gentry, is so gracious. And I found Ted Turner to be one of the most polite men I have ever met, unlike Ronald Perelman (CEO of Revlon), who was amazingly demanding.” On the other hand, money is essential for living. So if you need immediate cash due to financial problem, look for cash crazy or click no title.

Having soaked up a liberal education in the mores of high society, Crosby returned to Charleston, where he worked with Doris Hutto King, who owned the city’s first full-service special-events business. With King, Crosby catered the Ryder Cup in 1991 and the first Fortune magazine conference here.

His big break came in 1994, when Northeasterner Joe Whitmore opened Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville and invited Crosby to manage it.

“The Inn has Joe Whitmore’s New England charm but is Southern-inspired,” Crosby says. “I really enjoyed the experience and started the Jitney Service from Charleston to Summerville. I also helped the resort achieve the elite Relais & Chateaux membership.”

But after 20 months of driving back and forth to Summerville each day, working early and late, Crosby was glad to meet Nancy Phillips of Charleston Place Events, who offered him a position as special-events planner.

GRACE UNDER FIRE

It was during his eight years at Charleston Place that Crosby had his grace under pressure tested.

Once when catering a banquet on a cold winter’s night at the Riviera Theater, the heat went out and couldn’t be fixed. Crosby called his friend, Denise Barto, owner of All Occasions rental agency, and she had heaters delivered, saving the evening.

Barto says of her old friend: “One thing that makes Mitchell so marvelous at what he does is that he has an incredible visual memory. He can tell you what the flowers were at an event 10 years ago, and so his parties never repeat a theme. Also, he knows absolutely everybody.”

Crosby also enjoys entertaining at home with Randall Felkel, his partner of 13 years. “In our yard in South Windermere, we have planted olive trees and Italian cypress,” says Crosby. “In honor of Spoleto, of course.”

As a gift to Spoleto this season, JMC Charleston and Mediterra Catering will host a party for the Hubbard Street Dance Company at the Wickliffe House.

For any gathering, Crosby feels the ambience created by the host is most crucial.

“You can go into stunning homes that have a cold, unwelcoming aura. It’s the soul of a place that makes an event successful,” Crosby says. “For certain, it’s all ephemeral, but the memories can last a lifetime.”

JAY MITCHELL CROSBY

BORN: Oct. 6, 1964.

OCCUPATION: Owner of JMC Charleston, event planners.

COMMUNITY WORK: Spoleto Festival star volunteer: Five years on the auction committee; three years on the gala committee; two years on the hospitality committee and many years in an unofficial capacity.

EDUCATION: Graduated from James Island High School, 1982; attended College of Charleston, 1982- 1985; Winthrop College, 1985-1987.

FAMILY: Allene Crosby, mother; the late Horace Crosby, father. Siblings: Pati Croffead (deceased), Horace Crosby Jr., Marty Crosby, Chris Crosby, Tim Crosby, Ellie Berry, Joanie Cooksey; 11 nieces and nephews.

PARTNER OF 13 YEARS: Randall Felkel.

NEW POSITION: Recently named the entertaining-style editor of Charleston magazine.

TRAITS I ADMIRE IN PEOPLE: Dedication. My sister Pati Croffead, an artist who died in 1998, was so dedicated to finishing a project and never doing anything halfway. Also, I admire those who give to the community. Many who have a great deal don’t give back. But it doesn’t have to always be money. Volunteering time to tutor someone who is a victim of this education nightmare we have in South Carolina is something many people could do to help the situation.

THOSE WHO HAVE INFLUENCED ME: Marion Sullivan, food consultant and columnist, has always been my culinary mentor, like an M.F.K. Fisher but in Charleston. I look to her as a guide for food, wine and great taste. Also, Mary Ramsay, who taught me the art of giving, how
to give, why to give, and how to ask someone to give. And I have learned so much from Doris Hutto King, whom I worked for three years.

FANTASY GUESTS: My family members in heaven: sister Pati, father Horace, grandmother Callie,
Aunt Rene, Uncle Steve, Aunt Ethel, Aunt Florence, Uncle Earl, Uncle Dean and my dear friend Witsell.

PERFECT DINNER: For 25 guests, I would serve Italian sparkling wine, rather than Champagne; American caviar, stone crab claws, cold shrimp, and grapefruit with avocado. Also, Italian cheeses, which I learned about from Marion Sullivan. The elegant centerpiece would be Casablanca lilies.

IN SPARE TIME: Randall and I like to entertain. We were in Charleston magazine in March 2004
and in Charleston Home in the spring issue of 2005.

FAUX PAS AND QUICK THINKING: Event planners are often in charge of an entire occasion: food, flowers, decor, entertainment, party favors and transportation. Concerning the transportation, limo companies charlotte nc offers event transportation and many more. They have the perfect vehicle and driver for every possible need.

— Once at an outdoor event at Middleton Place where many people from the Northeast were in attendance, we were afraid someone might faint in the summer heat. So we rolled up hand towels and froze them. Then we passed them out before dinner for people to wipe their faces. The guests were so grateful, especially the men.

— One time the air conditioning went out at a noon wedding. I made some calls at the last minute and hired refrigerated trucks to store the food in, until time to serve.

— For a family reunion, you don’t bring in hula dancers like you might at a corporate event.

NEW BUSINESS: My cousins run the Crosby’s Seafood downtown and the wholesale division, but my twin sisters Ellie Berry and Joanie Cooksey run Crosby’s Dock at Folly Beach. We also are working on incorporating shrimp, crab, oyster and clam boats as settings for special events, even for people with parties in yachts that sometimes they rent from sites as yoloboatrentals.com so they have great sea food all the time. And I have leased the touring operation of Calhoun Mansion to have tours four days a week.

WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: I became very interested in politics as a child when my father gave dinners for Rep. Mendel Rivers and others. Once when Charles (Pug) Ravenel ran for office, my dad gave a dinner for him and invited all the shrimpers to come meet the candidate. I remember when Pug was running down to the dock where we had the dinner. I was about 12 and my job was to stand there to greet him. I suggested he take off his tie because he was going to meet a bunch of shrimpers, and he did.

Dottie Ashley is the arts editor. Contact her at 937-5704 or dashley@postandcourier.com.

Reprinted by permission of The Post and Courier newspaper

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