Marilyn Newman, Founding Chairman at At Home
If you live in and around Cobham, then you’ll know that At Home offers a delectable menu of gourmet food. What you might not know is that it’s primarily an exclusive catering business that began serving up culinary delights to the music industry at parties in the early 1980s, and is now responsible for serving the highest tier of government the finest British produce on a regular basis. Their work also covers big events in the corporate and entertainment world. Here, its founding Chairman, Marilyn Newman, explains its origins, where it’s heading, and why, despite thriving on hosting parties, she can’t stand being a guest at one.
Prior to launching At Home in 1982, I’d lived in New York for seven years and regularly enjoyed shopping at a series of gourmet food stores; the sort of place you could buy a whole range of delicious, high quality ready-made meals.
On returning to the UK, I was disappointed to discover that, other than the likes of Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, which required travelling into the centre of London, this type of shop didn’t exist. So, I created my own.
What started out as a takeaway dinner party shop, where you could buy anything from hors d'oeuvres to a dessert (and confidently claim it was your own) quickly grew. We even had representatives from M&S, who were just in the process of launching their own range of ready-made meals, popping in for ideas!
Based in Cobham, in the same place we are to this day, we steadily developed a client base that consisted of well-known musicians and people in the public eye who lived at St Georges Hill, Weybridge and Blackhills, Esher.
Before long, we were not only being asked to prepare high-quality, pre-made meals, but also deliver and serve them, too. So, we started doing small parties for people at home, hence the name of our business. Instead of growing in the way I had initially envisaged, which would have seen more At Home delis open up in affluent towns such as Marlow and Harrogate, we started managing more catering events.
Given our connections with music label Sony through our musician clientele, at one point we ended up handling the entire catering for the Brit Awards for eight years. This involved a sit-down dinner for 5,000, backstage catering for 800 artists who wanted to eat around rehearsals in uniquely designed ‘clubrooms’, and an after-show drinks party for 7,000. From there, we began working with people in the corporate and government world, who felt reassured by the security clearance the entire At Home team had to have to work with its growing portfolio of high-profile people.
The company is currently 50-people strong, but that’s likely to grow as we have aspirations to launch in France. We already have one of our operations managers in place there. When it comes to events, France is quite traditional and I think our team could bring a touch of pizazz to it. One of my two business partners, Christophe, is the operations director and he also happens to be French, so there’s a natural fit there. John Walker, our managing director responsible for food design, has lots of exciting ideas which would work with the brilliant produce in France.
My background is interior design, which allows us to provide truly one-off party experiences. For example, you’ll never see the typical banqueting chairs at an At Home-organised party. We source furniture and accessories from film, theatre and TV prop houses so that it’s unique, and ensure that all the interiors are personalised for that event, whether it’s taking place in a marquee, venue or as part of a ‘pop-up’ restaurant, bar or club night experience.
People quite often assume I’m a huge party person. The truth is that I love organising them, but don’t ask me to attend one as a guest; I’d rather be standing in a corner making sure it’s seamless.