When Stephen B. Shiring, EdD, MBA, a former caterer who is now associate professor of hospitality management at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, decided to write a book about the business of catering, he thought of The Homer Laughlin China Company (HLC Inc.).
Early in his career, Shiring worked for an exclusive catering company in western Pennsylvania that used Homer Laughlin china, and there began his love of the durable and beautiful dinnerware. Little did he know that years later he would be taking his IUP hospitality management students to visit the Homer Laughlin factory in Newell, West Virginia, to see how the gold standard in catering china is made. For eight years, he’s been growing this relationship with HLC to the benefit of his students, and he’s made some important friends at the Homer Laughlin China Company who greatly contributed to the making of the book: Michael Tkach, director of ceramic engineering; John Marino, specialty sales manager; and Dan Williams, director of marketing. And the rest is his story.
Shiring’s new textbook, "Professional Catering: The Modern Caterer’s Complete Guide to Success" (Delmar Cengage Learning, 2014), was written to equip readers with the knowledge and tools to start and position a competitive catering business. Shiring wanted his book to be different from the typical book on catering and to provide exclusive information, and he did both with 100 full-color photographs, 24 of which are of Homer Laughlin china and its factory on the Ohio River. His friends at HLC were willing and generous partners in the process.
“Dan Williams provided many photos from Homer Laughlin’s own photo stock, and Dan himself took some photos in the factory’s quality control area, such as color testing of Fiesta dinnerware and impact testing china for durability,” Shiring says. “And Mike Tkach and John Marino gave their time and expertise as I interviewed them extensively on all aspects of dinnerware for a catering business.”
Tkach’s ceramic engineering lab was the scene of the demonstrations on HLC china’s durability and performance, and he also shared information on what caterers should look for when they purchase dinnerware. Marino offered his knowledge on how to select the right china to set a catering business apart from the others and even how much dinnerware to purchase. He explained that HLC sales representatives will work one-on-one with caterers to help them choose china that event guests will enjoy and remember.
“I even used ‘sound bites’ from Mike and John as sidebars in the book that I call ‘Tips from the Trade,’” says Shiring. “I also videotaped some interviews with both Mike and John, which will be used as part of a video series/online learning tool that will coordinate with chapters in the book.”
Shiring is as enthusiastic now about Homer Laughlin china as he was back in his catering days.
“Their china is practically indestructible, and, more importantly, the guests loved it. I want my students to remember this high-quality, American-made dinnerware when they are out in the field and ready to purchase china for their own businesses,” says Shiring.