The weekly menu went out to customers last month with a special announcement: Christafaro’s would be closing permanently. For hostesses, event planners, cultural organizations and the business community, it was a shock. This premier caterer had been an important part of the Palm Beach social scene for 32 years.
For Christafaro’s owner, Doreen Alfaro, it was time to leave the party. Alfaro closed the business and retired on Tuesday.
She had faced the pandemic with resolve. As . more and more events were canceled in 2020,she revised her business plan, went back into the kitchen and offered a comfort food menu for delivery or curbside pickup.
Her signature chicken pot pies, as well as other comfort foods, started flying out the door. In three weeks, she had made more dough for pot pies than she had made in the past 10 years. Her customers have been sending notes of thanks with words such as “you saved us during COVID.”
For Alfaro, leaving the business on a high note is important.
West Palm shop
Her culinary journey began in 1989 with a Gourmet-to-Go shop on Dixie Highway.
“It was a new concept. We offered take-out lunches and dinners of freshly prepared comfort foods, like soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods. Our biggest customers were the Palm Beach Post and trades people along Antique Row and Georgia Avenue. We also had a gourmet market where you could find specialty items you couldn’t find in supermarkets.”
When a nearby off-premise catering site became available in 1995, ”we took the plunge. It was a little scary, but we really had good stuff and that set us apart,” said Alfaro. “Our big breakthrough came when Neiman Marcus opened on Worth Avenue in 2001. We did a sit-down dinner for 300 that night and left the store in pristine condition, ready for business the next morning. The success of that event brought more corporate business and especially clients related to the arts.”
Alfaro was a visible presence working the events. It was her ability to work directly with customers as well as her talent for logistics, creatively and attention to detail that set Christafaro’s apart.
She kept her kitchen staff employed throughout the summers preparing signature hors d’oeuvres. Every selection, either hot or cold, had to conform to the following criteria: they must be no bigger than one bite with no dripping and no skewers. Palm Beach cheese puffs and pigs in blankets were always in demand and she came up with mosaic goat cheese with apricots and figs; mini blue corn tacos with quinoa salad; one-bite chicken pot pies; and a Reuben strudel of corned beef, Swiss and sauerkraut with Russian dressing.
In 2019, 50,000 hors d’oeuvres filled the freezers, up from 30,000 the year before, and by mid-season, the chefs had to make 20,000 more.
But 2021 has marked the grand finale to this chapter of her life. She put her fully equipped catering facility on the market and is looking forward to the future.
She lives in a century-old mission-style cottage set in a lush tropical garden. The softly-lit rooms are filled with works of art collected on her travels, and ceramic pieces she has designed and fired.
When Alfaro was not filling pots with signature gourmet treats, she was throwing them at the Armory Art Center. SA part-time potter for years, she envisions a future of art, travel and culture.