By Erica Bray and Jeanine Ibrahim
Food is an obsession for Lori and Scott Harlig – both at home and at work.
In 2007, the married couple founded Amici Catering, bringing to the business a combined 60 years in the hospitality industry. The pair has worked for prestigious companies such as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (Chicago) and Restaurants Unlimited, Inc. (Seattle) and ran the popular Phoenix-based restaurant Tucchetti.
Boasting a perfect 5-star rating on Yelp, Amici Catering is poised for its third expansion in eight years. Clearly, the Harligs are doing something right.
Lori Harlig spoke to Name.Kitchen about the business, its name – and why they migrated to a ‘dot-catering’ (.catering) domain to continue building the brand.
Both you and Scott grew up in the food hospitality business. Was it destiny to follow in your respective family’s footsteps?
We’re a third generation of all things food. We would not do anything else, and we would do this if you didn’t pay us. That’s how much we crazy love it. It is nonstop in our house, all things food.
Is it this love of food that drives your business?
Food is just a creative vehicle. What attracts us in the hospitality industry is that it’s such a team sport. You know, it takes everybody, it takes the dishwashers, it takes the servers, it takes every single person to pull that off and to do it really, really well. And when you do, you all win. It’s not just a one-person sport.
Speaking of sports, you got to cater a Super Bowl VIP tailgate earlier this year. What was that like?
Yes! That was 2,500 people, and it was really kind of crazy and intense. But we were just laughing about that because we did a party for 18 last weekend, and we were like, “We’d rather do a party for 200 than 18.”
Most would assume the other way around. What’s another misconception about the catering industry?
Catering sometimes can be about frozen processed food because you can produce it quickly. But all of our food is fresh. It’s made by us. And if not by us, we use local purveyors here in the Valley. We really believe in sourcing local whenever possible.
You took over an existing catering business seven years ago after managing restaurants for 30-plus years. Did you inherit the name, ‘Amici’?
No, we chose the name Amici. But it wasn’t our first choice. Our first name was ‘Simplici,’ which means “simple.” Because we just wanted a more simple lifestyle, we wanted simple great food.
As we started working with logos and testing, however, we found that [the word] was hard to say. We were like, “Oh, that’s going to be hard for the rest of our lives” – you know, to be correcting that.
Better to recognize that sooner rather than later.
Yeah. We started doing some mini focus groups with a list of 14 names. Somebody randomly said, “Well, you know, what do you want [in a name]?”
We’re like, “Well, you know, it’s about friendships, it’s about relationships.” It was important for us to be more than just a place to get food. So we sat there with an Italian-American dictionary, and someone asked, “What’s the word for ‘friend’?”
And that word was ...
Was it important to have an Italian name?
It wasn't important that our name was Italian. We chose Amici because it translates in Italian to "friend," and we are so fortunate to have a host of friends and supporters from our time managing the Italian restaurant, Tucchetti.
Does the name resonate with customers?
Absolutely. [laughter] But a lot of people ask if we’re Don Amece’s children, too. We simply state "No" and let them know the translation of "amici" in Italian. We don’t even look back and question the name now -- we just let it be.
So how did you take your business name to the Internet?
We originally started with amicicateringaz.com – which is really long. When we were working on just our website in the last year and a half, our web designer said, “You know, they’re coming out with ‘dot-everything.’"
You mean the release of “not-com” domain options?
Yes. There was not a ‘dot-catering’ at the time, but you could ask GoDaddy to let you know when ‘dot-catering’ came out. So one day they sent me a little message that said, “Amici.Catering is available. Do you want it?” So we bought it.
Why did you bite on a 'dot-catering' domain?
Because it is cool. It’s more personalized. It’s right to the point. It describes our business. It gets us away from the ‘dot-com’ and ‘dot-net,’ which is just a big grouping.
It makes you wonder, why did we not do this before? How did we get all grouped up into a ‘dot-com,’ and then have to start putting extensions and all this other stuff? We try and be on-trend, we try and be forward-thinking. So we were really excited and when [‘dot-catering’] came through. We just love it.
What sort of response have you received when you tell people your website address is a ‘dot-catering’?
People always want it to be “amici-dot-catering-dot-com,” and we’re like, “No, just amici-dot-catering.” I tell these people, “You can be a ‘dot-anything,’ pretty much.” And they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
You are pioneering a new online naming education.
We’re anxious for the “not-coms” to really get onboard and known. It needs to be more used, and then I think it will become recognized. When I share it with other people, I’m like, “Yeah, you could be a ‘dot-doctor.’ You could be a ‘dot-lawyer.’ How cool is that?"
To learn more about this business, visit the Amici.catering website.