Black Tie Affair, the Chattanooga-based server and bartending service, celebrated its 20th anniversary on Jan. 1 of this year, and is still growing.
The owner, Pete Lapina, said he has seen a lot of changes since he started Black Tie Affair on Jan. 1, 1994 – changes in the business, in the industry, and in Chattanooga itself.
“At that time, Chattanooga wasn’t seeing the influx of wealth that’s so noticeable today,” Mr. Lapina said. “Nor did it have the reputation it now enjoys as a destination for high-end conventions and galas.”
Mr. Lapina’s first staffing “gig,” as he likes to call them, was a gala for the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Chattanooga Chefs & Cooks Association. The group was short on servers and bartenders, and since Mr. Lapina had been in the restaurant business, he knew the right people for the job.
Mr. Lapina’s service that evening was so well received that he was inspired to start his own business, which he first called “Black Tie Temps.” It would be 10 long months before the company’s first gig. Mr. Lapina thought he would primarily be needed for in-home parties, and only occasionally work with caterers who needed extra staff members. The opposite happened. The catering industry entered a period of rapid growth. As a result, many caterers were equipped to provide food and beverage service for their events but lacked the necessary staff. That’s where Black Tie Affair stepped in.
In addition to the off-site events, Black Tie Affair branched out, catering to local country clubs and private organizations. Mr. Lapina provided more than just staff; he provided consultation and training to many local restaurants and private venues. As Chattanoogans got to know the team, local companies, politicians and non-profits started requesting them by name. Since then, they’ve been behind the scenes everywhere, from swanky events for First Lady Laura Bush to parties in barns and everything in between.
Mr. Lapina also provides free consultation with each event helping the host be the expert to know how to properly stock the bar or plan the layout of the room. He said weddings have been a special niche for BTA, because of their ability to regularly staff insured and licensed bartenders. “A great way to save money at an event is to be able to provide your own beverages, as opposed to buying them from the caterer or the venue,” he said. “Our staff can provide properly trained bar staff, so you can be confident that the drinks are served responsibly.”
Pete and his wife Beth run the business full-time, and both have worked in the fine dining scene. Their staff boasts too many years of experience to count. At events, something is always bound to go wrong. Mr. Lapina described one event, about a dozen years ago, when a six-foot wedding cake was placed on a table whose legs had not been secured. The table collapsed, and a server from BTA dove in to keep the cake from hitting the floor. All the plates shattered, but the cake was rescued. Now, securing the table legs is always on the checklist. “We’ve already done everything wrong once,” Mr. Lapina joked. “So now we know how to avoid those mistakes.”
A sense of humor is an important part of the company’s atmosphere. Pete Lapina and Beth operate Black Tie Affair out of their home in Chattanooga. Mr. Lapina finished his duty at the Marine Corps in 1984, then enrolled at UTC. He earned his degree in Business Administration: Management while working at the Walden Club. Black Tie Affair provides staffing for all types and sizes of events, seven days a week.