The Mandalay Banquet Center & Catering is a Dayton Institution.
By Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti
Don and Cay Phillips, owners of The Mandalay Banquet Center & Catering, are accustomed to getting phone calls to book events. However, in August of 2016 they were surprised to get a phone call from someone at Trump Tower asking them to host an event for then-vice presidential candidate Mike Pence.
A signed contract was completed by the end of the day on Friday, but the Wednesday event was not announced until the preceding Tuesday, with preparations for this visitor kept under wraps. During this visit Pence laid out some of the key promises of the Trump campaign, including an emphasis on energy policy and job restoration and creation, which generated national media attention for both Pence and for this event space that has become a fixture of the Dayton area.
The Mandalay is no stranger to hosting the political elite, having welcomed former Vice President Al Gore, former President George H. Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Speaker of the House John Boehner. One would expect a great deal of security for a political visit; George H. Bush was accompanied by the Secret Service.
The Pence event, however, was another level of activity. “We had dogs, the bomb squad and the police from Kettering, Moraine and Dayton,” Cay says. She found herself impressed by the professionalism of everyone involved. “People knew what they were doing,” she says of the visiting team, which put up barriers between the crowd and then-Indiana Gov. Pence and took every step to insure his safety. She says “the event went very well.”
Although events like that are rare, it is a testament to how prepared The Mandalay is to handle all sorts of guests. The 72,000-square-foot facility boasts an 8,200-square-foot ballroom, a 6,000-square-foot kitchen, and the ability to seat 650 people for dinner. “We do a lot of fashion shows,” Cay says. “We own our own equipment and staging so we can do stage shows (here.) We’ve even had dueling pianos.”
The Mandalay got its start when Don founded Quality Food and Vending, a company that had several large accounts, including The Ohio State University. He built the existing building to house the company and he would occasionally clean it out to host events for some of his customers. He was also running a number of cafeterias, which he sold in 1998.
Don is the driving force behind the success of The Mandalay. “He’s 82 years old and works like he’s 50,” Cay says with a laugh. “He used to go to bed at 11 and get up at 3:30 to see the trucks go out, then come back and sleep from 5 until 6:30 and do it again.” Luckily, that punishing schedule lightened up a bit once he sold Quality Food and Vending and kept The Mandalay.
In an industry known for rapid turnover of staff The Mandalay excels at keeping the same team members as part of the company family. The executive chef joined the staff at the age of 19, and, with only one break in service, has been with the company ever since; he is currently in his mid-50s. Some members of the kitchen staff have been with the company for a quarter of a century; the sous chef has been with The Mandalay for 14 years. “A lot of the people are here forever,” says Cay. “We’re like a family; we treat everyone with respect.”
Paying attention to the details is something in which The Mandalay staff takes pride. Cay points out the cleanliness of the kitchen and the entire facility as a point of emphasis. “You can’t be too clean in the kitchen.”
Because of the flexibility of the space and the staff The Mandalay is the area’s go-to site for a variety of meetings, trade shows, fashion shows, reunions, fundraisers and car shows. Recently, it even hosted a Girls Night Out show featuring a touring troupe of male dancers performing fully choreographed, sexy-yet-tasteful dance routines.
The Mandalay is also an ideal place for a wedding reception. Through a series of partnerships, it can help the new couple choose an open-bar cocktail service, appetizers, a sit-down dinner, champagne toasts and a memorable cake, in addition to helping with decorations, florists, music, balloons and AV services and photography.
The Mandalay is also a top area choice for hosting business meetings due to its full-service approach to serving the business community. The professionals at The Mandalay can coordinate all of the details necessary to hosting a meeting of any size, leaving the attendees free to concentrate on the business at hand.
The 8,200 square feet of meeting space includes seven break-out rooms, an executive suite with a dining room and access to high-speed internet. The space is also equipped with audio-visual equipment, and on-site catering can provide a continental breakfast, a working lunch and afternoon snacks. Cay is particularly proud of The Mandalay’s ability to host any kind of business event or meeting.
The Mandalay is just one of Don and Cay Phillips’s “babies.” Married for two decades, they share six children, 20 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and more on the way to round out the family. Residents of Yankee Trace, they enjoy golfing, dancing, playing cards and traveling. No word, however, on whether Don has broken his habit of waking up at 3:30 a.m.