For more than 60 years, Executive Caterers founder and president Harlan Diamond operated Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights, one the largest catering venues in Ohio. He was known to have said that his retirement party would be at his funeral.
But, last summer, with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, Diamond sold Landerhaven to Chris Hodgson and Scot Kuhn of Driftwood Catering. “Harlan was the second oldest catering company in Cleveland,” says Hodgson, who serves as president of Driftwood. “We’ve been trying to acquire it for five years now and I don’t think he ever wanted to sell.”
But COVID-19 shut the catering center down and after six decades running Executive Caterers, Diamond reconsidered. “It was just time for him,” Hodgson says. “What I told him five years ago is, ‘you don’t want your legacy to stop with you.’”
Diamond’s legacy will not end with Driftwood buying Landerhaven, Hodgson says. Although the Driftwood team has gone through 11 months of renovations on the 80,000-square-foot facility, Hodgson says they have kept the place mostly intact with Diamond’s original vision—even keeping the name Landerhaven but renaming the grand ballroom the Diamond Ballroom.
“I think it was the right time and we were the right people,” Hodgson says. “I've had them over to my house for dinner, he's met my family, my kids. I think he just finally had a sense of peace about turning over the keys to a new organization and to two guys that he knew would really take care of his facility.”
Since August 2020, the Driftwood renovation team has been working with Van Auken Akins Architects and RDS Construction on giving Landerhaven a bit of a facelift to give the interior a brighter, more modern look with neutral colors.
“We did all cosmetics, so we didn’t actually move any walls or change the way that the space feels, but we brightened it up,” Hodgson explains. “There isn’t a portion of the building that we didn't redo—the floors, the carpets, the wall treatments, the paint. We brought in new chandeliers and new lighting. All the ballrooms have divider walls. We took down the old divider walls and had them custom-made so they match all of the wallpaper.”
Fans of Landerhaven will be relieved that Driftwood decided to keep the staircase leading into the Diamond Ballroom, although the company did restore the stairs. “That kind of is one of the signature things,” admits Hodgson of the staircase. “When we were doing tours, everyone got very concerned. We did [remodel] all the wedding suites upstairs. We made the space a lot newer, cleaner, and a little bit more modern.”
Outside, the group replaced the parking lot, painted the building, and installed all new landscaping, fountains, and water features. “I don't think the paint had been done in over 40 years,” says Hodgson. “The parking lot was always a piece of concern and kind of eyesore driving by. It's brand-new and beautiful.”
Permanent tents also grace the outdoor landscape, for ample outdoor entertaining and protection from the elements. “They just look so much better than the tents that would go up and down,” Hodgson says. “Especially with COVID, we thought it would be very important during this time frame to make sure we had as much outdoor space as possible for guests to feel comfortable and have mixed-use space.”
Of course, the food is the major highlight, Hodgson promises. “We spent the last nine months meeting with the culinary team, kind of re-envisioning how we would do catered food,” he says. “Everything we do is with the mindset of how to do the fastest service, how to have the freshest ingredients, how to be able to serve 1,000 people.”
Hodgson says the entrees are fresh, seasonal, colorful. “It's much more modern,” he says. “It's not mashed potatoes scooped on a plate with a piece of chicken piccata and overcooked green beans. It's probably the best catering food in Cleveland, if not this side of the country.”
Hodgson promises the best service at any event, and price packages are all-inclusive, with everything from food and bar service to the tables and linens, to service charges and taxes covered.
“One the things that we worked very hard over this time was no matter where it is—whether it's in our facility, whether it's outside our facility—it's all-inclusive, which makes it very easy for the guests,” he explains, adding that Driftwood now has its own on-site design center and tasting room, as well as a bakery and floral shop.
Hodgson says many of Executive Caterers team members joined Driftwood Catering’s 400 employees, include pastry chef Sarah Keplinger and vice president of catering Melissa Marik. In total across all its restaurants and venues, Hodgson says they will employ about 1,000 people once everything is open again.
“Scott and I are incredibly blessed," he says. "A lot of hard-working passionate people have helped us keep growing.”
Landerhaven hosted its first event, a wedding, on May 1, and Hodgson says two days earlier they were still laying carpet and taking deliveries. “I felt bad for the bride and groom—I think they were panicking a bit,” he recalls. But everything was done in time for the wedding and the team hasn’t slowed down since then. “I think we've done close to probably two hundred events in the last two months and things just keep getting busier and busier and busier.”