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After 25 Years, Catered Affair's Owners Haven't Lost Their Enthusiam

Release Date: January 22, 2014

Despite heavy snowfall and a winter storm, there's a steady stream of customers coming in to Hillsborough's Catered Affair, on Route 206.

Owner Pete Bloom, sitting at a table for this interview, smiles and greets each person in the steady stream, "Hi, Jim," "Thanks, Brendan," and so on. A few minutes earlier, a customers asked him to settle a long argument a mother and daughter were having, confirming mom's memory of visiting Bloom and his wife, Karen, when their deli was in Raritan.

"That was a long time ago," Karen said.

More than 25 years, actually, since the business is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, marking decades of serving up "Letter R" sandwiches and catered affairs at homes, offices and fundraisers.

The couple's business actually started even before the Raritan deli, when Pete launched a catering business based in their apartment, while Karen commuted to a job with CBS radio in New York City.

For Pete, there just wasn't anything else to do.

"I went in the Navy, got out, got a job—and hated it," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to work for anybody else."

So what to do? He turned to the business he knew from his high school days, when he worked at a Montclair deli after school. After building up the catering business, the couple opened a deli in Raritan in the early '80s—but had their eyes on a Hillsborough location.

They eventually convinced the owner of the Boro Center on Route 206 to give them a chance, and on Jan. 7, 1989, one of Hillsborough's most popular and longest-lasting eateries opened.

Catered Affair has been at the forefront of many trends: a collection of portraits of youth teams shows their long commitment to supporting the programs; a specialized BBQ catering business is blossoming; and the daily special faxed to 200 local machines in the '90s presaged today's texted specials.

The business grew from being Hillsborough's only source of deli cuts to offering sandwiches and breakfasts as grocery stores and others encroached on the deli side. After the economic downturn in 2007, they realized too many of their customers only thought of Catered Affair for their catering needs—so they added "Sandwich Station" to help highlight the sandwiches and paninis many have come to love.

Sandwiches like the "Letter R" sandwich, so named from the days the menu board was alphabetically arranged and the chicken breast-bacon-cheese sandwich came under the letter "r."

"We offered the 'Letter R' for $5 for our anniversary and sold 480 on Saturday and Sunday," Karen said. She said many of the sandwiches biggest fans are college students, who lined up to enjoy their local favorite sandwich during the special (you can spot the biggest "Letter R" fans: patrons receive a free hoodie declaring their love of the sandwich and Catered Affair).

More specials and discounts are planned for the remainder of the month (keep an eye on Catered Affairs' Facebook page for updates on anniversary specials), too.

Whether you're in for a salad, soup or the award-winning Triple-deck Sloppy Joe, plan on taking a minute or two to join in the never-ending football or baseball arguments underway.

"This is a football freak's place," Pete said, laughing. "We'll argue football all year long; In the spring, we'll argue baseball, too."

To encourage dialogue, several Dallas Cowboys banner adorn the shop's walls and fixtures.

All in all, the Bloom's attribute their success to a simple strategy, based on knowing their customers—"I swear we know every customer's name," Karen said—and their "unbelievable" staff.

"I can't say enough about the people who work for us," Karen said, adding General Manager Ruben Villa has been a trusted part of Catered Affair for 20 of their 25 years.

That, certainly, and their honest love of the business, which shows in every greeting and hello to a customer.