Jeffrey Miller is the chef-owner of Jeffrey Miller Catering, one of Philadelphia’s largest and most successful high-end catering companies.
Jeff started the business as a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1979. His first venture was a brunch-in-bed offering for fellow students on Sunday mornings. While expanding the company on campus during the academic year, he took summers off to intern at a number of world-renowned restaurants. These include the now-closed Le Cote Basque in New York, as well as Bouley and Le Cirque, also in New York, the Michelin three-starred Moulin de Mougins in the French Riviera, and the venerable Simpsons-on-the-Strand in London.
This early exposure to some of the best food around led JAM to focus on changing the nature of catered food, much of which had been heat and serve. JAM’s focus on made-from-scratch cuisine has driven the company’s kitchens ever since, and is encapsulated in a motto at the kitchen, “We have an itch to make it from scratch.” JAM currently bakes its own breads, wedding cakes, and pastries, cures its own meats, and prepares all of its hors d’oeuvres, sauces and dressings.
Back at Penn, as a Junior, in 1981, Jeff reached out to the new President, Sheldon Hackney, upon his arrival from Princeton where he had been Provost. Jeff delivered a chocolate torte to his office, as a marketing effort, and that dessert sample led Jeff to his first job with the Hackneys, cooking a birthday dinner for the writer and humarist, Art Buchwald. After that, and until Lucy and Sheldon Hackney left Penn in 1993, JAM Catering handled every catered event in Eisenlohr Hall, on-campus home of the Hackneys.
In addition to building a very thriving campus business, JAM had the great honor to cook meals at Eisenlohr for luminaries such as William and Rose Styron, Rosa Parks, Bishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and noted soprano Beverly Sills.
After twelve years at Penn, JAM branched into the city and suburbs and started to develop its first few catering management partnerships with mission-driven non-profits. The arrangements that JAM structured included investments by JAM in the buildings and grounds that were often the headquarters of these groups, funding the construction of kitchens, event spaces, landscaping and more. In exchange, JAM signed long-term exclusive catering agreements with these groups, sharing the revenue that has helped many of these organizations cover operating expenses, and supporting their very worthwhile missions. These non-profits are museums, art centers, arboretums, nature preserves and environmental/preservation groups. A sampling include:
• American Swedish Historical Museum
• Bellevue State Park
• Community Arts Center of Wallingford
• Curtis Arboretum
• John James Audubon Society
• Pinelands Preservation Alliance
• Tyler Arboretum
The events that JAM hosts at these venues has generated over $10m in the last five years alone and is, in most cases, a significant chunk of their annual income.
JAM Catering currently manages catering services as the exclusive caterer at seventeen area venues and caters over 700 weddings a year for gross revenues of $17M. The staff that was initially mostly Penn students now numbers over 130 full-timers and 800 part-time staff.