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Foodservice giant Compass Group buys caterer Lazy Gourmet

44-year-old Lazy Gourmet's contracts for event catering include downtown universities
The Lazy Gourmet leadership team includes executive chef Jenny Hui (left), founder Susan Mendelson (centre) and general manager Kevin Mazzone | Rob Kruyt

International foodservice giant Compass Group has bought the 44-year-old Vancouver catering business Lazy Gourmet for what insiders describe as a "significant" but confidential amount. 

Compass has offered all of Lazy Gourmet's 130 full-time-equivalent employees the chance to stay in their jobs, and no operational changes are expected in the short term, Lazy Gourmet founder Susan Mendelson and Compass Group Canada's Eurest sector president Jacques Webster told BIV. 

At the time of the sale, Mendelson owned 70 per cent of Lazy Gourmet, while the company's general manager, Kevin Mazzone, a past BIV 40 Under 40 winner, owned 30 per cent.

Mendelson said that the company was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, when corporate events and private parties virtually dried up. Things started to return to normal in 2022, however, and she said the company generated about $12 million in revenue in that calendar year. 

Her business has largely enjoyed steady growth through the years, with some growth spurts coming from Expo '86, the Molson Indy Vancouver and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, she said.

"I'm not really retirement material," said Mendelson, who founded Lazy Gourmet in 1979 but in recent years has not worked full-time at her business. She will continue to be involved as a consultant, she said.

"My role will include mentoring, and staying in touch on a day-to-day basis, doing some media work, closing the deals, and really being there for the staff, as well as a communicator," Mendelson said.

Compass operates in a wide range of foodservice niches, including in educational facilities, health-care settings and seniors' homes. Webster said that the company has had some corporate-event-catering staff in Vancouver but that the staff count in that area pales in comparison to the size of Lazy Gourmet.

"When we were looking for someone to work with in the Vancouver area, it didn't take a lot of research to find out that Lazy Gourmet really was the premier organization that we would want to work with," Webster said.

Mendelson said the transaction helps both ventures.

Lazy Gourmet could benefit from some of Compass' corporate systems and its deep pockets to potentially upgrade the caterer's facilities, she said.

Some of Lazy Gourmet's large and ongoing contracts include work with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and University of British Columbia (UBC) for catering in those institutions’ downtown campuses.

Mendelson said that Lazy Gourmet gained international attention in part from a 2019 article in the New York Times about the rise of a B.C. treat: Nanaimo bars. When Mendelson was a university student in the 1970s, she started making the bars and selling them at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. She then included her Nanaimo bar recipe in her 1980 cookbook Mama Never Cooked Like This. She has since written nine more cookbooks. 

The transaction has been in the works since around March 2022, when Webster reached out to Mendelson to start talks on selling her business.

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