BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Edna Morris got a surprise the first time she sampled hors d'oeuvres made by En Garde caterers.
"The food was just incredible," she recalled of that holiday open house. "I couldn't believe they were going to be in our area."
Morris isn't easily impressed, particularly by food. She is a past president of Red Lobster, has been on the board of the Culinary Institute of America, and is the managing director of a private equity fund that focuses on restaurants and education services. She and her husband, David Forester, own two restaurants. He owns a winery.
En Garde owners Bill Munette and Robb Schoonmaker moved here a year and a half ago from Kennebunkport, Maine, where they operated a catering business for a decade. They returned to this area, where they have family and where they originally started their catering business 20 years ago, then named the Silver Tureen.
Because of their previous success here, "I knew the area could handle the business," said Schoonmaker, 52, who has a degree in hotel restaurant management from Bryant University in Rhode Island and has worked in the food and beverage business for 36 years.
Munette, 46, a chef who has been in the food business for 20 years, learned cooking from his mother and grandmother, who had a wealth of family recipes from Austria, Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The men found a location for En Garde's kitchen and offices in a building at 400 Indian Rocks Road. More recently, they opened a retail space just steps away at 432 Indian Rocks Road that's managed by Kori Andersen.
The shop features daily prepared meals and side dishes for takeout or eating in at a small table, along with frozen entrees for lunch or dinner.
"Their food is outstanding," said David Forester, who owns Quantum Leap Winery in Orlando. "I probably eat their food three or four times a week."
The shop is expanding its retail inventory, which now includes sauces, olive oils, liquid and bar soaps from France, brushed aluminum cutlery, aprons, candles, greeting cards and crystal wine glasses.
During the week, En Garde delivers box lunches to residences and businesses within 2 miles of the shop. The $7 lunches are different each day and feature salads, meat wraps, pastas, seafood, quiches and vegetarian combinations.
En Garde's catering business can serve two to 1,000 people.
"We have no set menus," Schoonmaker said. "We customize the menu to the clients and their budgets. We have used family recipes. We did a Cuban event using all family recipes. Christmas Eve we did a Cajun dinner."
"I used (En Garde) for a celebration of life for my father, who died in January," said Kathy Milam, a real estate investment manager whose husband, Rowland, owns Incredible Edibles gourmet shop in Belleair Bluffs. "Robb and Bill just took over the planning, and the food was fabulous."
Milam, who is on the board of the Dunedin Fine Art Center, added that Munette and Schoonmaker give often to community fundraising events. "They have donated their food and services for our fundraiser for the Free Clinic and done a fabulous job," she said.
Dawn LaCross, a marketing director for Tampa Bay Magazine, has worked with Munette and Schoonmaker on several fundraisers. "They plan every single detail to tie in with the event," she said. "The food is just so beautiful you don't want to eat it."
En Garde also has special menus for private jets at Tampa and St. Petersburg-Clearwater international airports.
"We'll go anywhere," Schoonmaker said. "We did a wedding cake for a couple that went to Ireland to be married." Yes, they flew to Ireland with the cake.
Edna Morris has used En Garde's services for more than 20 occasions.
"We've used them for events ranging from a very romantic basket for two that my husband surprised me with," she said, "to a wedding reception, a football party and special occasion dinners with small groups … They have never let us down."