By S. Clayton Moore
For flight attendants and other aviation professionals in the Northeast region, Corporate Air Services is a godsend. Before the company started its air catering service in 2000, many charter companies were literally sending their staff out to restaurants to pick up takeout for their customers.
“Our approach to catering, our whole mission, is raising the standard in the industry,” said Nicole Cotroneo, the company’s marketing director.
In fact, business has been so good that the company opened up a second location adjacent to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey in January. That location joins the original kitchen on Long Island, allowing the company to serve a wide range of airports. They serve FBOs and charter companies all over the area including LaGuardia, JFK and Islip MacArthur airports in New York, two airports in the Hamptons, and Newark, Teterboro and Westchester County airports in New Jersey.
It’s a family business as well. The company, along with a charter company, Corporate Air Solutions, is headed by Frank X. Cotroneo Sr., an aviation veteran who spent over 20 years flying the chief executives of AOL Time Warner around the world.
Running the day-to-day operations is a team led by Frank Cotroneo Jr., his sister Nicole Cotroneo, and Phillip Allopena, an aviation veteran with roots in both Time Warner and Atlas Air. Prior to opening the company, Frank Cotroneo Jr. was working on an aircraft in Long Island when a flight attendant approached him in tears about her current catering company. After doing his homework, he brought the company to life, at the request of the front line staff of the industry.
“We want to give our clients on these aircraft the equivalent of a Manhattan dining experience,” Nicole Cotroneo explained.
She knows what that means after her own experience doing restaurant reviews for publications like the Washington Post.
The experience is mouth-watering and the variety of dining provided by Corporate Air Services is expansive. From mojito-marinated steak to Japanese sushi and sashimi lobster Chateau Monet, the sheer imagination of their lunch and dinner selections is impressive. The company’s avant-garde executive chef, Jorge Fortune, who was lured away from one of New York’s finest restaurants to serve Corporate Air’s clients, provides the menu’s vitality. He’s also a veteran of Aras, a high-end eating establishment in Caracas, Venezuela.
“I want to make a difference in the culinary world,” Fortune declared. “The best part is that most of our clients have eaten in the most elite restaurants of the world and when they say that one of my creations is the best dish they ever tasted, I know they’re comparing it with the best of the best.”
Cotroneo explains that although there are other catering companies in the area, the comparison is insignificant.
“If you were to take even a simple tray of food and compare us to our competitors, it’s apples and oranges,” she said. “We’re giving 10-ounce lobster tails instead of three-ounce lobster tails on our seafood tray. We’re flying in stone crab claws from Florida. For a cheese tray, we’re giving bread from Eli’s in New York City or Carr’s biscuits, standard. Our customers don’t have to ask for these things.”
One of the factors driving the quality of Corporate Air Services’ food is the quality of the company’s clients. Their first location on Long Island made them a natural choice for charter companies flying rich and famous customers to the Hamptons. While the company is understandably discreet, the charter companies they serve are flying movie stars, television chefs, presidential candidates and foreign royalty. Corporate clients also include executives from Barnes & Noble, Black & Decker, Universal and Sony Aviation.
“We do have a lot of elite clients with very high standards,” Cotroneo admits. In short, there’s nothing they won’t do on request. In addition to specialty food requests, staff has been known to stock deliveries with DVDs, toys for children, pajamas and pillows.
“That’s the industry,” Cotroneo said. “You have people in these flying living rooms and we do it all. There’s no such thing as no. Our clients are the ones who are going to the Hamptons and eating meals catered by Ina Garten, who writes the ‘Barefoot Contessa’ cookbooks. We want that flight attendant to put a plate down and for it to look like a work of art.”
Since Long Island and upstate New York is more of a seasonal market, however, Corporate Air was happy to open up their second location at Teterboro in January.
“People come around for the summer and they enjoy our catering, but they really wanted to use us in New Jersey,” Cotroneo said. “It was really the demand of our clients that caused us to open up at Teterboro. We wanted to provide that service for them, but it’s not acceptable for us to drive catering an hour and a half to New Jersey, so we opened up the new kitchen.”
The two locations are just minutes from their primary airports. Their Teterboro deliveries take less than five minutes from kitchen to FBO and their Long Island location is minutes from Islip-MacArthur, Farmingdale and West Hampton airports. In addition to Chef Fortune, about 30 staff work to take orders, prepare meals and deliver them to anxious flight staff.
Those pilots, flight attendants and FBO staff are the company’s best advertising, in fact. Since Corporate Air Solutions rarely interacts directly with clients on board, they rely on flight crews for feedback and referrals.
“These people matter so much to us. They’re so important because it’s the flight attendant that is going to take the heat if something is not right,” Cotroneo explained.
In keeping those relationships strong, Corporate Air Solutions has even been known to comp crew meals from time to time for their loyal customers.
“I’ve been a corporate flight attendant for 14 years and I’m one of those who mostly gets food out of gourmet restaurants because I could never trust corporate caterers,” said Pam Leibowitz, who manages in-flight services for Fisher Scientific and is a current client of Corporate Air Services. “I’m glad someone finally gets it!”
Despite their high-end services, the company doesn’t rely on high-end prices to turn a profit. The team works hard to make their prices competitive with the market while still providing the best plates in the sky.
“People don’t always think about what it takes to get them from point A to point B. What they do remember is their experience in the cabin. When our clients experience a memorable meal—one that makes them say ‘Wow,’ they’re going to come back and use that service again,” Cotroneo said.
Chef Fortune agrees.
“You don’t need to be sitting in an Argentinean restaurant to enjoy tender filet mignon or in a Parisian bistro to enjoy cream lobster bisque,” Fortune said. “You just need to fly with us.”
For more information, call (631) 580-4560 or visit [http://www.corporateairservices.com/].