On a morning last summer, Clark Pope was busy making several batches of Belgian-style French fries at Cleveland
Culinary Launch & Kitchen in Cleveland’s Midtown neighborhood. The fries, along with
two hand-made dipping sauces, were destined for a bridal shower Pope was catering over
“The bride wants the experience of walking up to a food truck and ordering a meal,
but the party is not big enough for a food truck,” says Pope, who is the owner of Clark
Pope Catering and Pope’s Kitchen. “The guests will come up and we’ll make them a meal
on the spot.”
Also on the menu: Black Angus beef burgers, chips, and burritos with all the
trimmings, including a variety of salsas and guacamoles, two types of beans, and
several different meats. The approach is quintessential Pope, who specializes in creating
personalized dining experiences for his clients.
“I take catering very literally. It’s your party,” says the longtime Shaker resident, who’s
been catering for 17 years. Four years ago, Pope also launched Pope’s Kitchen, a spin-off
that sells artisan sauces, cocktail mixes — his Bloody Mary mix has a devoted following —
and other bar ingredients.
“What is your particular passion? We make it work,” he explains. “It’s what sets us
apart as a catering company.”
While Pope is equally comfortable catering everything from an intimate dinner party
to much grander affairs, among his favorite gigs is what he calls “tour catering.”
Tour catering menus are built around a theme, which can be a type of cuisine or
something else entirely. “One of the more interesting ones we’ve done lately is an east-towest
tour of Cleveland,” says Pope.
The “tour” started in Little Italy with bruschetta and a hand-fried ravioli, then moved
to the old Slovenian neighborhood along St. Clair Avenue with a potato and leek soup. Then
a pot sticker to celebrate the City’s growing Asian community, followed by a Flats-inspired
main course: “A flat iron steak with a cassoulet of fingerling potatoes cooked in butter
and cream with goat cheese and some early spring
asparagus.” Hungry yet?
The evening ended with a nod to the Near
West Side, a Latin-inspired dark-chocolate brownie
flavored with almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla, and
topped with locally made vanilla ice cream.
Pope sources many of his ingredients locally,
including at farmer’s markets. Another favorite
recent tour featured a menu in which all the food
was grown or raised in Northeast and Central Ohio.
“I met with the farmers on Saturday and then
picked everything up the following Saturday,” says
Pope. “So the mushrooms were wild foraged on
Thursday for Saturday’s dinner. The strawberries
were picked Saturday morning. It was so early in the
spring that they were the first strawberries of the
season. They were tiny and so full of flavor.”
Every caterer has an origins story about how they started cooking; for Pope it was all
about what happened after the meal. “The family rules at my parents’ house were if you
cooked, you didn’t have to clean and I despised cleaning, so I cooked,” says Pope, who grew
up in Shaker. His mother taught at Shaker High.
He fell in love with it and by the time he headed off to Miami University of Ohio,
Pope knew he wanted to open a restaurant. “I got a business degree and worked in a lot
of restaurants, but that business is difficult,” he says. Pope also worked as a specialevents
planner; he was with Cleveland’s National Concession Company, which does food
concessions for large outdoor events across the U.S.
By the early 2000s, Pope was ready for a change. He decided to follow in his mother’s
footsteps and enrolled at nearby Notre Dame College to earn his master’s in education. It
was then that he started catering.