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Eclipsing Expectations

Eclipsing Expectations

  • Photos by Keith Borgmeyer
  • This story originally appeared in the December 2023 food and drink issue of COMO Magazine.
Spread of Entrees from Eclipse Catering and Events

Eclipse Catering and Events melds tradition and innovation for an inspired culinary experience.

When it comes to events in Columbia, The Atrium on Tenth and its partner, Eclipse Catering and Events, offer their customers the ultimate experience through the perfect marriage of an elegant venue and exquisite flavors.

Although the Eclipse Catering and Events story begins in murky waters revolving around the transgressions of a past partner, the result was the serendipitous meeting of co-owners Leanne Geiss and Josiah Williams and the beginning of something brand new.

“We came up with the name Eclipse to symbolize a fresh start — a sort of rebirth. We wanted to run our business the right way and take care of our staff and customers. That’s the whole basis of our company. We’re just different,” Geiss says.

Growing up in the kitchen, Williams calls himself a “scratch cook” having learned many of his culinary skills from his dad, who worked in catering most of his life. Williams laughs as he says he was planning to retire and get out of the food industry when he met Geiss who talked him into staying, painting a beautiful picture of what the future could be. 

In easy camaraderie, Geiss counters that it was Williams’s talent that made her see the potential future of the business.

“In the midst of all the badness, it was just such a lucky partnership,” she adds. 

Initially, Geiss and Williams ran Eclipse Catering and Events from a rented fraternity house kitchen, landing contracts with local fraternities and schools. In March 2022, the pair took over management of The Atrium on Tenth and subsequently relocated their catering hub to a newly built commissary kitchen in the Broadway Marketplace on Trimble Road.

Today Eclipse Catering and Events is not only the in-house caterer for the Atrium on Tenth and the Elk Park Event Center, but additionally feeds more than 900 students a day and two fraternity houses, plus provides grab-and-go food for The Grind coffee house locations. 

Eclipse is the largest locally-owned catering company in Columbia, with a staff of eighty-three — half of which are full-time employees with benefits.

“We run our company like a family which is why we don’t have trouble staffing,” says Geiss. She shares the story of a current staff member who was homeless when she was hired and just last week bought her first car.

“Now she loans money to other staff members who are down on their luck,” adds Williams. “We also have two staff members who are first-time home buyers. You get what you give. We invest in the ones who invest in us.”

Roasted beef tenderloin over whipped potatoes with broccolini topped with shrimp

The Food

Taking inspiration from classic family dishes, Williams often takes old recipes and updates them in a new and innovative way.

“There is a generational food gap and many of the old, traditional dishes are fading into the past,” he says. For instance, one of his signature dishes is Missouri hot chicken, a take on Nashville hot chicken that stars chicken that is baked and fried, then glazed with sweet chili sauce and cilantro butter.

Geiss adds, “The cool thing about Jo is that he can taste something or take an idea and make it his own.

She explains that one unique aspect of the catering menu is that customers have base proteins to choose from and then a variety of unique sauce options to make it their own.

“Jo is known for his sauces, many of which involve the delicious pairing of fruits and herbs like the strawberry basil balsamic glaze,” Geiss notes.

In addition to the set catering menus, which are updated seasonally, Williams works with customers to create custom options, as well.

“If you love grandma’s meatloaf, give me the recipe and I’ll make it the ‘Eclipse way’ and take it to the next level,” he says.

Geiss smiles as she recalls the recent creation of a “mutton mousse that was actually such a huge hit that we almost added to the menu.” Geiss laughs. “Let us think outside the box for you – it is so much fun.”

Eclipse Catering works with any budget from six-dollar pasta bowls to a fifty-dollar plated menu – to keep options upscale but still relatable. The team always accommodates dietary restrictions and looks for inventive ways to do so, such as the recently palated plant-based lemon mousse.

Made-from-scratch desserts are likewise a highlight of the Eclipse Catering menus, on which Williams sometimes collaborates with local pastry chefs. 

“Jo is known for his gooey buttercakes,” Geiss says. “He creates all different flavors like funfetti, Oreo, red velvet, carrot cake, and lemon. We started offering little gooey butter cake trios so you can have a bite of each.”

Geiss relies on her years of hospitality experience to work with Williams and the team at The Atrium and Eclipse Catering to create a seamless experience for customers, even in the face of the unexpected. 

“Every event has its surprises like finding out a guest is vegan, or they need ten extra plates. But very rarely does the customer know – that is what we do,” says Williams.

Geiss adds, “The best marketing we can do is to just let people try Jo’s food. Once you do you don’t go anywhere else.”

Roasted airline chicken garlic parmesan creme with fall rice pilaf and spiced honey carrots

Expanding the Brand

To fill the gap in late-night dining options, the duo teamed up with EquipmentShare chef Craig Hindelang to launch After Bite. This new overnight dining concept is open from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. with a menu featuring comforting classics with a twist like the chicken and waffle sandwich and ultimate breakfast grilled cheese.

Subsequently in October, Geiss and Williams opened Bite Como at the same location on Trimble Road offering lunchtime fare from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. including burgers, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and fresh salads. Williams and Geiss also manage an off-shoot business named Lunar, which is a commercial cleaning business, and note that next year they plan to add a new concept to their portfolio. (But they aren’t ready to announce that just yet.)

Even with so much going on, Geiss and Williams are committed to making not only their customers but their staff a top priority, which has provided a good work-life balance.

“We try to make it a rule to never work on Sundays so that we don’t find ourselves in a position to over promise and under deliver,” says Geiss.

She adds, “I’m really lucky. I have an amazing husband who steps up to take care of our three children and our home when I’m at work. That’s why we treat this company as a family so that when Jo and I can’t be here, they will maintain the high-quality service we provide.”

As for the future of our brand, Geiss said she and Williams “love that our staff are like family and our kids are growing up in the business.” Williams’s daughter will be in the back making fruit cups while Geiss’s daughter will be on the floor stacking chairs.

Geiss adds, “We are excited to see what is next.” 

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