During her professional career, Nancy Van Benschoten had a few pivotal experiences that cemented her love of catering and event planning.
And she’s successfully channeled that expertise and passion into The Nauti Butler, her year-old Manasquan-based food and beverage/event planning business that supports seafarers and landlubbers alike.
“In high school, I worked at a deli in Spring Lake where I was taught about perfection in presentation,” recalled Van Benschoten, a lifelong Manasquan resident. “I learned that the preparation and transfer of food is a gift and that by making the customers’ food with care and intent, it can have an incredible impact.”
After high school, Van Benschoten attended Brookdale Community College in the Lincroft section of Middletown and then the Stuart School of Business in Wall, where she trained to be an executive administrator. She spent the next two decades supporting day-to-day operations for senior-level executives at a corporation in Eatontown, but soon found herself overseeing another role as well.
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“A fellow colleague and I started handling all of our company’s corporate events, transforming bare venues through themed décor,” she said of the experience that catalyzed her love of event planning. “It was so nice to see people so happy and appreciative and that eventually became one of my primary and favorite jobs at the company.”
Though she left that job in 2012 and moved to New York, Van Benschoten moved back to Manasquan with her husband six years ago and felt the lure of her former pastime calling.
“My husband is an avid fisherman and we have a boat docked at Brielle Yacht Club,” she said. “Every weekend, I’d be up before he and his friends left to go fishing creating brunch boxes or lunch platters for them to enjoy on the water, along with ice and drinks. And on holidays, we’d have 30 to 40 friends over for cocktail parties on the dock, where I’d bring a mobile bar and create themed platters of food, such as red, white and blue vegetable displays for July 4th.”
After several years of that activity and the rave reviews it garnered from friends and family, Van Benschoten began thinking about building a business around the catering and event planning she was so passionate about.
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“My husband and I spend a lot of time on the water, so I wanted to incorporate the ‘nautical’ word/concept into the name of my business somehow, and the term ‘butler’ truly covers what I do,” she said of the launch of The Nauti Butler with its signature anchor logo in spring 2021.
She kicked off her venture by promoting her ability to prepare lunches for fishermen’s outings or platters of cigars, drinks and sandwiches for post-excursion consumption among several angling groups on Facebook.
“The response was huge and I soon began receiving requests to provide food and beverages on charter boats for bachelorette parties,” she said. “When one of the brides subsequently asked me to provide her wedding party’s breakfast on her wedding day, we officially became a land and sea business.”
Provider for all preferences
A year later, “we’re a unique, all-inclusive service that will bring food, beverages and décor to any venue, set everything up, and then come back to clean up, pack up leftover food for guests and retrieve our serving pieces, many of which are vintage silver platters and tiered cake stands,” Van Benschoten said.
Offering free delivery within 20 miles and primarily serving Monmouth and Ocean counties but servicing the entire state, “we provide food and event planning for birthdays, bridal showers, engagement parties, bride and groom’s breakfasts, cocktail parties, boat outings, dock parties and more.”
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According to Van Benschoten, packages include everything from a sunset cruise selection of cocktails and appetizers (featuring such items as sushi coupes, watermelon and feta bites with fresh mint, shrimp or vegetable shooters, kebabs, smoked salmon cucumber bites, etc.) to a “Bride and Groom’s Wedding Day Breakfast” and packages for “Rock the Dock” events, cocktail parties, post-fishing parties, bridal showers and more. Breakfast and brunch menus with cocktail bars featuring mimosas, bloody marys, and champagne fountains are also available.
“If someone wants lobster, crab cakes or to host a clambake, for instance, we’ll utilize our network of small businesses and restaurants to source the best products,” said Van Benschoten, who possesses a food handler’s license and has set up service everywhere from clients’ homes to country clubs without in-house catering and even a farm.
“Customers can request anything they want and we’ll make it happen,” she said of the team of restaurant industry friends she’s able to call on for help if needed.
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As for her menu of prices, “we’re very reasonable, providing a beautiful lunch or appetizer selection in a box or on a platter for roughly $15 to $20 per person, while the small version of our ‘Day in Versailles’ grazing platter (featuring bread, Danish, croissants, macarons, cheese and fresh fruit) serves eight to 12 people for $119, or customers can choose their own items from our extensive à la carte menu,” she said.
Among trends, “people love charcuterie, and shooters (mini portions of food served up in glasses or other small vessels) are also very popular today and can feature so many different ingredients,” said Van Benschoten, who’s catered events of anywhere from 15 to 100 people.
“In general, people are moving away from heavy foods and sit-down dinners, instead preferring appetizer parties or events with different food stations and easy-to-handle items so that they can mill around and socialize,” she said.
Van Benschoten said that promoting her business during the pandemic was challenging because many outlets were closed, forcing her and a friend to go “old school” and hand out flyers to boaters along the dock to get the word out.
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But now, “social media has been a great platform for our beautiful food shots and for word-of-mouth advertising,” she said.
As someone who prides herself on her keen attention to detail, “putting yourself out on social media with your own creations can be a lot of pressure, and the hours involved in this job can also be demanding,” she said, recalling a recent event in Belmar that required her to load up charter boats with food at 5 a.m. “But I love what I do and believe that creating something beautiful for guests and receiving such positive response is worth every second of the exhaustion.”
“I’ve gotten amazing feedback and many repeat customers and my hope for The Nauti Butler is that it continues growing to a point where I’m the go-to caterer/planner that people call for all events,” she said.
While she pursues that goal, Van Benschoten continues to relish every minute of the journey. “I enjoy building relationships and meeting so many great people,” she said. “And I truly love creating beautiful things that nurture people and make them happy.”
The Nauti Butler
Owner: Nancy Van Benschoten
Opened: Spring 2021