Cured Catering’s Brian and Melissa Reilly explore a different take on food
by Lynn Colburn
When people attend the theater, they expect to be entertained with the full spectrum of their senses. That is exactly what Cured Catering owners Brian and Melissa Reilly set out to do with their catering business. The couple, now based in MacMurray College’s old McClelland Dining Hall and Annie Merner Chapel, started their business with the philosophy to create something completely different!
Brian and Melissa Reilly believe that their food should not only taste wonderful, but also that when someone walks in, the whole catering project should have a Cured Catering feel. Brian Reilly wants to influence the complete list of senses.
His background is in the hospitality industry. “I have 30 years in the business with experience in hotels, hospitality, restaurants, bars, country clubs and booking bands,” he explains. With such a varied experience, he thinks about sound, lighting, staging, food and all aspects of the catering business with a new perspective.
“I went to MacMurray College in the mid-90s,” says Reilly, a 1999 graduate of Mac. He still serves on the MacMurray Alumni board that plans all the alumni activities that such as a homecoming, which is planned for the weekend of June 23 this year.
Although Melissa Reilly did not attend MacMurray, she looks forward to alumni events also. “His friends and MacMurray family became mine,” she says, “so I fell in love with them and they all came to our wedding. This place is just full of the wonderful memories associated with that time of our courtship and it feels really good to be here.”
Family is a big part of the Reillys’ life and business. They have seven children: Camille, 16; Jack, 16; Tristan, 13; Grayson, 11; the twins, Josephine and Jocelyn, 10; and Harrison, 4. “We are really building it for them and can’t wait to see them grow with the family business,” she says directly on the Cured Catering website. “We couldn’t do this without our friends and family.”
The couple has come a long way in the last few years, starting off 2017 working out of a pizza food truck for a friend. Then they began building a catering business in 2017 that was slowly just picking up steam.
Of course, when COVID-19 happened, everything shut down. “We started a non-for-profit to feed people in the service industry that were displaced from work,” says Brian Reilly. “We had a bunch of extra product. We thought, let’s just make some meals for people that have been in the food industry who basically live paycheck to paycheck and right now aren’t getting a paycheck. Our product would have gone bad anyway. At first, we thought we’ll just do this for a couple of weeks and burn through product that we’ve already have.”
He reveals, “Other restaurants started bringing us product and then somebody started a GoFundMe account that people were paying for us to keep it up. So, we kept it up and served 10,000 meals over the first 10 weeks of Covid. That was quite a learning experience! Before then we were pretty small, but that taught us how to make 500 meals a night very quickly. It helped us learned that and it was cool, too.”
In the middle of that, the Reilly family moved from Springfield out to Riverton and worked out of what was the Eagles Club for two and a half years. They outgrew that space and moved back to a location in Springfield; they were planning to buy the property, but it did not work out. Brian Reilly says, “We were there for about nine months. When we were looking for a location, everything in Springfield was really a restaurant space and not a catering space. We had done some work for Mike Hayes while he was running the space and it brought us to Jacksonville.”
Named Illinois Times’ Best Caterers for two years in a row, Brian and Melissa Reilly of Cured Catering are excited about the cuisine they serve. “We do southern coastal, southern comfort, some that go into a Mexican influence, but we are fully customizable,” Melissa Reilly says, describing their menu. “We excel in creating custom menus for custom events which is awesome for everything from weddings to galas.”
“It is so much fun,” she continues. “We love to research the cultural aspects of food and then we get to experience and try all these different native dishes (“like South African,” inserts Brian Reilly)! It teaches us to think outside the box.”
Thinking of family, Melissa Reilly adds fondly, “But then again, we have Schaum Tortes on the menu [a German meringue dessert], which is something [Brian Reilly’s] Grandma Betty used to make for Brian and his brother when they were growing up. I became obsessed with making them the way Grandma Betty made them. Even now it makes me happy.”
“We really look at it as comfort foods served in an elegant way,” explains Brian Reilly. “It is all familiar stuff we just put our own spin on it.”
He continues, saying, “We are really presentation forward. We set every event as a stage. We take a lot of the theatrics from running bands and things like that. We have lighting and treat our buffets as a stage. So when you walk into a room, you know Cured is there. And our clients have come to expect it. It is our thing.”
Cured is booking now all the way into 2024 on this campus. Wedding season is especially busy from May until the end of October. Brian Reilly notes, “I look forward this year to having weddings every weekend if we are available. We have the [Annie Merner] chapel that will seat 800 plus, and the dining hall seats 350.”
The Reillys are talking about leasing Katie Hall or one of the buildings across the way as a kind of an Airbnb where weddings would to be able to stay right on campus.
Brian Reilly says, “There are a lot of alumni and local folks that love the chapel. We also see the trend around the Petersburg area with venues springing up because people from up state are looking for somewhere quaint that they can have a hometown-feel wedding and I think we definitely fit in that realm.”
The two remain involved in events with Jacksonville organizations and corporations as well. They worked with the Kiwanis Pancake & Sausage Day recently in March and work with Routt Catholic High School for several events. Upcoming is the Beaux Arts Ball for The Art Association of Jacksonville and events with Routt Catholic High School. The Reillys say they are happy to be keeping all the local community ties.
Cured Catering does as much local sourcing as possible. “We work though MJ Kellner out of Springfield,” explains Brian Reilly. “They are an employee-owned business and they do a lot of their sourcing locally. Most of our meats come from Kerr Meats, which is down in St. Louis. We use Jones Locker for all of our cured meats, and in Sangamon County — and I think in Morgan County — we were the first to be approved to do our own meat curing. So we have salamis and cured meats that we do from scratch. They come in the door at [Jones Meat & Locker], we process them, we hang them and our cured meats are done in-house. It is neat to have gotten to that place. When I started the company, that was an ultimate goal and we are very quickly getting to the point where we will be able to do mostly all of our own meats.”
Melissa Reilly says they are also planning a venue in the Buffalo area where they will have property to do gardens. She says they are excited about a garden space so that they could also use their or vegetables or fruits for Cured. She says, “I don’t think we will have enough room to grow as much as we will need, but we can use it for pickling.”
Their family lives in Mechanicsburg and their kids attend Tri-City CUSD in Buffalo. Brian Reilly adds, “We purchased a 1906 chapel and are naming it Bullard County Chapel after the architect. We are going to build another site in Buffalo that the kids can walk to after school. Eventually, we will have a base here and a base in Buffalo giving us the operational ability to span the whole of the central Illinois area.”
Cured Catering aims to help you use all your senses to enjoy any event that they produce. They tweak and transform each dish for the menu you choose to create a perfect blend of down-home familiarity and undiscovered flavor combinations. Reach Cured Catering at email@example.com, 217-391-2380 or curedcaterers.com. Find them also on Facebook or Instagram by searching “Cured Catering.”