Susan Hershberg never moves fast, but she rarely stops moving. Her footfalls are so unintentionally measured, it appears she’s gliding on a moving sidewalk.
With an ever-expanding business like hers, one could assume she’s conserving energy, not wasting a step moving between Wiltshire Pantry (her high-profile catering company), Wiltshire Bakery & Café, Wiltshire on Market (a restaurant) and now Wiltshire at The Speed, a café and private events business launched this spring at the newly expanded Speed Art Museum.
En route to a quiet spot for a chat in the breathtaking space, she winds through multiple museum exhibits, acting as an impromptu docent and seasoning the conversation with details about those works.
“This never gets old to me, walking through here,” she says while moving about 2 mph. “That we get to operate our business here is really pretty cool.”
While serving the crowds attending the museum’s opening gala in March, she walked “somewhere between 18 and 20 miles that day. And trust me, these terrazzo floors are not forgiving. It took me a week to recover from that.”
She’s likely exaggerating, but not by much. She’s too busy to get that much downtime. Just one day removed from the end of Derby Week, she adds, “Whoever put Mother’s Day the day after Derby should be fired, kicked off the clock for good,” she adds with a laugh and an eye roll.
Hershberg isn’t complaining. She knows she’s done this to herself: built an incredible business centered mostly on private events and marketed only by word of mouth. It’s how she wound up getting the contract to operate at Speed — a gig she initially didn’t want.
When she learned the museum was seeking a high-level caterer to manage its foodservice after the completion of its three-year overhaul and expansion, she got interested and asked for more information. What she received was a tedious 80-page application she had no desire to fill out. Plus, she learned that whoever got the coveted position would not be guaranteed the Speed’s sole caterer.
“Now, why would I want to get into a situation like that?” she asks, eyes rolling again. “To put the work in and start something up and then let someone else get the business? I just let go of the idea.”
Other companies didn’t, however, yet none proved appealing to the museum’s board. When the Speed then called Hershberg to ask how to get Wiltshire involved, Hershberg’s interest was mild at best. That all changed, however, with a call from her first restaurant boss, Michael Grisanti. The legendary owner of Casa Grisanti, Mama Grisanti (where Hershberg worked as a teen) and Sixth Avenue is a museum board member.
“I knew then I had an amazing ally on the committee,” she says. “He knew what it would take to do it right here so I wasn’t fighting that battle alone.”
Hershberg told the museum board that a real foodservice operation needed a “real catering kitchen, not just some room with warming ovens — which was the original design.” She also insisted Wiltshire be the house caterer, and after nearly a year of negotiating the details, the deal was done.
Hershberg knew early on she wanted former Wiltshire Pantry chefs Coby Ming and Patty Knight to run the operation. Bringing them in would include prying them away from Harvest, whose kitchen they’d run since it opened. The pair, she believed, could bring high-end food (via Ming) and detailed organization (via Knight) to the large operation.
“The relationship with food and this space is totally different than with my other businesses,” Hershberg says. “At Wiltshire, I can turn the lights down, adjust the music way I want, change it how I like.
“But here, the focus is not specifically food — it’s on the environment and the (art exhibits). That meant the food had to be exemplary and stand up to this environment.”
She says Ming “has done an amazing job of capturing that intensity but with a minimalist edge” that matches the austerity of the museum’s main expansive spaces. “I also thought she’d be a really good fit for this because she has such a meticulous sense of detail. Her style of cooking is very refined.”
The café operates Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays (no online menu yet), but its culinary team also cooks for special events open to the public. Every second Thursday of the month the museum hosts Social Speed, which keeps the facility open until 9 p.m. and includes small plates and cocktail service. Once per quarter, it hosts Cinecuisine, which is a food-themed movie paired with a multi-course dinner.
Beyond that, the facility is constantly booked with private events hosting hundreds of guests.
“The quality of events we can put on in this space is amazing,” Hershberg says. “Working here really raises the bar and we love the challenge.”