Catering Catastrophe 

Judy McMillon called caterer after caterer before settling on one who promised lobster, prime rib and a white chocolate fountain for her 150 wedding guests.

The 26-year-old bride-to-be paid half the $8,000 bill up front and expected the best. That's not exactly what she got.

On Sept. 10, Judy and her new husband, Jim, were posing for pictures at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Decatur when Jim's brother pulled him aside. The caterer hadn't shown up at the reception, he said.

Wondering what the fuss was about, Judy leaned over to her husband to jokingly ask, "Did the caterer not show up?"

Jim couldn't lie. "When I heard the news," Judy says, "I went three shades of pale."

You've heard the stories of wedding-day disasters: the cake falling apart seconds before the first slice, or storms causing power outages resulting in a marriage by generator light. But according to wedding coordinators who've been in the business for more than a decade, rarely does a major vendor completely bounce.

Tara Plumlee, owner of Orchestrated Foods, was supposed to arrive at 1 p.m. at Inman Park's Trolley Barn. When she didn't arrive by 4 p.m., Judy's father ran to a liquor store to buy a case of wine and champagne. Judy's wedding coordinator, Janice Blackmon, called on caterer Carole Parks to come up with a last-minute spread of smoked salmon, Italian cheese torts, salad with goat cheese, and melted Brie and crackers. Before emergency servers arrived, the wedding party served hors d'oeuvres.

Plumlee had missed the walk-through at the Trolley Barn two weeks earlier and failed to answer Judy's messages regarding last-minute changes. (CL repeatedly tried to reach Plumlee, but her restaurant number was disconnected and her cell phone mailbox was full.)

Plumlee did answer Judy's call three days before the wedding and talked with the bride-to-be for an hour. "I'd had some difficulty getting in touch with Tara," Judy says. "But I never expected her to just not show up."

The day after the wedding, Judy's friend, Susan Henschen, who'd had Plumlee cater her own wedding, drove to Plumlee's Marietta barbecue joint, Potbellies. Through the window, Henschen and her husband saw smashed clay pigs. Workers at the oil-change shop next door told them Potbellies had gone out of business. Henschen then drove by Plumlee's home and saw a "For Sale" sign. "There was a catering van full of stuff in the driveway, but no sign of anyone living there."

On Sept. 12, Judy's father, Robert Fontana, filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. He later received a letter from the state attorney general's office saying a complaint would be sent to the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs.

Judy says that despite the food fiasco, things could have been worse. "The groom showed up," she says, "and that's the most important thing."

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