By Michael Sudhalter
The year 1993 was an exciting time in the Dallas area — with the Cowboys in the midst of a dynasty and the NHL Stars arriving in town.
Meanwhile, a 29-year-old entrepreneurial restaurateur, born and raised in Dallas, had just purchased a little-known catering company that was financially failing.
Within a year, Jeffrey Kollinger and his partner Sue had rescued Spice of Life out of bankruptcy. He was well on his way to turning Spice of Life Catering into a household name.
“I can’t thank the Jewish community and Dallas community enough for helping Spice of Life become one of the Top 10 caterers in this town for the last 30 years,” Kollinger said. “My mother, Sue, and I built the company. She retired five years ago and was very instrumental in my career, having worked together [with me] for 25 years.”
Turning around Spice of Life during that first year took a lot of chutzpah, sweat and tears.
“We understood the concept of food and beverage,” Kollinger said. “We had great food, a great staff and training. We had to make financial decisions to bring the business back in line.”
Kollinger, who turns 60 on Oct. 5, has served a “Who’s Who” of celebrities from North Texas and beyond. That list includes U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, longtime media mogul Mark Cuban, actor/former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith, Oscar-winning actor George Clooney, actor/entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds, television personality Ryan Seacrest and rock star Jon Bon Jovi.
He’s been the caterer for events like the opening of the American Airlines Center in Dallas and the Grapevine Mills Mall in Tarrant County. Since the mid-2000s, Kollinger has also owned Innovative Hospitality Group (IHG).
While he’s extremely proud of those accomplishments, Kollinger is especially grateful for the opportunity to provide catering for lifecycle events for generations of Jewish families in the Dallas area.
“There are families where I’ve catered the wedding, the bris, the bar mitzvahs and the grandparents’ funerals,” Kollinger said.
Kollinger grew up in Dallas, the son of two gourmet cooks who would regularly provide anywhere from five- to 10-course meals for their extended family at their Dallas home.
Kollinger became a bar mitzvah at Shearith Israel — the same synagogue where his wife, Melinda Segal Kollinger, became a bat mitzvah and their two sons became b’nai mitzvah years later.
Although they grew up just a handful of miles apart in Dallas, the Kollingers met on an Israel singles mission in 2000 and exchanged vows in 2002.
“I married a wonderful Jewish woman and the way we met was ‘beshert,’” Kollinger said. “I love being part of the Jewish community and not just as a caterer.”
Today, Kollinger serves Shearith Israel as the in-house caterer and is also the caterer for the school at Temple Emanu-El. With approximately 25 employees, the company also serves the Hope Center and just started working with the Compass School of Texas.
While Kollinger is now renowned as a gourmet chef, he admits that he spent many years of his career in “the front of the house.”
“Around 2005, I put on a chef coat and decided to hone my skills in the kitchen,” Kollinger said. “I’ve had a great time with it. If you give me 10 ingredients, I’ll turn it into something. I love to explore.”
Kollinger said he has a lot of signature dishes, but he points to “roasted garlic aioli macadamia nut crusted seabass” as the signature dish.
He also enjoys making a 12-hour roasted brisket, short ribs and a seared tuna taco.
Among Kollinger’s chef influences are Dean Fearing, owner of Fearing’s Restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, four-time James Beard-nominated Chef Kent Rathbun and former Neiman Marcus Vice President and Executive Chef Kevin Garvin. He also considers many fellow gourmet chefs among his friends.
In late 2014, Kollinger was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer and he wondered if he would live to see his sons’ b’nai mitzvah. His wife, Melinda, cared for him during his illness. Kollinger now is cancer-free and emerged more grateful than ever.
“After surviving cancer, I tried and will continue to try to be the best, nicest and most thankful person I can be,” Kollinger said. “I help others whenever I can. I have a big heart — I love to help people.”
Kollinger literally counts his blessings after surviving cancer.
“Every day above ground for me is the biggest blessing,” Kollinger said. “Hashem was looking out for me, because on paper, I should not have survived.”
Almost six years later, Kollinger was confronted with a challenge to his business that every chef and restaurateur had to face.
When the pandemic hit, Kollinger pivoted quickly.
“We cut a hole in my building for a drive-thru and built a to-go menu,” Kollinger said. “The Jewish community and the Dallas community at large supported us. We had a core group of eight employees — two delivery drivers, a couple of chefs and me. We did Rosh Hashanah to go and Passover to go. We did Thanksgiving meals. Everything was labeled with heating instructions. We did up to 50 orders per day.”
Kollinger maintained strict social distancing guidelines for his employees in order to ensure that the to-go operation was safe for the public and a viable option for the company.
“I did everything I could to maintain some kind of order during this very eerie time,” Kollinger said.
‘Love what you do’
Kollinger has a lot of encouragement for individuals who wish to become gourmet chefs; it starts with loving the work that you do.
“I absolutely love what I do — every minute of every day,” Kollinger said. “I am absolutely doing what I was supposed to do. If you love this, this is what you should do.”
Kollinger also said it’s important to remember “you’re only as good as your last event.”
He said, “You want to give of yourself as a chef. I experience so much joy when someone tastes my food and enjoys it. Always put the freshest, most presentable and most delicious food forward. Thank you Dallas and the community at large for the last 30 years. It’s been a pleasure to serve you.”