“There are so many similarities between the funeral business and catering,” he says. “They’re both service-oriented businesses. It’s event planning. As a funeral director, it’s a little different kind of an event, but you are sitting down with families and planning what’s going to happen. It’s the very same thing with catering. You’re sitting down and choosing things, making selections. It’s sales. It’s presentation.”
Not to mention that both fields have interested Donaldson for the best part of his life. The Philadelphia native developed an interest in mortuary science around age 12, but soon also began thinking about becoming a chef. These interests intertwined during his college years—while at Xavier, Donaldson worked in the cafeteria at Edgecliff College.
Following graduation, Donaldson apprenticed in Columbus, Ohio, before settling in for 13 years at a funeral home in Cincinnati. But he kept in touch with the catering business, working as a banquet extra at a large hotel and assisting a local caterer. Eventually, he decided to reexamine his approach to life—and ultimately enrolled in culinary school. Then, in 2004, he joined forces with 1977 Xavier graduate Dennis Ferry and a third partner who has since moved on, to form Cuisine East-West Catering, which focuses on Asian and Asian-fusion dishes. Relying strictly on word-of-mouth, the company has grown steadily and recently purchased its own building.
But in keeping with his interests, Donaldson still occasionally fills in for vacationing funeral directors. “One of the major things that draws someone to become a funeral director is the need and desire to help other people,” he says.