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Martin Resnick, the 75-year-old founder and chairman of Martin's Caterers, is excited about Valley Mansion, his company's new, $12 million, 44,000-square-foot meeting and banquet facility that opened last month in Cockeysville.

But that's not why Resnick was hugging everybody in sight -- everyone from cleaning ladies to top executives -- on a recent morning as he offered a tour of Valley Mansion.

"I hug every one of my employees every day, whether it's a manager or a dishwasher, unless they object to it," said Resnick, elegantly attired in a dark blue suit with a silk handkerchief tucked in his lapel pocket.

These days, Resnick does a lot of hugging. The catering company he founded in Towson in 1964 with a $15,000 U.S. Small Business Administration loan has grown dramatically since then.

Valley Mansion, located in the Cranbrook Shopping Center, is the newest of six locations in Baltimore, Carroll, Prince George's and Frederick counties. Today, Martin's employs about 800 people and last year served about 800,000 customers, racking up $32.5 million in sales.

Despite 43 years of constant growth, central Baltimore County was the missing piece of the puzzle since 1995, when he closed the facility where he started the company, in Towson's Eudowood Plaza Shopping Center, Resnick said.

"That was our first facility, and we closed it when Eudowood Shopping Center shut down," he said. "Ever since then, we've been trying to get back to this area."

The expansion into Cockeysville was based on careful market research. Resnick and his staff have kept meticulous records on nearly all of the 25 million customers they estimate they have served in 43 years. They even had records on everyone who made an inquiry.

"We noticed a lot of inquiries and bookings were coming from this area, said Resnick's son, Wayne, 48, president and CEO of Martin's. "Meanwhile, we had Martin's East (in White Marsh) and Martin's West (in Woodlawn) but nothing in the middle."

The younger Resnick, who started working in the family business at age 6 stacking chairs and washing pots and pans, said he has been actively looking for a site in central Baltimore County's York Road corridor for 12 years.

Until they found the site they now lease in Cranbrook Shopping Center about 18 months ago, they couldn't find a location with the right zoning that was easily accessible and could accommodate parking for 800, Valley Mansion's maximum capacity.

Valley Mansion, like the company's other locations, hosts a variety of events, including weddings, awards banquets and business conventions.

Martin Resnick said the new facility had $2.5 million in bookings scheduled even before it opened and is expected to generate $8.5 million a year in sales.

If the past is an accurate indicator, 65 to 70 percent of the new location's business will come from repeat customers.

Resnick attributes this to one of his golden rules of the catering business: When a customer complains, don't just listen, take action.

"If there's a complaint, and you make it up to the customers, then they're your friends for life," he said.

E-mail Bob Allen at Bob Allen@patuxent.com

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