Almost 20 years ago, chef Mark Smith was approached by a young organization in Camden called UrbanPromise. The group was looking for a caterer, and Mark – who today owns two popular restaurants in South Jersey – was new to the local food scene. He and his wife Lydia Cipriani had just started a catering business.
“When [UrbanPromise founder] Bruce Main explained the mission, I wanted to do the catering for a lot less,” Mark said. “We beat out the other caterers who were quoting them.”
Today, Mark runs The Tortilla Press in Collingswood, N.J., and The Tortilla Press Cantina in Merchantville, N.J. The restaurants consistently receive great critical reviews for the quality and originality of their Mexican-influenced dishes.
Despite the success, Mark and Lydia have continued to provide special pricing to UrbanPromise -- saving the organization thousands of dollars over the years in catering. Mark says their support is rooted in UrbanPromise’s impact.
Sometimes you write someone a check and you don’t really see the
impact, but with UrbanPromise, you can really see the
difference they’re making for these kids.
“It’s pretty obvious when you talk to the children and staff at UrbanPromise that there’s a direct correlation between the quality of the people you’re meeting and the work they’re doing,” said Mark. “Sometimes you write someone a check and you don’t really see the impact, but with UrbanPromise, you can really see the difference they’re making for these kids.”
The Tortilla Press partners with Georgetti’s Pasta and Sauce Market every year to cater UrbanPromise’s annual banquet, which draws 700 to 1,000 guests. Both Mark and Georgetti’s owner, Michael Georgetti, work the event themselves, donating their time and preparing the dishes alongside their staff.
The food is one of the highlights of the event, and year after year, guests look forward to the appetizers and salads provided by The Tortilla Press and the entrees provided by Georgetti’s – especially the now-famous garlic mashed potatoes.
The food is so good, Mark admitted with a laugh, that he saves a little plate for himself.
However, it’s not just UrbanPromise’s banquet guests who enjoy the gourmet food. Throughout the year, The Tortilla Press caters UrbanPromise’s events frequently, including the annual eighth grade graduation luncheon of the CamdenForward School. Whether the events are planned many months in advance or put together more quickly, Mark and his staff are quick to respond and help.
After nearly 20 years of supporting UrbanPromise, Mark continues to admire what UrbanPromise does for Camden and its youth.
“Some people have a very negative view of Camden,” he said, “but they don’t see that there are some pockets where great things are happening, places like UrbanPromise where communities are really coming together to make a huge difference in people’s lives.”
“UrbanPromise doesn’t just provide children in Camden with a great education and a safe place,” he added. “It also gives them hope.”