You might say Warren Dietel (CEO and owner of Puff ‘n Stuff Catering) knows his way around the catering business. Not only has he worked in the industry since the late 1980s, but he also spent his formative years watching his parents create, manage, and grow the business.
“I’m an extremely social person; I love entertaining, and enjoy playing a leading role in a party,” he says. “I also love spending time at home with my wife, son, and extended family, but the idea of gathering in small and large groups fuels my happiness.”
Warren Dietel, CEO and Owner of Puff ‘n Stuff Catering, has worked in the catering and events industry since the late 1980s, and is this year’s Michael Roman Lifetime Achievement award recipient. Photo courtesy Puff ‘n Stuff Catering
Warren Dietel enjoys a fun moment and delicious Puff ‘n Stuff cuisine with Special Event Planner Emily Sullivan. Photo courtesy Puff ‘n Stuff Catering
When Dietel purchased the business from his parents in 2003, he hit the ground running.
“It’s never been easy, but through the difficult times learning always emerges,” he says. “I wasn’t sure we would make it through the first summer, but our small team pulled together and survived.
“The ebbs and flows of business have been scary and exciting, usually at the same time, but overall, it’s been a fun ride.”
Now 20 years later, although Dietel is stepping back a bit from the day-to-day, he is still inspiring a new generation of committed team members (led by its new president Tracy Vessillo); and he is still the man his team looks to solve any problem (even if he’s not physically around).
“After being away for several months, one of Puff ‘n Stuff’s senior planners shared with me the details of several challenging and busy periods,” says Dietel. “She said the team would take a breath, stand back, and ask ’What would Warren do? How would Warren handle this?’ That was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received.”
In 2017, Puff 'n Stuff Catering opened its doors to the Leading Caterers of America. This year, attendees of Art of Catering Food will have that honor. Photo courtesy Kathleen Stoehr
Three generations of Dietels: Warren with his son Tanner, and parents Susie and Glenn. Photo courtesy Puff ‘n Stuff Catering
Obviously Dietel did something right; he is this year’s recipient of the Michael Roman Lifetime Achievement award, which will be bestowed on March 30th in Orlando, FL (Dietel’s hometown) during Catersource + The Special Event.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Dietel said of finding out that he was this year’s recipient. “To have been honored in Michael Roman’s name is indeed an honor. Michael was such an inspiration to us all and his legacy and teachings endure. I attended one of Mike’s early conferences with my mom in the late 80s and made a friend that lasted decades. He is missed and I am grateful to accept this recognition in his name.”
Dietel’s team over at Puff ‘n Stuff is absolutely thrilled that Dietel is being recognized for his many contributions to the industry, and those who are lucky enough to find themselves in his presence.
“He has always been a person that you admire, no matter what position you may be in,” says Heidi Dietel Brice, director of sales at Puff ‘n Stuff. “He is the definition of a true visionary–creating an idea, making it come to life, then figuring out how we can do it even better the next time. He always has a smile on his face and exerts energy that is contagious.
“He sets standards high for everyone on our team, but in a really special, unique way that forces our team to do their very best to exceed his expectations. He has touched so many people, companies, made so many special friendships, and continues to be a pillar to our industry.”
Lauren Baldan, Puff ‘n Stuff’s director of catering, shares similar sentiments.
“My favorite thing about Warren is what a visionary he is and how he continues to push us all forward,” she says. “His passion for this industry, his people, our clients, our work is unimaginable. He makes us all want to be better and do better. I have never met a better motivator.”
From his parents’ house to the house of mouse
Dietel’s career hasn’t been all Puff ‘n Stuff (although he did begin work there in 1989); he opened his first business (auto detailing) at the age of 16 in his parents’ driveway, before taking a job at Walt Disney World® Resort in 1984 in its weddings business, which led to moving on to the Disney Institute in 2001.
“I’ve always kind of been an entrepreneur at heart, and it’s always been in my soul from early on,” he says. “Disney was epic and was eye opening. It inspired me to imagine what the world could be, it helped me realize how big it really is, and how fascinating it is.
Waren Dietel welcomes Rosen College of Hospitality Management’s Camp Pineapple to the Puff ‘n Stuff facility in 2018. Photo courtesy @rosencollege
“In the six years I spent at Disney, I had two of the most interesting jobs there ever were: I traveled all over the world, all over the country representing one of the most iconic brands in the world, dealing with the most fascinating people, and putting together so many great things–it was absolutely formative and mind-blowing.”
After Disney, Dietel went to work at Scott Kay Platinum managing the southern U.S.
“Jewelry wasn’t for me, but I watched closely and absorbed everything I could during my brief tenure,” he says.
Dietel eventually made his way back to Puff ‘n Stuff.
“I respect and appreciate the business my mom and dad built—it was fantastic, and they built an incredible reputation, providing the perfect launching point,” he says. “I was able to combine the learning experiences, put them together, and propel the business.”
In 2006, Dietel moved Puff ‘n Stuff’s operations into a purpose-built production facility, and in 2010 Puff ‘n Stuff expanded to the west coast by joining forces with a leading Tampa caterer. Additional commercial real estate ventures, including a couple of Orlando’s most popular venues (The MEZZ and The Balcony), followed.
From left to right: Jonathan Jennings, Warren Dietel, Tanner Dietel, and Georg Broich during the Leading Caterers of America Executive Summit. Photo courtesy Puff ‘n Stuff Catering
“Warren has been an inspiration for me personally for what he has done with a second-generation family business,” says Anthony Lambatos with Footers Catering, a frequent attendee to Dietel’s educational seminars. “As someone who also owns a business started by my parents, I know how difficult that transition can be. To see him take a small company and turn it into one of the nation’s largest and most respected catering companies is remarkable. His business acumen is second to none, and I’ve always admired his tenacity and ambition in growing his business.”
In 2014, Dietel opened Chef’s Commissary, a wholesale food manufacturer, and then in 2015 a second production facility for Puff ‘n Stuff was opened in Tampa.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would expand into wholesale manufacturing or commercial real estate,” Dietel says. “I enjoy the thrill of catering, and I wanted to throw parties. Now, the enterprise has grown, and I enjoy cheering my team on to endless successes.”
Puff ’n Stuff Catering (a member of the Leading Caterers of America) is a premier full-service catering and events company. Catering to affairs of all sizes, their award-winning team produces a variety of cuisines and exciting, unforgettable experiences. Photo courtesy Puff ‘n Stuff Catering
“Warren Dietel has helped change the face of the catering industry in the highly competitive Florida market,” says Carl Sacks, Executive Director for the Leading Caterers of America. “Since taking over the company from his parents who founded the business, his visionary leadership has allowed the company to grow from a regional central Florida caterer, to what is now likely the largest independent caterer in the state.”
The business-minded caterer
Having worked in the catering business for so many years, one may think that catering is in Dietel’s soul, that it’s in his blood. While it may be to some extent (thanks to his parents), Dietel however considers himself both a businessman and a caterer.
“I’m built differently,” he says. “I enjoy the act of being a caterer, but the business side of the catering business is what gets me up in the morning. I enjoy watching it all come together, seeing it, and being proud of our accomplishments. It’s like an orchestra performing in perfect harmony—all the elements converging on a space over several hours—it’s magic, and it isn’t possible without dedicated teams and amazing vendor partners.”
Dietel says he attributes his success in the industry to his tenacity and work ethic, and he will do everything he can to avoid taking ‘no’ for an answer.
“I learned these valuable lessons watching my mom toil in the kitchens for 10 plus hours, then head out to the event site to make it happen. Caterers are extraordinary people!”
When it comes to who inspires him, Dietel looks to “mavericks, the people that do things that defy the odds and think differently” because that’s how he lives his life.
“I bet everything on Puff ‘n Stuff, and I bet on me,” he says. “If you’re wise, save, and dedicate a portion of your profits to growth, you improve your chances for success. You must reinvest in yourself, there’s no better reinvestment than in yourself, and there’s no telling where it can go. Off premise catering has limitless boundaries.”
The greatest fight of his life
Like everyone in the catering industry, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Puff ‘n Stuff hard and he is grateful to be on the other side.
“The pandemic was the perfect storm—both our immediate business and pipeline evaporated in a matter of days,” he says. “I am grateful for the small group that stuck with us, and we pulled together like never before, serving our community and clawing our way back.
“The pandemic was horrific, but we made it, we’re here, and I thought that was going to be the worst thing that I would have to go through, but it was only preparing me for the biggest fight of my life.”
On November 21st, 2021, Dietel awoke in the morning the Sunday before Thanksgiving with neck pain and swelling. Following a trip to the emergency room, he heard the news: he had metastatic lymphoma which was eventually diagnosed as Stage 4: Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma.
“The experience was, and still is, surreal,” Dietel says.
Following several months of chemotherapy, Dietel was encouraged to go live his life, which he did, however in August 2022 he learned the news that everyone feared: the cancer had returned. A new, and more intense treatment protocol called CAR T cell therapy became his focus.
Warren Dietel with his wife Melissa, and son during a trip to New Smyrna Beach. Photo courtesy Warren Dietel
“It’s devastating,” he says. “Cancer tries to take everything. It takes your hair, it takes your dignity, it takes your strength, but only you can control your spirit. I believe my positive outlook, the incredible support I received from my wife, our son, extended family, friends, and our industry helped me rise daily with a zeal for life. I refuse to give in to this horrific disease!
“Now, I’m focused on living my best life,” he says. “It includes a bit less catering to others and more time with those I love. The moments and the time together mean more than it ever has.”
His next chapter
Although Dietel is prevented from engaging in Puff ‘n Stuff as much as he would like, it’s not stopping him from engaging with the catering industry. For starters, he’s still learning from those around him.
“I continue to learn, absorb, and listen. There are lessons everywhere,” he says. “I think one of life’s greatest lessons is to always be a sponge.”
Additionally, Dietel is always eager to share his knowledge with those around him.
“It’s my time to give,” he says. “I’m an open book, I put it all out there, and I like to share the things that I’ve learned.”
No one is more appreciative of Dietel’s willingness to share than Lambatos.
It’s Time to Celebrate
Join us in celebrating this year’s Leadership Award recipients at our annual Awards Ceremony on Thursday, March 30th at 5:30 p.m. on the Keynote Stage. A nominee reception will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Orange County Convention Center Lobby.
Considered by many to be the Oscars night of the events and catering industry, during the Awards Ceremony the ACE, Gala, and CATIE awards are bestowed upon the best of the best in our industry. Cheer on the nominees and applaud award recipients as they take the stage to accept our industry’s highest honors! With a kickoff keynote by Michael Cerbelli and lifetime achievement and volunteerism awards added to this event, this will be an unforgettable evening.
Congratulations to this year’s winners and we look forward to celebrating with everyone this March!
More information can be found at informaconnect.com/catersource-thespecialevent/awards-ceremony/
He cares about helping the people around him to be better, and is selfless in sharing his knowledge,” he says.
Although Dietel’s next chapter still needs to be written, he has every intention of living his life to the fullest.
“There’s no telling what tomorrow will bring, who knows how long any of us have?” he says. “My lesson through all of this is to live every day fully and be grateful for it; be grateful for the struggles, be grateful for the great times, and be grateful for the bad times. I’ve always enjoyed the nectar of life, but now even more so—it’s sweeter than it’s ever been.”
Fortunately for the catering industry though, Dietel’s team at Puff ‘n Stuff is fully prepared for the task of following in his footsteps.
“Pour your energy into being the best you can be, and always be kind,” he says. “I hope to continue inspiring my team, providing the tools and support they need to take Puff ‘n Stuff to unrealized levels of success. I’m excited to see the Puff ‘n Stuff team take the experiences we’ve had together and live the message of ‘What would Warren do?’
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and sources. The writer and sources are not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, and this article is not authorized or endorsed by the Walt Disney company or any of its affiliates. All Disney-related trademarks are property of Disney Enterprises, Inc.