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RV Open House Week means a lot of wining and dining for RV dealers

When thousands of recreational vehicle dealers come to town, someone’s got to feed them.

They may find their way to local restaurants, but as the RV Open House Week has evolved over the last six years in Elkhart, so has the way the dealers get fed.

This year, there was steak, lobster and elephant ears.

“They upgraded the food this year,” said Kurt Janowsky, owner of Matterhorn Catering. He and his staff provided all the meals for the open house at the RV/MH Hall of Fame on the north side of Elkhart. Thor Industries’ 11 companies had units there and other manufacturers joined in as well.

On Tuesday night, lobster tail and beef tenderloin were served on china in a 20,000-square-foot tent. Other meals included a hog roast, grilled salmon, beef short ribs and pulled pork. The meals combined make it the biggest event the Matterhorn caters all year.

The open house was technically Tuesday to Thursday and Matterhorn provided three meals each day.

The event keeps growing. “It’s bigger because it’s four days, three meals a day, almost 2,000 people,” Janowsky said.

As it grows, it brings surprises. Janowsky planned for 400 on Monday night and served about 800.

The open house week, which Forest River CEO Pete Liegl started and others have followed, keeps evolving. In past years, a variety of caterers provided meals. This year, Matterhorn did all of Thor’s event and Nelson’s did Forest River’s. That allowed the two biggest caterers in Elkhart County to set up camp at the events.

Between meals, concession stands offered elephant ears, soft pretzels and similar food at no charge to those attending the shows.

Nelson’s served steak, shrimp and a variety of other foods at the Forest River event and some of the food that wasn’t eaten was donated to Faith Mission in Elkhart. Janowsky said they aren’t able to donate food because of how they handle food outside. He said the few leftovers they had were pitched.

The bars open early at the open houses. 523 Tap & Grill had two bars and a wine bar at Forest River’s event. Matterhorn had bars set up in a tent for each of the Thor brands. “It’s like 11 individual events,” Janowsky said.

In addition to the food, a new Corvette was given away at Thor’s event on Wednesday night, but you had to be present to win it. The first several names drawn didn’t respond in time, according to those who were at the event. Live music was also part of some of the festivities.

The companies are wining and dining dealers in hopes that they’ll place orders. When that happens, Elkhart County workers go to work building RVs.

“It’s a great thing for the local economy,” Janowsky said. Hotels, food vendors and caterers had a busy week. Janowsky had about 50 people working the show at any given time and had 70 employees there over the course of the week.

Money flowed into people’s pockets. The open house concept in Elkhart is working and who knows what it could bring next year.

“There’s a little bit of an arms race between Forest River and Thor,” Janowsky said. That affects what goes on the plate and is given away. It’s all aimed at driving orders and business. That’s likely to result in a lot more steak.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.


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