I started a catering business from scratch. My Ex had taken us into a bankruptcy from his failed business. This is part of a book I’m writing, but its also a response to my Granddaughter and her crew of the same age (20ish, young : ) that were running the catering kitchen awhile back. I was watching them make the turkey stuffing for big events. I had some suggestions for them, they looked at me, she even said “that’s not the way we do it here” and they pretty much rolled their eyes. I am retired now and sold the business to my son 10 years ago.
DO YOU SEE ME?
You see old.. but I am the same inside as I always was, vibrant, alive, excited about life and curious as to what is next in store for me. In fact I have a hard time shutting my brain down, plenty of time for that when I’M DEAD.
You think I don’t know anything.. this is now, but let me take you back in time…
You weren’t even born. I was scared, we were going through a bankruptcy. No one can ever know what that is like, unless they too have gone through that deeply humiliating experience. I’m not even going to go into it.. except to say, it was a real low point in my life, not the lowest, but that is a story for another time.
This is how this catering business got started. It was born out of a desperation to figure a way out of bankruptcy for us. We were offered a good amount of money for something quite simple, barbecuing a whole hog up in the north country for a gift opening. It turned out to be a turning point in our life. It was not even our barbeque or our hog, they only wanted someone to take it there and cook it!
What do you do with your life when it throws you lemons.. fuck the lemonade bullshit! We had it all, life was good and we were rolling in it. Banks called us wanting our business, I was a successful hairstylist with three salons. I even helped my Ex realize his dream of owning his own business.. and that is where everything started to fall apart..
We can blame the bankruptcy on interest rates of 18 to 21 percent, or we can blame the economy, in the end the ex blamed me.. it doesn’t really matter. We were broke and we were going to lose everything.
Our home was situated on 80 acres of land, we also enjoyed a lakefront cabin at the lake. We had a lot of stuff, a beautiful speedboat and snowmobiles, vehicles, an RV and a motorcycle. The sad thing is, you can’t eat dirt and stuff doesn’t fill your belly. It was a low point for sure but I didn’t lay down and die, I fought back dammit! I managed to divest myself of the salons, we lost the lake lot to the bank but new owners didn’t want the cheapo cabin.
My mom stepped up and let us move that cabin to the other side of the lake where she had some land. The credit union helped us save our house. The Royal Bank (turning us down for a loan to tide us over a rough spot) did their best to screw us over but got left hanging in the end. The Ex walked into the Royal Banks office and threw the keys for the commercial building on his desk and said “It’s all yours now.” We filed for bankruptcy the next day. It was a nightmare that haunted my every waking hour.
Then along came that hog.. We made two hundred dollars cash for cooking that hog, a lot of money, when we had none.
That hog planted a germ of an idea that caught fire in my head. I’m like that, but.. you don’t know me. My imagination could never have seen me going door to door calling on small businesses, selling brown bag lunches.. hell, even I didn’t see that coming! This led to pretty much begging my credit union manager to lend me money for a cheap small vehicle. I needed it for my deliveries, gas was killing me.
Well that didn’t pan out, and by the way, when you actually really do NEED money, the big banks turn their backs. The credit union was the only one that cared, but I still didn’t get the delivery car I wanted. If you think I should have given up.. well you don’t really know me. My fighting spirit only drove me harder and fuck them anyway!
The Barbeque was the brother-in-laws, and we struck a deal with him to use it, in a new catering business that I dreamed up in my head. He would get a 30% share just for letting us use his huge barbeque to cook whole hogs or huge hips of beef.
I invested in running an ad in the newspaper, under personals, to advertise our ‘catering’ services. There was so much turmoil in our personal life, we fought daily over that stupid ad, things like the wording and the placement. Bankruptcy is not a happy time for most families, but that is for another story. This all happened before the internet and social media, we were broke and broken.
The stress and the conflict was constant, the toll on our personal life would show up years later. He took solace in alcohol and I in bingo. There were no casinos back then.. thank god! But I digress, we all have our weaknesses, addictions, or something we escape to, I’m thankful ours wasn’t drugs.
We pretty much almost starved those first two years of feeding other people.. ironic I know. It was feast or famine and I almost gave up.. but you don’t really know me, and I am not a quitter. A brochure in the mail caught my attention and promised education for caterers, helping us make our businesses successful or your money back Guaranteed!
We had no money, and I was on the verge of giving up this stupid idea of running a catering business. The Ex did the cooking and I did the booking. I looked after the ad in the paper, the paperwork, the banking, the bills. I made brochures and every goddam thing I could think of, to make this venture work! Engaging suppliers to give us credit after a bankruptcy was no easy task.
We scraped the money together to attend ‘catering school’ a three day Catersource Conference in Las Vegas Nevada. My theory was, we hadn’t taken a vacation in three years. If this conference did not teach me anything, then by god I was going to get my money back for sure! A holiday was something else we desperately needed, we drove and took our two kids with us.
That was well over thirty five years ago. We came back from that conference and I was ‘energized’. Soaking up everything, I basked in the glow of being in the presence of others, just like me, they were here to learn as well. I was not alone and this is where my imagination, my drive, and my thirst for knowledge was finally sated.
We doubled our business that year and the next, and every year after that we forged ahead.. that little conference turned into a huge conference through-out the years. Attending every year thereafter, even though I thought I learned everything from that first one. I had won a free tuition for the following year worth a thousand dollars.. and was introduced to a new learning journey that kept me coming back every year.
That conference eventually picked me to become a ‘Catersource Ambassador’ because I was such a believer. Without that yearly ‘catering school’ we could not have become the hugely successful catering company we were. But I digress.. I came back from that conference and made stuff happen.. I put linens on the tables and centerpieces! We got rid of the plastic bowls and made sure every dish looked as good as it tasted.
I developed strategies and marketing, putting to use everything I learned, to help us go forward. Mentally and physically I did everything I could, soaking up every morsel of knowledge at every conference there-after..
That 800 hundred pounds of turkey stuffing made for all the Christmas parties.. I developed that recipe! Those beautiful buffet tables set out at every event.. I incorporated that into our company branding. The beautiful bowls and unique chaffers especially made for us, set our company apart from everyone else. We even had a guarantee to never run out of food or your whole event was on us! We were the first catering company to incorporate a website and put our company onto the internet.
My imagination and perseverance took us into event planning, rentals and beyond. Today I look back at myself going door to door to those small businesses, selling brown bag lunches.. then getting up at 4:00 am to make them and deliver them. I’m filling up with gas and despairing of ever making any money, I am just breaking even.. oh god..
Today you have uniforms, company vehicles with our logo, job sheets, a full roster of corporate clients. You have strategies.. systems, a company mantra “people eat with their eyes first” AND a company guarantee: we never run out of food! This little barbeque catering business.. turned into a behemoth. We were featured in two magazine articles and our home town newspaper and also a business magazine. We were finalists for four yeas in a row for an ACE Award ‘Achievement in Catering Excellence’, if you think this happened all by chance or luck, then you don’t even know me, do you?
You weren’t even born yet, but everything you do today in this kitchen, I put into place. When you look at me and see old and think hmmm.. what does she know? Well.. my sleepless nights, my tears, and how scared I was of our future, doesn’t even show on my face.
In fact.. you don’t even see me, do you?
I’m a fighter, I never gave up. This million dollar barbeque business all started from a germ of an idea that grew from my head into these jobs all of you are enjoying here today.