Look at me.. do you see me? (to my granddaughter working in the business I started)

You don’t see me at all…

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. Funny huh?

You think I don’t know anything, but let me take you back in time. You weren’t even born. I was scared, we were going through bankruptcy. No one can ever know what that is like unless they too have experienced that deeply humiliating experience. I’m not even going to go into this except to say it was a real low point in my life, not the lowest but almost.

It was how this catering business got started, it was born out of necessity. Some badly needed money given to us for something so simple, like cooking a whole hog up in the north, for a wedding. Not even our barbeque or our hog just 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 helped my Ex start his dream of owning his own business, and maybe that is where he and I started to unravel..

We can blame interest rates of 18 to 21 percent or we can blame the economy, in the end, my husband blamed me, it doesn’t really matter. We were broke and we were going to lose everything. We made five hundred dollars cash for cooking that hog, a lot of money back then when we didn’t have any.

We had a house and we had a cabin at the lake and we had a lot of stuff, but you can’t eat dirt and stuff doesn’t fill your belly. It was a low point in my life 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 let us move that cabin to the other side of the lake where she had some land. The credit union stepped in to help us save our house. The Royal Bank that financed my husband’s building for his business, tried to screw us over but got left hanging in the end. It was all a nightmare and the whole time my mind was working feverishly to figure a way out..

Then along came that hog..

It was a germ of an idea that caught fire in my head. I’m like that you know, but you weren’t even born yet. My imagination never saw me calling on small businesses door to door, selling brown bag lunches. Hell, even I didn’t see that coming! Pretty much begging my credit union guy to lend me the money for a cheapo vehicle so I could make money on these deliveries. Gas was killing me.

Well, that didn’t pan out. BTW.. when you really actually do NEED money, the big banks turn their backs. The credit union was the only one that actually cared, but I still didn’t get the delivery car I wanted. If you think I should have given up, well you don’t know me. My fighting spirit only drove me harder and fuck them anyway!

I invested in a daily running ad in the newspaper, under personals, to advertise our ‘catering’ services. There was so much turmoil in our personal life that we fought daily over that stupid ad, the wording, and the placement. This was before the internet and social media and we were broke and broken.

The stress and the conflicts were almost unbearable and probably the beginnings of the eventual end in our marriage, years later. He took solace in alcohol and mine was bingo. There were no casinos back then, thank God! But I digress, we all have our weaknesses, thank goodness it wasn’t drugs I guess.

We pretty much starved, not literally but still, those first two years of feeding other people, it was ironic. It was feast or famine and I almost gave up but I am not a quitter. A brochure in the mail caught my attention and promised education for caterers to make our businesses successful or your money back Guaranteed!

We had no money, and I was on the verge of killing this stupid idea of running a catering business. He did the cooking and I did the booking, and looked after the ad in the paper and made brochures and, and every goddam thing I could think of to make this work.

We scraped the money together to attend ‘catering school’ a three-day Catersource Conference in Las Vegas Nevada. My theory was that we hadn’t taken a vacation in three years so let’s give this a shot and if it doesn’t work then so be it. 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 we desperately needed, we drove and took our two kids with us.

That was well over thirty-five years ago, I suck when it comes to remembering dates. We came back from that conference where I soaked up everything and basked in the glory of being in the presence of others just like me. They were there to learn as well. I was not alone, this is where my imagination and my drive, and my thirst for knowledge was finally sated.

We doubled our business that year and the next and every year after that. That little conference turned into a huge conference throughout the years. I attended every year after that, even though at that first one I thought I had learned everything I needed to know. Oh my, how funny was that? I was so naive.

That conference eventually made me a ‘Catersource Ambassador’ and paid my tuition (one thousand dollars American money) because I was such a believer. But I digress, I came back from that conference and made stuff happen. I put linens on the tables and we incorporated centerpieces on every buffet table we set out. We got rid of the plastic bowls and made sure each food table presentation looked as good as it tasted!

I developed strategies and marketing and put to use everything I learned to help us go forward. Mentally and physically I did everything I could and I soaked up every morsel of knowledge at every conference there-after.

That six hundred pounds of stuffing you are making for Xmas parties, I developed that recipe. Those beautifully pleasing buffet tables you take special care setting up are a part of our company branding. No more plastic or Tupperware bowls, linens, and centerpieces only! We were the first caterers to get a website and get our company onto the internet!

My imagination and perseverance took us into not only catering but event planning, rentals, and beyond. I look back at myself going door to door to 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..

We now have uniforms, logoed company vehicles, job sheets, corporate clients, strategies, and our company motto “people eat with their eyes first” we always look good! This little BBQ catering company turned into a behemoth! And if you think it 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 that kitchen, I put into place. So when I see you look at me and roll your eyes I know you see old and think hmmm.. she knows nothing. My sleepless nights, my tears, and how scared I was of our future doesn’t show on my physical body.

In fact, I made all this simple so you wouldn’t screw up. But believe me, it was not simple getting to this place and time. It took guts and determination and every single ounce of my faith to believe we could do it. Bringing everyone along with me and giving direction and leading the way wasn’t easy but here we are today.

One more thing, you know that I didn’t do this all by myself, your grampa and your uncle, and your mom were all a part of this family business. Without all of us, none of this could have happened. We were integral to each other and each had a hand in helping to build this million-dollar business.. no mean feat.

Cherylle Winacott

retired CEO of a business still going strong after 35 years

and still your loving nana







6 thoughts on “Look at me.. do you see me? (to my granddaughter working in the business I started)

  1. SO well written ……. and poignant!
    So inspiring!
    I think I might start a catering business.

    1. I LOVE YOU JACK MILAN! .. You are one of the most giving persons I know, you are an inspiration and selfless and taught so many of us so much. Keep playing pickle ball don’t go back to catering.. trust me : ) But if you do, call me, I will beat it out of you loll.

  2. OMG!!! you don’t know how much this hit Home with me. I almost could have written it!! Thank you for sharing. My parents purchased a meat processing plant over 41 years ago. Our family business is now one the largest catering companies in Central Indiana. We also have a Country Store, Signature Products distributed, our own venue and bar service. Our first events were cooking whole hogs. Our first delivery van cost $600 and was very used. We went to Catersource in Vegas when it first started and yes, it was and is so inspiring to be in a room with like minded people. We thought every year that we couldn’t afford it, but we scraped it up and went anyway. We went from doing everything ourselves to now a staff of 20 full time and 150 part time employees. I so remember the hard times, long exhausting days. I see you.

    1. Oh Cindy.. we all remember our first van! Crazy huh? Catering may not be the hardest job in the world but is one of the most demanding jobs we will ever do. AND you are only as good as your last meal.. thank you for sharing your story : ) and wow look at you now!!! And I see myself in you as well.. thanks.

  3. Sitting here with my single glass of wine after a 16 hour day. I see you! I remember being desperate to pay the rent on my little Gourmet Shop and how a cocktail party for 25 showed me a way out. I remember a yellow brochure coming in the mail promising a day of catering education and how it set me on a new path. Today we had 4 beautiful weddings and fiftieth huge anniversary celebration for the museum that is our oldest exclusive venue. We put over 80 people out on locations. I see you and I know you and not many of those young people you speak of will ever do what you and I have done.

    1. Mike Roman was a visionary and a savior, in my case, and sounds like in yours as well. The right people come into our lives when we need them. We can’t know how much of an impact we have on others. He made me want to do better, be better and shoot higher and then he showed me how to do these things. Those I met at CS gave me such comfort to know I was not alone. I just read your comment for the third time, and I agree about the young ones .. but.. how do we change that I wonder? Thank you for sharing your story .. wow!

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