In our latest ‘What’s Cooking’, we hear from Lee Cureton, chef and founder of Culinary Creations Catering. Lee is based near Chattanooga, Tennessee and has been catering for more than 10 years and since joining the Foodpreneurs Formula is now scaling her business so she can make money whilst she sleeps. Read on for Lee’s fascinating story.
Your business name: Culinary Creations Catering
How would you describe the business you are in?
My business, Culinary Creations is a full-service catering company with a wide selection of services from which to choose. With that being said, special events seem to be the best sought after niche for us. We invest in people’s lives & their stories. We strive to create an experience & help make memories, whether at a corporate event, a wedding or a celebration of life. The joy of this business is building a relationship with the client in order to help them share the “events” of their life. It’s fun, not work!
What do you love about your work?
I love that I’ve created & grown a business that allows me to live a life I’ve designed for myself vs. working in the corporate world. I love being hands on in the kitchen. I love the interaction with clients & the many new people you meet (vendors, guests etc.) from start to finish when planning & executing an event. I love that each event is different & unique in its own way.
What part of your job would you gladly give away?
Any & everything technology related!!! Social media in particular…working on outsourcing that one again this week.
If you were starting out in business again today, what piece of advice would you give your younger you?
From the beginning, spend money to make money & value yourself & have enough confidence to charge what you are worth. For that to happen, you have to know your worth going in. I had been in business many years before I upleveled to the point that I stopped taking small jobs & quit second guessing myself when I worked up a menu & then marked it down thinking the client wouldn’t pay that!! I’ve always been extremely independent & self-confident, so this one was hard for me to see in myself…that maybe I didn’t value myself enough to charge what I knew I was worth.
Women start businesses 41% of the time to solve a problem. Sometimes this means we have a great vision but don’t have enough resources to sustain our business for the long term. Tell us what resources you started your business with eg. money saved, business premises, business partner, and how long before you started paying yourself?
I purchased my home almost 15 years ago because of the amount of property and the structures on the property, knowing full well that I could create & run my business out of the second structure & have one mortgage payment. I was very smart and shopped for used quality equipment. I hired a business coach for the first year because I knew he had the knowledge about business as well as a lot of connections he could network with me. I had a small amount of savings that I knew I could fall back on if needed. But basically I just started small & grew at a slow & steady pace. It was probably 4 or 5 years in before I started paying myself. My business has never had a loan & I’ve always been able to pay for everything as I go.
As you know we are passionate about women #backingthemselves. So tell us about a time in the last twelve months that you’re really proud of.
My largest event to date, in many ways, was a corporate gig (a 40th anniversary celebration) last summer. It was the largest number of guests(430+), the largest staff I had employed for one event (over 20), the longest amount of planning that had gone into an event. I worked with their corporate event planner for 9 months leading up to the event. The most involved menu planning. We modelled the menu after a state food for each state where they have a property. And, it was my largest invoice to ever send!
As we are always growing and learning, what is the one thing you would like to take time to learn more about?
Diversifying the business so that there is a wholesale & production arm separate from the event catering.
The world is changing so fast and technology enables us to do so much more. We’re interested in which app you could not live without and why?
I’m so tech “unsavvy” that I don’t utilize many. Texting does save so much time though when you need to just relay something to a client or vendor & don’t have the time to get into a lengthy conversation with them.
Why did you decide to become a member of Females in Food®
I’ve been a part of both entrepreneur & networking groups. Some co-ed, some all female. But, as anyone in this industry knows, food & beverage is just it’s own “animal”. If you don’t work in it or aren’t familiar with it, many times you just can’t understand what all is involved. So, even being in other groups with entrepreneurs, you often times didn’t get the support or answers you are looking for because the other businesses/industries represented were so different.
We love to celebrate the successes. Can you give us an example of how joining the Foodpreneurs Formula™ has positively impacted your business?
Finding a group of like minded women in the F & B industry has been fantastic. With the groups on FB & the openness you always have resources & guidance that help you grow your business, whether it’s processes & procedures or the business aspects or specific food related & hands on kitchen questions you have. I’ve already seen my long term goals change or become more focused since joining.
Thank you Lee.
Want to read more about another successful member? Check out our ‘What’s Cooking’ interview with caterer, Ronit Robbaz, founder Open Table Catering and Cooking school.