I started Liquid Catering when I was 26 years old. People ask me all the time what sparked the business and how I managed to do it at such a young age. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, I just hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to do. I went into college thinking I would go into international disaster relief (think Red Cross or UN). I thought at the time the romantic idea of traveling the world saving lives combined with dealing with the logistics of setting up relief camps in third world countries was intriguing and adventurous.
Like most girls do in college, I fell in love. Instead of getting every vaccination under the sun and a never ending passport book, I settled on moving to Charleston, SC and working in a restaurant. Instead of managing third world influenza outbreaks, I found myself dealing with angry customers who were upset about a chicken feather on their wing. Seriously people, where do you think chicken wings come from? Hospitality isn’t nearly as intense as disaster relief, but ask any restaurant manager and they would beg to differ. I remember one night I had Mitt Romney coming to my restaurant as a campaign stop on his Presidential bid tour. 45 minutes before he was supposed to arrive our restaurant was packed, with no room to even walk in the aisles. Our servers were slammed and the kitchen had 40 tickets in the window. At the same time a massive storm blew through and our power went out. We had no air conditioner, no hood system and only our emergency lights. Our “understanding” Republican customers were furious that they weren’t getting fed and they were going to be sweating for their brief meeting with Romney. Against all city and fire codes, we kept our kitchen up and running using flashlights, people had to get fed after all. I had already talked to 20 angry customers and tried to talk the campaign manager into moving the appearance outdoors when the Fire Marshall walked in. Not only was I operating with at least 100 people over capacity with no power, but I was operating a kitchen without a hood system…big problem for him. Lucky for us the Fire Marshall either REALLY loved Mitt Romney or took pity on my situation and didn’t shut us down immediately. He just made me promise that as soon as the kitchen finished chugging out the 30 tickets they had in the window we would shut the kitchen down. At the end of the night I was the last one to shake Romney’s hand as he left. I gave him a gracious, generous smile, not because I cared about his campaign (although I did support him), but because he was leaving and my night could go back to normal.
That’s the thing about the hospitality business, there is no normal. Most restaurants have a journal managers write notes in so those coming on know what happened. Did an employee get fired, did a table collapse, did a celebrity walk in and take photos with the staff? That’s all just a normal day in the business. Charleston Boy and I didn’t work out, so in 2009 I found my way to Greenville, SC to be the Catering Sales Manager at Sticky Fingers. Within 6 months I had boosted sales 25% and was one of the top sales reps in the company. I loved catering. There was always something new, a new product to sell, a new event challenge or new customer to impress. Excel quickly became my best friend as I created spreadsheet after spreadsheet showing row after row of glorious sales numbers. My phone never stopped ringing, and the commission checks were big. For a year I mastered the art of selling and being available to my customers 24-7. I lived for the business and didn’t do anything else.
After that first year I did something that most young professional’s do- I got a roommate that WASN’T in the restaurant business. All of the sudden I had a friend who was inviting me to dinner, to go hiking and grab a drink after work. I was a professional workaholic engrained deep into the service industry, I didn’t know such activities existed. I joined a young professionals group, PULSE, and started to make more friends outside of the business. I realized that I couldn’t possibly do everything they wanted me to do all the time because I was always working. I’m not kidding, I couldn’t leave my cell phone for more than 5 minutes without disaster striking. As I started to try to do more and more “fun” things, I realized just how exhausting my job was and how I wasn’t ever going to have a quality of life outside of work. I begged my bosses to hire me an assistant, I tried to let the restaurants handle all the logistics, I even tried training my customers to recognize business hours. None of that worked, I was a corporate slave and there was no turning back.
By August of 2010 I was quickly getting worn out. I loved the excitement of hospitality and events, but I couldn’t stand putting in so much work for someone else to make money and get very little recognition for it. The company had started to go downhill and it was becoming clear that I would get very little support. I had booked an event with a bar on it, and when I tried to get my boss to sign a permit for the alcohol, he said no. Apparently the company had decided that we weren’t selling enough alcohol off-site to warrant the additional insurance policy or permits. I asked him what I was supposed to do, he said “find a bartending company”. Well, that sounded like a simple solution, but I couldn’t find any legitimate bartending companies in the Upstate. Thus, Liquid Catering was born. I had over five years of bartending experience, and combined with my knowledge of sales and catering, it seemed like I finally found my brilliant idea to bring out my entrepreneurial spirit. I opened the doors in January of 2011 and had quit Sticky Fingers by April. I still worked brutal hours, but at least it was for myself; and no one should work you to death but yourself.