On this week's Chefs Without Restaurants podcast, I speak with Sam Hefter, the chef and owner of Hefter Catering in Kansas City. Sam's catering business focuses on upscale taco bars. We talk about how he came up with that idea, and why he doesn’t think he’s going to expand beyond tacos. We get into the set up, overhead and profitability of his catering business, and also discuss doing tastings with clients.
Sam is very open about how he started, and continues to run his business, and would love for people to reach out to him if they have any questions about starting their own catering business. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and all of his social media links can be found below.
Hefter Catering Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Hefter-Catering-633042970455367
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Welcome, everyone. This is Chris Spear with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. On today's show, I have Sam Hefter of Hefter Catering in Kansas City. Welcome to the show, Sam. How you doing?Sam Hefter:
Pretty good. How are you?Chris Spear:
I'm great. Thanks for coming on the show.Sam Hefter:
My pleasure. I love the show.Chris Spear:
So why don't we kind of start with your culinary backstory. Tell us a little bit about how you got into food and cooking. Was it something you were always into?Sam Hefter:
I started off at school at the University of Missouri. Just getting my undergrad degree I went there for I think it was food science. And my freshman year I got a job at a bar. And it was on campus. And we It was like regular bar food, regular bar drinks that you would expect on a college campus. And they hired me for the kitchen. And in this kitchen. It's like you didn't necessarily get hired as a grill Minh or as SATA. You just kind of got hired to work the kitchen. It was like a minimum wage paying job. And you know, for the first few months, I was the new guy. So they've just kind of thrown me on dishes. But slowly I started learning the stations and a few months into it. I was like, wow, this is really speaking to me. And it was probably going into my sophomore year, I think I switched my major to hospitality management. And yeah, I just kind of fell in love with it then. So I went through college, I worked at that bar for the four and a half, five years that I was there. I learned a ton. And then I went to culinary school for one year, I was able to get an associate's degree. I went to Johnson and Wales in North Miami, Florida, because I already had my bachelor's degree. I could go for one year get the associate's. So I did that. And then when I was in Florida, I was getting towards the end of my culinary degree or Yeah, getting my culinary degree and I was at a job fair, and I got an interview with hillstone restaurant group. I don't know if you're familiar with them, but they own the restaurants called Houston's Oh, yeah. Have Houston's Yeah, sure. So Houston's is owned by hillstone. And when I was in Florida, I was working at a Morton Steakhouse. And I was their assistant food and beverage manager on the weekends and I was serving at night during the weekdays to try to make some extra income. And we shared a parking lot with a Houston's I've never been to Houston's. But every night, we were like super slow, just kind of like waiting for somebody to stroll in. And Houston had a line out the door every single day. So as soon as they approached me, and I got that job interview, I knew that that restaurant was going to be you know, super busy. So long story short, they hired me. And they were offering, I think, if I remember, my starting salary was $55,000 a year, which coming out of college, every school like that, to me was I was not expecting that. That's an insane amount. I went to Johnson oils, and I came out and I was making 1150 an hour or something like totally. And, you know, I think that's what I don't know, at least where I was at school, that was kind of what everybody was thinking was okay, once I finished college, every school, I'm going to go be a line cook, hopefully at some prestigious restaurant, I'm not going to get paid a lot of money. But I'm just going to work my way up the ranks that way. And, you know, looking back, I don't know if it was my ambition that was searching for a job like this, or if something just came across my way. And I took it. And they started my training in New York. I was in East Hampton, New York. And training was supposed to last like five or six months. And basically they were training me to be what they call an assistant culinary manager. And that company, they basically call you know, instead of referring it to as an executive chef or a kitchen manager, they call it a culinary manager. And in these restaurants, you know, I think there's a there's a difference between a kitchen manager and a chef. And to me, the main difference is an executive chef is usually somebody who is going to be creating the recipes. Whereas a kitchen manager is somebody who is going to be managing whatever recipes are already in place, and making sure that everything is executed properly. When I was with this restaurant group, I was a kitchen manager. Or at least that's the position that I was hired to train for. A few months into training. I got really lucky and the chef that they are the culinary manager they had put in place or at that restaurant and he sat down New York got let go. He just wasn't working out. And through my whole training process, I made sure to pick up as much. You know, I tried to learn everything that I could. And in that restaurant, we baked all of our own bread from scratch, every burger bun, every sandwich, bread sandwich, baanUnknown:
every single piece of protein was cut in house, whole fish, all of our robots were cut in house, New York strips, like you name it, we did it ourselves. And I got to learn all that, which was so cool. But when that chef got let go, you know, I really pushed for that position. I told him like, Hey, I can do this. And they gave me the position. So I was working. I was 23 years old. And I got hired basically to be the head colander manager at this restaurant in East Hampton, New York. And it was like this huge opportunity for me. From there, every six to nine months, the company would move me to another one of their locations. And when they moved me there wasn't, there wasn't like, Hey, we're gonna move you next month, like Pack your bags. It was like, they would call me on a Tuesday. And it was like, Hey, we need you in Houston on Thursday. And I'm like, I'm young, I'm single. Now's the time to just say yes to stuff. So it's like, okay, I'll do it. The company was able to make the move, very simple. But with this whole like moving thing. In three years, I was the counter manager at four of their restaurants. And while the menu was similar at each restaurant, it just like, every time I entered a new kitchen, there was just this like, whole different world of problems and different things that I needed to figure out how to manage. And I got my butt kicked working for that company. But I learned so much. And you know, if I could go back in time thinking of doing it all over again, sounds like such a big task, but I definitely would. So do you think you jumped into it too soon? Like, in hindsight, do you think you were experienced enough? Or would you have been better off maybe doing a few more years working under people? So now that I'm a little older, I've thought about this. And I don't think I was really ready for all that responsibility. And looking back on it, it seemed like it was such a toxic environment, because of how hard everything was. It's like, okay, so for example, the restaurant, when I was in New Orleans, I worked at one of the restaurants we did just shy of $9 million a year in revenue. Everything's made from scratch. And basically, every little detail of the food had to be perfect. If it wasn't perfect, I was getting chewed out by my general manager, or somebody from regionals would come in town, that was the worst. But there was such this pressure put on me to make sure that every single thing was perfect. That, you know, I was working probably 90 hours a week, sometimes, sometimes more. But there I can think of many months where I didn't take a single day off. Because I just couldn't, it just like wasn't an option. And looking back on it, I think that I was not the best manager that I could have been. And my GM used to always tell me, you know, you need to teach other people how to do these things properly, and hold them accountable, so that you can set yourself free. But in my head, it was always like, Okay, this person's not doing this, right. I'm just gonna do it myself. And it was so hard for me to get out of that mentality. And, you know, so looking back on it, I think the environment there was more toxic than it needed to be, because I simply just didn't really understand how to manage people properly. I was too young. Oh, definitely. You know, I also think you went to culinary school, the same one as I did. I went to Johnson, Wales and Providence. But I think you expect that when you work in a kitchen, everyone there is going to have your same work ethic and have the same experience, right? So I went somewhere I was 22. And then you start working with these people who just need a job, right? Like I know, you've seen people in the kitchen who are there just because they need a job. It's not their life. They're not QuickBooks, they don't care and then you move up the ladder now you're managing these people and the frustration of like, why are you not committed the same way I am. I know that's something that I went through and, and that's really hard. You know, I wasn't ready for it. I took this job as essentially like a line cook, right out of culinary school. And within six months, I was like the sous chef. And now I'm managing these people who've been there for years. And nobody was listening to me, I was 22 years old. And I just expected that they were going to do the job that they had been hired to do. Yep. And that was another thing I struggled with, too. When I was 23. Some of my employees who I didn't hire, you know, I would get moved to one of these restaurants, they had been working there for 10 years. And they're like, well, Who the hell is this guy. And I'm, you know, at some of these guys are in their 40s, or 50s. And all of a sudden, I'm telling them what to do. And I think that was another reason for me to earn my respect with them. I knew that I had to just work as hard as I could and just show them that I'm going to put in the time, I'm not just going to point fingers and tell you what to do. That was the only way that I knew how to gain that respect. But it was hard after that. So my last restaurant with them was in Kansas City. And so I'm with the company for like three and a half years at this point. And I had no plans on leaving, I was making really good money. I was running the kitchen here. And I was starting to kind of figure out how to get the kitchen running smooth and get my life back a little bit. And they announced that they were closing the restaurant. There's so many weird rumors as to why I'm still not really sure why they closed the restaurant. But I also met my who's now my wife, I met her here, she was a server. We weren't supposed to date servers. But you know, it happens. So when they announced that they were closing the restaurant, I decided that this was the opportunity for me to be done, you know, they wanted to move me on to the next one and the next one. And this was my time to get out. So then, there was another restaurant in town who had been in contact with me for probably a year prior to that they wanted me to work for them. And it was called, it's called the Rock Hill grill. It's a well known restaurant in Kansas City. They hired me as their executive chef. And this is the first time that I am not only managing the kitchen, but I'm also in charge of creating new menu items. And you know, like there's no playbook, or really solid recipe book for how this food supposed to be done. It was up to me. I worked for them for about a year. And during that time, they also opened a second restaurant in the Plaza in Kansas City. And I was in charge of opening that restaurant. So from for that restaurant, I really created the entire menu from scratch. And that was a whole nother learning experience. I managed that kitchen for about six months and ran that as an executive chef. And then Rock Hill grill. They wanted me back they wanted me to be done with this restaurant, the plaza. They made me this, like ownership opportunity deal to come back to Rock Hill. And I took it. And it seemed like at first glance that this was a great opportunity. You know, if I worked there for four years, then I would have a third ownership along with the two other guys that own the restaurant and like for I think for most chefs in this industry like that sounds like a home run. Yeah, definitely. And so here I am, I'm making good money. And I'm just thinking like, Okay, I'm just gonna keep working to the bone and do whatever I have to do to be, I guess, quote unquote, successful because that's what I thought I needed to do. When I got back to the restaurant I worked there for about another year. And I remember in the last few months is when my wife and I we had gotten married, we knew we were gonna have kids soon. And here I am. I guess I was 28 I think. And I could just feel it that I mean, there was so much pressure on how much time I needed to give to the restaurant, that it was so difficult for me to find time to myself. I mean, I was scheduled six days a week in the kitchen. That's a lot. And you know, it's a lot and then you know, my one day off was Wednesday. And if some if Oh yeah, so this restaurant also had two event spaces in house. So we had a full dining room and two event spaces. And it was quite often that we would have to have it on at the same time at the dining rooms open all the food came out one kitchen. So if there was like a big event scheduled on Wednesday, and Wednesday is my day off. Well guess what? Like I'm working. There's no way around it. So what happened was the final straw for me. I Well, I guess there were two things that led up to me leaving and started my own catering company. I was catering a friend's wedding out of the kitchen where I worked. My wife and I wanted to give it to them as a gift. And so we just put together this taco bar. Like they had 180 guests, we said, Hey, I'm going to use the kitchen where I work, I took the day off, and we're just going to put together this really nice taco bar for you know, like, Okay, cool. This is awesome, don't have to pay a cater. So my wife and I did this taco bar at her wedding. And afterwards, I crunched the numbers. And I was like, joy, you know, my wife's name is Joy. If we had charged just $12 a person, which is like dirt, cheap catering, we would have profited. Like it was something like 1200 dollars. Because I'm looking at I'm like, Man, this food is so cheap like this. And so we realized that there's like an opportunity there. But we just, I kind of put that on the back burner. And then the final straw at this restaurant. I had, you know, my wife and I got married, never took a honeymoon. There was no time. It was a year later, I approached the other owners who were supposed to be owners together. That's a whole nother story. But you know, I told him, I said, hey, my wife and I are going to take our honeymoon, we're going to do it in February, March, whatever it was. And they said, You know what, I don't think it's really a good time for you to be doing that. And here I am, like, Am I really going to live my life this way? And just like, let people tell me no, all the time. And you know, just so the next day I put in my note, I gave him a six week notice I put down the whole ownership deal. And it's like, you can take it. And I left. It felt really good. Congratulations. Thank you. But that's hard to do. No, it is that scary. I mean, I was at a job for 10 years. But looking at those things, like I've talked about on other shows, both of my parents passed away while I was working there. And while I got some time to go up there when they were sick and to deal with things, I feel like there was this major guilt trip about the time I was taking, you know, and I had been promised a raise and a promotion. And then your annual review comes up is like, Well, you know, you didn't finish doing the new catering menu, because you were taking care of your mom who's dying of cancer, you know, it's like, and they don't care. Yeah, like really, really, you're, you're gonna not give me what you promised. Because like, one thing I didn't get done this year, because I was taking care of my parents who were dying, you know, and they don't. And, you know, one year I went on vacation to San Francisco, and something stupid happened in the kitchen, and the vacation is essentially ruined. Like every day, I'm getting phone calls, from my GM, from my employees from corporate HR. It's like, I can't take five days and go away. Like, we have a staff of like hundreds of people there. Like someone's got to be able to take care of this. Like, don't call me. For some I don't know why it has to why it is that way been in this industry. It's like, if you have one of these high up positions, and something goes wrong, it's it's like it's your fault. It's always it, at least for me, it felt like it was always my fault. This thing I'm telling you about. My sous chef did something while I was on vacation, and I still got a corporate write up for it. Because somehow it It happened in the kitchen. I'm like, I'm literally on the other side of the country. How am I being held responsible for something my sous chef did, who she knew she wasn't supposed to do? Like I told her that and the other staff there, knew it and told her that I didn't want it done. And it still happened. And now I have like a write up in my file. Like, that's ridiculous. She's a grown adult hold her to that standard, but not me. But anyway, I feel your pain on that. There's there seems to be like always this trickle down effect, at least you know, you worked for corporate in the company that I worked for hillstone. They're technically not corporate, but they function like corporate, they fit at restaurants. It was always, you know, somebody at the very top is upset about something that trickles down to a regional or whoever, and it trickles down and it trickles down because it can never be your you know, that person never wants to take the responsibility. So like, if you're on vacation, it's so much easier for you know, the regional manager to blame the chef, whether you're there or not, and your general manager probably couldn't handle it. So it's your fault. So I left Rock Hill, and I left knowing that we were going to give this catering company a shot. And I've never started a business. You know, I didn't know anything about it. I knew that I should probably get an LLC because that's what Google says. You know, and I saw, I was like, okay, as long as I like figure out how to pay my taxes and don't do anything. illegal, I should be fine. So I put together this like taco bar catering concept. And I had a whole menu put together. It's pretty simple. There's three tiers, tier one was 13 per person. tier two was 16 per person. And tier three was 19 per person in Kansas City, that is a really affordable catering package. I know it varies city to city. But here, you know, there are some well known catering companies for like weddings and big corporate events. And if you go with one of them, they'll do whatever you want, you know, whatever many you want, they'll do it. But you're gonna pay probably 30 or $40 per person for the food. So I was like, Okay, if I just do taco bars do the same thing every time. I can come in at a much better price point, and still put out a great quality product. And it saves money for the client. And then I can also be more profitable, my inventory is like so low, like literally right now at my kitchen. The only food I have on hand is I have dry beans and white rice. Everything else I bought the amount of pounds that I needed. It's all cooked gone. Like there's nothing sitting around. So you're running it like a restaurant because I think that's the challenge with catering is you know, catering companies do everything under the sun. So this client on Monday wants Italian and bringing all this stuff in on Tuesday. They want Mexican on Wednesday, they want French or something so you're running it like you had a Mexican restaurant where you only have the the Mexican staples on hand. And yeah, but even more simplified, is my so my menu has three tiers. each tier comes with an appetizer, entree and dessert. So on tier one and tier two are on tier one. The appetizer is a chips and salsa bar. On tier two, and tier three. The appetizer is a giant cheese board. And I learned working at Rock Hill, we used to charge like $9 per person for a cheese board. Well, I knew that as long as I cut the cheese like really thin and just had a big variety of cheeses, it would cost like 100 bucks to put out a cheese board that we charge like $1,000 for. So I took that as my big appetizer opportunity. And you know, when you're putting out a buffet, like there's no shame in cutting the cheese thinner or smaller. If people want more, they'll take more. It's not like you're robbing somebody. So that's why I did the cheese board. And then for tier one, it's chips and salsa. Which is like it's a, I do this beautiful display. But like at the end of the day, it's just chips and salsa. And then my desserts for tier one. And tier two is a homemade cookie bar. I have one cookie recipe, I make a big batch of cookie dough, I divide it into thirds, one third gets chocolate chips. One third of it gets m&ms. The other third gets white chocolate chips and cocoa powder. So it's like a chocolate cookie. Simple. And then my tier three desserts are petit fours. We do keylime cheesecake brownie, and carrot cake. And normally, I think it sounds like a lot of work to do these petit fours. But really, one thing I've learned is I can do a wedding for 200 people. And they're probably going to eat 100 Patty fours total. People don't eat a lot of desserts at these events. And so I bake these desserts and sheet pans. And I cut them in the little squares like one inch squares each and you know, I put whipped cream on them and stuff to make them look fancy. But whatever I don't use, I wrap it up in plastic and freeze it. Because I learned working at Rock Hill, some of these desserts that we would do would freeze really well. So they're now the four Patty for desserts that I offer are the ones that I know freeze very well. So then and then the taco bar, the main entree is the same for all three tiers. There's very subtle differences between each one. But so like I'm literally doing the exact same thing for every event. Whereas like even a Mexican restaurant, you don't know what somebody is going to order at a time. But I know it's the same thing every time. Do you ever get tired of it? Do you wish there was more variety or are you still fulfilled? culinarily my Okay, so my culinary like my need and fulfillment has changed. It used to be where I would want to like even at home, I want to cook something that's like new and exciting and something where I'm like super creative and you know, kind of like sheffy in that way and now have moved in the direction of like, I take a lot of pride and how consistent I can cook something now. That's that's what like gets me excited. And at home I really like cooking stuff that most people won't cook with, like broccoli stems or I think you like chicken hearts, right? You've I love that all the organ meats. I was a freezer full of stuff. I buy chicken hearts from wheat, there's a local farm and they sell like free range, Turkey and chicken and stuff. I buy a ton of their heart. I love it, the chicken hearts. I think it's a balance of finding also profitability and workflow. You know, when I first started, I was doing it on the side. So I wanted to be super creative and adventurous and do all this stuff, right? Because I was doing like one gig a week and then two gigs a week. And then you move into full time and it's like, wow, like I made gluten free crackers from scratch the very first time I had a gluten free customer like yeah, that's, that's insane. Like now you just go to all day and it's like 250 for a bag of gluten free crackers and their earnings and they're far and away better than than what I could make. I buy all of my crackers for the cheese boards at all the they're incredible. They're cheap. Yeah, they have that like blend that little box with the like the five or six handcraft Oh yeah, I use it. I use dollars. Yeah. And if you're doing a charcuterie and cheese board, they're like just today. That's I grabbed some of their Manchego and I'm using some of that it's like it's 329 for a wedgie. Manchego. You can't beat that. Yeah, no, they're their cheese and cracker selection is incredible. Okay, the profitability. So the way this works is, I do one events a week, maybe two. And that was all part of the design. Also, I figured, okay, if I just don't hire a chef and don't hire anybody. Now I have people that helped me serve on the day of an event. So I'm not like serving it all myself. But there, I pay him as 1099. I pay him 50 bucks out of pocket for each one. And then they get all of the tip. There's always a gratuity, they usually make like 150 bucks a piece. It's like, not expensive for me, great for them done. But I do all the prep myself. And I do one event or two events a week. Now my profit margins are right, right around 65%. That's after paying for everything. And part of this formula was finding a kitchen space that I could rent out and at a reasonable price. There's a commissary kitchen I use here in Kansas City. It's called food truck Central. And it's designed for mostly food trucks, because they have to have a commissary kitchen. But I'm in there, I have my own storage unit, I paid $225 per month to use the storage unit. And it's like the size of like an average bedroom. And I have my upright refrigerator in there. I have a freezer in there and all my shelving, all my stuff, I keep there. So that's 225 a month. Everything else, I pay $20 per hour to use their kitchen. So if I like take a week off, or if I'm not busy for whatever reason, I'm not like bleeding money on this like huge kitchen overhead and stuff like you would be in a restaurant like all these people we're dealing with right now, because of COVID. You know, it's 225 bucks a month is what I'm like out if I'm doing no business, that's what that is. And that's easy to make it back on these gigs. I'm sure it's Yeah, that's not a big deal. So after paying for that, and my $20 per hour that I use for each event, my net profit is about 65% of each sale. So on average, my average wedding size is like 200 if I'm doing a wedding for 200 people, and they purchase my gear, which is $16 per person. That's 30 $200 what 65% of that? I don't know like 80,000 Yeah, close to 2000. Yeah, just doing some quick, okay. So that's my profit on on the week. And like, you know, you multiply that by 52 weeks, like, that's a pretty decent salary. And the only reason this works is because I've simplified everything down to just like one thing and I hope somebody reaches out to me after this podcast to, you know, look for advice or something because, like, I feel like there are so many other people and chefs that can do this. You know, this isn't like that hard and my food too, because I do the exact same thing every single time. I'm fine tuning the recipe a little bit each time. I'm not guessing anymore. Like, I'll go into the kitchen, I'll put my headphones and pop on a podcast, and just like zone out and crank it all out, because, you know, I've done it so many times. And the other thing too, my startup costs were about a, they were probably about, like, $15,000 total. But had I done it again, and I didn't make the mistake, you know, of course, I bought stuff the first time around, realize, like, Oh, I should have done this differently. If you go do it all over again, I don't, I'd have to cost it out. But I really think for 10 grand, I could get everything I'm sure done. And I just, you know, the whole personal chef business is such a great opportunity for people to try to go out on their own, and, you know, not work for somebody, and then you know, somebody like you, if you do a great job, you get to charge more money. And, you know, obviously your clients, they like you. So they're like, Hey, I'm going to use this guy again. So if you do a better job, you make more money. When you work in a restaurant, if you do a great job, good luck, you know, eventually, somebody might give you a raise, I was getting 2% a year, at the end of my time with my last job like that doesn't even keep up with inflation, you know? No, it doesn't make sense. And I really, I hope, you know, it's like, so tragic what COVID has done to all these restaurant businesses, and I've been affected too, I was supposed to have a wedding this weekend, Kansas City put a 10 person, you know, limit on events. So I literally from now until March, I've had to postpone everything. And it sucks, but and there are so many restaurants that are just like suffering right now. And a lot of you probably won't make it. But um, hopefully, when this all clears, we're gonna see, I hope we're gonna see a change in the industry and a change and how people value their employees. Because like, it's like, if you're a chef, I don't know what chefs actually making this city. But I think an average kitchen manager chef is making like 40 grand a year, maybe 50. And it's just like, in this industry, it's just known that you're not going to make a lot of money. Unless you like have this, you know, really incredible opportunity. But most of the chefs just aren't going to get paid well. And I think everybody in the industry is like, you know, I'm not really doing it for the money, like I love cooking or whatever. And there's nothing wrong with that. But it doesn't have to be either or, right? No, it doesn't you can be you can love cooking and make a good living. Like, why can't that coexist? What's like, when you didn't want to talk about the profitability? And you thought your potential customers might be upset? But like, isn't every industry profitable? like think about an oil change? Like if you bought, you know, what's a quart of oil costs? If you did it yourself? You know, I paid $70 The last time I had my oil changed, I think or you know, an attorney who sits behind the desk and like $200 an hour, I think every industry if you're the best at what you do you charge what you can and it's like, well, if you don't want me to make a profit, then I don't know, go somewhere else. But yeah, no, that's that's true. Very true. I try, I try to make it seem like to my clients that I'm like, super busy all the time. I don't know why I do that. I just don't want them to know that I'm literally doing one events a week. I don't know why. Like that. Maybe that shouldn't matter. But I know I know what you're talking about. Because it seems like then you're not a real caterer or whatever, you know, like people will say, and I think it didn't start with my customers. It started with my peers, where people would say like, how often do you work? It's like, oh, like, two to three days a week. And everyone's like, oh, must be nice. Now. They only have to work like two or three days a week. And you and you know, there's so much that goes on behind the scenes that like one event, if you have a an event for like 200 people, you're still going to spend multiple days because by the time you're doing all the prep and getting that ready. Totally. That's what it takes to do it. So again, it's not like you had six days off, and one day of work that that you know, $2,000 profit is going to have to stretch for the whole week. So that's also very true. Are you using all of your own cookware? Hmm, I use all my own cookware. I used to bring all my own China. During COVID I changed that I reached out to all my existing customers and past customers and said, you know, for your safety and security, what do you think and 95% of them said that they would be more comfortable using their own stuff, which was nice for me because I was washing all my dishes at my house. So I would not take them to a commercial kitchen. And my wife said, you know, do you really want to be dragging in dishes into our house that people have been eating on and the saliva on the plates and force like, I still have to rinse them there. But we feel like for our comfort and safety that it's a lot easier to just load them in the dishwasher there. So I'll glove up, rinse them off, and load them and wash them there. And now that I look at while I do like serving on a lot of my plates in China, because I have some really cool serving pieces. It has been nice to not have to lug like oh, I batch China and stuff. Cheese. But as you get into bigger parties, I mean, if you're doing a party for 12 or 15 people, you know, and it's five courses, most people don't have that at their house. So I have to bring right but I did a wedding a couple weeks ago where they they purchased really nice disposables, like it was their wedding and they didn't care. They bought the heavy duty plastic and stuff. I'm like, cool. I have no problem with that, and then just drop it in the trash can be done. That was awesome. Yeah, you know, when I started this catering company, that's what we were doing. Like at the very beginning, we were buying those heavy duty plastic disposables. And obviously it's super wasteful. And it costs money. Now we use real plates. So after every wedding, I'm washing like, sometimes if it's 200 people, I'll be washing 600 plates. But you know, where I rent my kitchen space, I have a full, you know, dishwasher a regular dish machine, you can just run them through a regular dish machine and it'll take me like two or three hours to do dishes some nights, but it's usually once a week. And you know, I'm by myself and like, you're not like he used to drive me nuts when one of my dishwashers would like not scrub something all the way and you don't find out until like eight hours later when you go to grab the pan like Ah, so I'm, you know, I clean it all myself. If something's not clean, it's my own fault. Yeah, believe I want to get mad at doing the dishes is my least favorite part. I've always thought like, maybe it would be worth it just to swing by like one of these commercial kitchens, I go by my church at 11 o'clock at night, I have a key let myself in and just run everything through the dish machine that would be so much nicer. Maybe something to think about for the future. So you have no employees, right? It's just you except for the days that you go out on an event, just your service staff, otherwise just yourself. Correct. And you know, once in a while somebody will ask me like, Okay, what happens if you get sick? And, you know, if like, worst case scenario, if I got COVID I would have to call off the event. Like, I don't know what else to do. But, you know, in the 10 years that I've been working in the restaurant industry, I've never called that, you know, a day of work once. So I don't plan on doing it now. Down the road. I would love to grow it. And I would love to not be doing everything myself someday, but in order to get started. That's how I had to do it. You know, that's what made sense. Yeah, I I'm in the same boat. I haven't had to do it yet, but that always worries me. I have no employees. I've been doing this for years now full time. But I do always think like what if someone's hired me for like, their Christmas holiday party at their house? And it's like 15 people and then I just wake up and feel sick. Like what do you do? I have that happened. That is not Yeah, it is not happened. It is not having I'll tell you this is a funny story. This is the worst. It was like last summer. I was having varicose veins surgery on my legs like having veins removed, right? I don't know, I've never missed a gig. Or like the planning of a gig. I booked this surgery the day of an event, right? I'm looking at my hat intentionally No, not at all. So the the event was not on my calendar. I don't know, we had been going over emails. I was really busy. I planned a menu. So like, I'm having this dinner on a Friday and I booked the surgery for Friday morning. It's Thursday night at nine o'clock. And I just had this feeling and I went through my emails and I said to my wife tomorrow, I know so i i haven't done anything, no shopping, I haven't prepped. It's like nine o'clock at night. And I said to my wife, you're not gonna believe this. I have a dinner tomorrow. For eight people. I said, I've done nothing. And I've got this surgery like, and she said, What are you gonna do? I said, I don't know. I'm gonna figure it out. I went and I just went to Walmart. We have a 24 hour Walmart. They had like, almost everything I needed. And I bought all this stuff. And thank God, I have people who can help me one of my former sous chefs helps on a gig. And I emailed him and I said, Mike, I'm in a jam. You know, tomorrow, I can go to this gig, but I can't really carry things. I can't really stand. Is there any way that you can cook and I'll pay you? You know, I paid him like 300 bucks or something. And he said yeah, so that next day I went and I got the surgery done. And I told the doctor and he's like, Oh no, you can't be working. You should be in bed all day. So I went home and I lay down for like three hours we showed up to this place. I loaded my car. My wife loaded the car. I drive to the place he meets me there he carried all the stuff in and then I I just sat down in the kitchen in the kitchen chair and just directed him and thank God he worked for me for like five years, these were mostly recipes that I knew. And I could just say, you know, throw in a tenderloin, okay, we're gonna do brussel sprouts, you know, cut them, get them in the oven and some bacon fat. But I couldn't believe that, that I had booked a gig on the day that I had surgery. And I was afraid my legs were gonna bleed because they said, you know, if you get up and walk around, you can have it open and have you know, blood coming down. So I was like, triple wrapped with gauze on my leg. That's the only time anything like that has happened. And thankfully, I had someone to bail me out. I really don't know what I would have done if he couldn't have cooked for me. But yeah, that's the worst that happened to me. Oh, yeah, those moments like that, you know, working literally by yourself like this. Those are scary. There was one weekend, you know, when COVID hit, I had to move so many events. And so it's like, I'm getting all these emails to postpone events. And I'm postponing him. I'm 99% sure I'm marking them all correctly. In my calendar. I'm like, man, but if I miss one of these, I'm screwed. And there was one week, I think it was in October, where somebody emailed me on like Monday, they're like, Hey, you know, this is our final guest count for Saturday. And I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I don't even have this on account to give you to reach out to me, I would have just completely not been there. So a little different than getting sick. But you know, no, I think that's hard. And like, I don't have it sounds like you don't have an admin person. I don't have an admin. Oh, no, no, yeah, I'm at. I mean, I'm also the accountant. Yeah, same, but like, I guess this was last month, like I had a guy and we've been going back and forth for a while over Saturday versus Sunday. And I adamantly told him like, I couldn't do Saturday. I had a gig. He said, Sunday's fine. We agreed on it and everything. And then I guess the Saturday event I had thankfully cancelled for some reason, but we didn't change the day. And I reached out to him on Friday and said, like, you know, I'll be there for 30 on Sunday. He's like, you mean Saturday? And I'm like, no Sunday, and he came back and was like, pretty upset and cursing at me. And I sent him like screenshots of all the emails. He's like, Oh, my bad. Can you do tomorrow? And I was like, Well, now I can. But I have not planned for that. Like, again, like I had hired staff to help me on that Sunday. And we just had to like hustle. And again, I hadn't, I wasn't ready for it. Because I was doing a gig on Friday. So now it's like, okay, so like tomorrow, I've got a party for 15 people I hadn't planned on and you just pull it out and get it done. But sometimes those things get lost in translation somewhere. Yeah, and you don't want to tell them no, no, not at all lose out on that and upset me like, yeah, I guess I'll bend over backwards and do whatever I need to do, even though you made a mistake. And also you need the money, right? Like this was like one of the one of the big paydays, it was like my biggest event that month. And if I didn't get that, you know, I would have been fine. But I was really hoping for that one. So you made it work. You know, that's what we do. I think in the food business, we make it work more often than always, just like the the magic that we pull off, whether you're in a restaurant or doing your own thing, the stuff that we can do in a kitchen. I don't think people know how we get it done that just adrenaline kicks in and you figure it out. I completely agree. I can think of multiple times where like we're about to do you know, two parties or something? This is when I was in the restaurants. And then like, my one of my prep guys is like, hey, Chef, the ovens not working. I'm like, What do you mean the ovens not real? It's just not hot? Fuck. You know? I gotta like call somebody to fix that up and I need the oven. I don't have an oven. What am I gonna do then? Yeah, you figure it out. Always restaurant impossible for sure. So any chance you'll branch out beyond the taco bars? Or? I mean, don't bro, what is it don't fix what's not broken? Yeah, I don't plan on it. My my kind of long term vision. I would love to, like franchise the opportunity for other people to do it in other cities. I do not want to add more food items to it. Like the recipe is working. And people ask me sometimes they're like, Hey, you know, can you do it? I get random questions for random food at a specific event. And I just tell them, like, I'm sorry, I don't do that. And, you know, for whatever reason, that's like, totally not normal in the catering world. It's also not very normal in the private chef world. You know, I assume in your business, if somebody wants something specific, you're going to do whatever they want. Actually, I don't so I'm glad you brought this up. You know, because I do think you you play to your strengths. I know what I'm good at. I know what I'm not and I do think people think that because your personal chef or a caterer or you can and will do everything. There's some things I don't like to cook There's some things I know I'm not good at. Like, I don't enjoy Americanized Italian food. Like I don't want to come to your house and do chicken parm, and I'm not that good at making homemade pasta. So I feel it's kind of crappy to come and use a 99 cent box of like boxed pasta and then just make like, very mediocre food. Like, I don't want to do that. And I pretty much tell people I don't want to do that brunch. I hate breakfast food. And just the other night I was catering like a really nice dinner for these people. And they said, Oh, we'll have to have you back for brunch sometime. I said, I don't do brunch. And they said, What do you mean? I said, I don't like it. I don't want to do an omelet bar. I don't want to schlep a waffle iron out here. Like that's just not my thing. There's plenty of people who do chicken and waffles like, but a lot of people would say like, sure I can do that. Now I let them know like, I don't do brunch. I don't do breakfast foods. And like, Oh, sure, I'll do Italian food, but I'm gonna do I'm gonna propose a menu of stuff I want to make. And if it's not what you want, then I won't make you get it. You're probably just better off finding someone else. And I think that's okay. It's completely okay. And, you know, I think like there are some restaurant I mean, look at fast casual look at Chipotle what they do one thing, you know, they make burritos. They're not even like authentic Mexican burritos, but like their food is really, I love Chipotle. And I don't know if everybody loves it, but the food's really good. They do one thing, if I want a burrito, I'm probably going to go to Chipotle, a, if I don't want a burrito, I'm not going to go to Chipotle a, and it's the same thing with catering. Like, why I don't know why all these catering companies, you know, think that they need to offer so many products, you know, half my clients come to me who want a taco bar that's common in if people want a taco bar, I'm an obvious choice, no brainer. The other half are just looking for like affordable food, you know, when these people are getting married and having 200 guests, you can't spend 40 hours per person, if you're on a budget. That's it's just a lot of money. And so they come to me for that too. Because, you know, I show them like, Hey, you don't really have a lot of options, but you're only getting married once. It's not like you're eating this food every weekend. And the quality is going to be great. I promise you. And you know, oh, and another thing that I do with tastings is I just invite my future clients to, to an event. I'm not putting on like the separate tasting room like cooking everything and, you know, walking them through each dish because it's so much extra time. And we used to do that at the restaurant. But um, I just invite them to an event, I get permission to do it. But they show up like an actual wedding. But they walk through the buffet, they try all the food, they see how we put everything out. It cost me zero dollars. Sometimes I'll like buy a bottle of wine and put it on their table. It's like kind of cheesy, but it you know, they appreciate Okay, that's genius. That's genius and kind of weird, but I also I'm really loving that. Now it works so well. I mean it would you couldn't do it most likely the way you do your private chef, but it'd be like inviting in somebody, you know, like, Hey, I'm putting on a gig anyways, you might just come taste it. I don't do tastings. I've talked about this a lot within my community, like people are kind of stunned. It's like what do I need to do a tasting for you don't do a tasting at a restaurant. Like if you want to go out to whatever restaurant you don't go and ask if you can get a sample of the food like you go you order things on the menu and hopefully you like them. I there's I don't have time for sure. Like what am I going to do? I'm going to create a tasting like no Get out of here. Now and I think that there's also this pressure where if the client wants a tasting, I think a lot you know, we did this at the restaurant and we there was pressure to put on a tasting like the client wants it. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna put on a great tasting. So they book I've learned now, if I you know, especially with COVID I haven't been doing tastings, I'm not inviting people to other people's events right now. I just tell them like we can't do tastings right now. They're like, Okay, well, we're gonna book anyways. And then it's taco cons, if you really don't have an idea of what the tacos like, like maybe tacos aren't your thing. Right? Right. And I make the same ones every single time I got it down. If you like talk goes, you know, it's gonna be great. I sent him some pictures. But I do think that's interesting. I think if more people kind of pushed back like, we get to where we are in our industry, because something becomes an industry standard. Like what if everyone just stopped doing tastings? You know, just read some reviews? Look at some pictures. And if you have an idea what the food is, why do you need a sample ahead of time like I don't know how we got into this. I didn't really come from the catering industry and know the history of all that but I think it's kind of something that should just go by the wayside. I think it takes up a lot of time and energy when it doesn't need to. Absolutely. What else do you have cookin anything besides this that we're working on? Well, I am starting a podcast, because you know, everybody in the world is starting the podcast now, so why not? But uh, yeah, here, that's a popular thing. My podcast is probably, it's it certainly is. But you inspired me a little bit, so I figured if you can do it, maybe I can do it too. But um, but, uh, my podcast is geared towards the person who is just like, the everyday cook, who maybe doesn't have restaurant experience. So like, all the listeners on this podcast may not have a use for mine. But I love it. When people just ask me questions about cooking at home, they're like, you know, hey, my chicken keeps coming out, try What should I do? And I'm like, Oh, well, you know, have you thought about brining it? Or, you know, I just that excites me when people reach out to me for advice. So that's something that I'm working on, especially now that I've three and a half months of no events to do. Yeah, I would like to figure something else out to bring an income. But I haven't completely come to a conclusion yet. When when COVID first shut down, I was doing taco kits. And that's another thing. You know, my catering company brings in good revenue. But I also went COVID happened. I put together this taco kit, delivery service I was charging for the first one is $35. The second one I did was 65. But it was like this pre packaged like big taco kit meal, it felt like six people. And I just put it out on Instagram. Between the two taco kits. I made, like, profited like $10,000. That's awesome. And I thought I was just going to get like a few people each week, like, okay, I'll try it. But no, I was doing like 50 deliveries a week, I did all the prep. But you know, you don't need a catering company to do that. You probably need some sort of commercial kitchen space, like maybe at a church or whatever. But, you know, anybody can put out this like, package of food that sounds appealing. Because especially now, people are probably sick of cooking. A lot of people are hesitant about going to restaurants, well, you know, if you can support one of your local Deaf guys who's trying to do something like anybody can do that. So do you think you're gonna? Are you gonna go back to that, while you're not doing events? Or are you just focused on something else, I really don't want to. But I will if I have to. It's just, it was a lot of work for the, you know, I made 10 grand, but that was over the course of like, in total, probably like eight or nine weeks. And it was a lot of work. I was doing all the prep all the portioning You know, when you're doing 50 deliveries a week, you're also portioning food for 50 different things, and I delivered to 50 different houses in a week. Yeah, there were some days where I would be out all the food is delivered cold. So it wasn't like I was trying to get it there hot or something, you know, people would reach out with and I would tell them what day I'm coming. But sometimes sometimes I would do 20 deliveries in a day? Well, I would start at 11am. And I'd get home at like seven o'clock. Like it was an all day thing. And so I don't I don't want to do that again. But no, I understand. Like, what I've always talked about is, you know, I have I've wanted to build a brand and my brand is focused on in home plated, higher end dinners. I don't want to be then the guy who's just making like $15 dinners, you know, I, you know, I've talked a lot about my pricing strategy. And how do you say for you know, 10 years, like, my dinners are like $100 a person that'd be like, oh, but you can get this dinner delivered for like, $20 a person, then how do you go back to saying well, but they're really worth 100 like chart, you know, if if you can pull it off for $20 a head? Why are people then gonna go back to hiring you for $100 a head? Not that I'm sure not that I'm stubborn. And you know, but everyone talks about pivoting. And it's like, well, shouldn't you be doing meal kits? Shouldn't you be doing online cooking classes. And none of that seemed to fit the model of what I was looking to do. So I just kind of hunkered down and started working on the business end of things. While this was going on, because like you said, it's it's a lot more work than I think people realize. And at the end of the day after not so much count the pennies, it's like, oh, you know, I made $1,000 was that worth it? You know, but you know, on that note, too. It's so important to charge what you actually believe you're worth. And the first for example, the first taco kit I did, I charged $35 and it was a little bit less food and I sold a ton. This second time I did a taco kit. I'm like I need to charge more money so it's more worth my time. I charged $65 and it was it was not double the amount of food by any means. And I sold the same it's like nobody even batted an eye. And even if you sold it just charge 65 the first time. And even if you sold half, I think, in my opinion, are you better to do you know, 20 people at $60 than 40 people at $30? Like, if you're gonna, you know, even if you did the same, it's like less work for more money, Isn't that how you're supposed to run a profitable successful business? You're right. And then if you can actually do the same amount of work, you're gonna make that much more money. Let's face it, I could go out and work five days a week if I wanted to do 30 $40 dinners, but I would rather go and work two to three days a week and do hundred dollar dinners. Like, who wouldn't want to do that? And some people, I think they want to, like be high and mighty and say like, well, I want to be for the people and be the caterer for everyone. Yeah, like, great, go do that. But is that sustainable? Are you able to make a profit? How long are you gonna be able to do that, like, I, again, talking money, it becomes such like a dirty word. And people almost want to talk about not making money, like, it's this big, noble thing. It's like everyone is trying to do well and be able to support their family. Absolutely. And then also, you know, when you're, if you were to do five events a week for $40 a person. And if you made that same amount of profit, if that was the case, there's no way that you're going to be able to put out the same quality, as if you're doing less events. And obviously, charging more money. And, you know, from a client perspective, it's better for them to have you only working two or three days a week because you can focus all your time and energy on them. You know, since I only do one event a week, I put all of my energy into one event and 99% of the time it goes perfect. It's I got nothing else distracting me. And as soon as you start trying to do more, do more charge less, but you know, get more clients. You're just spreading out your quality. Yeah, it's the race to the bottom, like who wants to be the Walmart of caterers? I mean, every city has one and and like, not throwing shade, but we have a caterer here in town. And I don't know if they were, we had a caterer here in town. I don't know if they were the cheapest, but let me tell you something. During COVID, this guy straight up closed, his catering company took everyone's money and bounced and didn't even tell his clients. And there were all these people who had booked events who then were scrambling around because this caterer was gone. Nobody knew how to get ahold of them. They couldn't get their deposits back and they had no indicator their event and let me tell you, he was not the expensive caterer in town. Let's just say that. You get what you pay for. So you know, one of my favorite questions is what are some of your favorite commentary, resources or business tools? What something been great for you? I was hoping you'd ask me this. My favorite cooking tool. Hands down is the instant pot. Have you cooked in a pressure cooker? I cooked in a pressure cooker yesterday. So yes, dude, that thing. First of all, I use it for home use all the time. I also use it with my catering. I have four of the eight quart instant pots. And for like, I can cook beans from dry in an hour. No soaking. Nothing in a perfect that thing is just I love it. Other tools, this podcast. I mean for real. Like I think this is so inspiring for hopefully so many people who are feeling like they're stuck in the industry. I tell people about this podcast all the time. Appreciate it. Other tools. Okay. I also believe that it is not worth spending any significant amount of money on a chef's knife. You've heard me talk about that right? I hope on the show. It's like did there was a while where I thought I needed this. It was a $200 shun. It was a stunning knife. I was like I need this I'm gonna be a better chef. If I have this knife. And I got the knife and I was not a better chef. But like you still no matter what knife we have, you still need to sharpen it all the time. And now I use a Victorinox you know it's the brand that makes Swiss Army. It was a $30 knife, and I've had it for years and it's the best knife I've ever used. So I guarantee if you go back almost exactly to the date one year from today and listen to one year ago show because we did it right before Black Friday. So I know it was this week and we talked about it was like presence for the chef or food lover in your family and my guest said a good chef's knife and I came back and we we threw down on the show about it. For the most part I use my f decks that I got from Johnson and Wales that I got issued to me in 1994. If you keep them sharpen, they hold up really well and I'm a big fan like people say what do you buy say, I don't know when I need a new knife. I go to like Marshalls or TJ Maxx and buy like whatever if they've got like ankles or something there or I just go Pick up whatever they have it like the restaurant supply store in town, like a 12 $15 chef's knife works for me, you know, but I always had cooks like where I was at, like, I remember I had a guy who was like 23. And he had like a $250. Sion did always but like he couldn't, he couldn't roast chicken properly. Like he didn't know how to carve onions without burning them. But he's got this like $250 knife, you know, trying to run before you can walk. I've never found that it's done anything for me. If you just keep a basic knife sharpened, you're good to go. I completely agree. And I try to always tell people that because people ask me all the time. Hey, I'm getting a knife. What should I get? Like, dude, just get a basic knife and keep it sharp. You can sharpen a spoon and cut with that if you want to, like it just doesn't matter as long as it's sharp. any parting words before we get out of here today? I don't think so. Um, I have a you know, if I hope that if somebody has like an itch to try to start something, and they're at least inspired by what I've done, I hope that they feel that they can reach out. And me You can email me, my email is hafter email@example.com. Other than that, you know, I really think that what you're doing and what this whole Chefs Without Restaurants group is doing is so beneficial for the industry. And, you know, I just, I hope you're doing well. And I hope this keeps growing. I'm going to be a part of it. Thanks. Yeah. I appreciate that. Yeah. And who, you know, with COVID. You know, I started this last November. So we weren't that far into it, at least the podcast when COVID hit like, and now I've seen so many people, as their restaurants have closed, whether they own them, or they're working for them and are out of work. Like there's so many things you can do. And even if it's just a temporary thing or a side hustle like maybe your restaurant furloughed you and you're going to be down for three months, like you can go do a personal chef thing for three months and make some money right now. You know, no one says you have to go you can totally can do it with like very little money. So that's why I wanted to kind of put together these blueprints for how to do it as both a full time thing but also a side hustle. Yep. Well, thanks for coming on the show.Sam Hefter:
Yeah, thanks for having me. Really appreciate it.Chris Spear:
For all our listeners, this has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. As always, you can find us at ChefsWithoutRestaurants.com, .org and on all social media platforms. Thanks so much, and have a great week.