Thanks to CUA who sponsored this post as a supporter of local entrepreneurs and small businesses. We only partner with companies that we believe bring value to Halifax families and, as always, all opinions are our own.
When Patty Howard started her own catering company during her maternity leave eleven years ago, she expected it to be a part-time business where she would cater a couple of events a month.
Instead, as she says, things “blew up” within the first year.
“The wave came and I had to decide, am I going to ride this wave and see where it goes or am I going to say ‘oh no’ and back off?” she says.
“I decided to ride the wave.”
Patty Howard is now the CEO of Kitchen Door Catering, which is currently housed in a large Dartmouth Crossing location, complete with a retail shop, cooking classes, an event room, and a dream scratch kitchen, but she started the business in the tiny kitchen of an old Victorian home on the Bedford Highway, steps away from her house.
She wasn’t new to the industry when she started her company, however. Originally from Saint John, N.B., she earned her Associate Science degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University and spent almost a decade honing her skills while working in places like Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Chicago and restaurants in Alaska and Ontario. Eventually, she ended up in Nova Scotia at Glen Arbour Golf Course, where she started as head chef before taking over as the Food and Beverage Manager — a role which provided valuable insights into the sales and client coordination side of the business.
During this time Patty also met and married her husband and, when she went on maternity leave with their first child, she started the catering business. Within two years, her business was growing so rapidly she required a bigger space and they moved operations to Bluewater Road in Bedford – while she was pregnant with their second child, Kathleen.
She admits that the mom guilt as a parent entrepreneur can be real but she found a way to manage it.
“I gave up really early on feeling guilty about it. You get talked to a lot as a new parent, you get lots of opinions, and lots of advice, and I kind of just threw that out the door and decided I didn’t care what people thought of my parenting skills,” Patty says. “When you’re in a business and it’s your livelihood, you just have to find a way. There were certainly times in the early days at Bluewater when Kathleen would be there in a bucket seat at work with me while I was talking to the construction crew but I also had the flexibility to work from home a lot because I had a good staff. It really was finding people who could support me in a variety of ways.”
They spent eight years at Bluewater where Patty started stepping back from cooking to focus more on understanding the business side of her rapidly growing company.
“You make a lot of mistakes in business in the beginning. I was passionate about food and passionate about exceeding client expectations and delivering things that hadn’t really been seen in the market here. I wasn’t as good at the business side of things,” she admits. “I was a chef, I wasn’t an accountant.”
With that realization, she decided to hire the best Chartered Accountant she could find to explain the business side of things to her. He laid her business out on spreadsheets, taught her how to use the financial models he had built, and explained how to grow her business strategically.
“I really got interested in the business, building a culture, and the leadership side of things. I became fascinated with dissecting the business and figuring out where we could make changes and how it was going to play and I would live in spreadsheets. I still live in spreadsheets!”
Patty says this shift allowed her to focus on big plans and long-term forecasting. She hired more staff, including an Operations Manager, which allowed her to step back from the day-to-day details.
“It really opened my eyes to the opportunities to grow my business,” Patty explains. “They say you can’t work in your business and on your business at the same time and I didn’t really know what that meant until I was able to put all the right people in the right spots.”
She still advises on recipes and tests everything coming out of the kitchen, but she now keeps her focus on growing the company and she is proud of what she’s accomplished so far.
“I like the fact that I’ve been able to build a cool company that a lot of staff really enjoy working at. We have a lot of lifers here, as I call them, they bleed pink,” she laughs, referring to the company’s bright pink logo. “I think the industry across the board is struggling as, traditionally, you put people in the kitchen and you worked them to the bone. I think that we’ve been able to shift that mentality … For people who have gone to culinary school to learn a skill, it’s cool to be able to offer them an opportunity to work in a scratch kitchen, experiment, come up with new menu items or cooking classes in a way that’s positive and won’t break their back.”
Patty says other parents who want to seize an opportunity to follow their dream should first do their homework in the market or sector they’ll be competing in, and then, once they have a plan and get their support team in place, they need to ditch the guilt, and “just do it.”
“I think really you just need to get out there and do it and make sure that you believe it. Passion outweighs experience sometimes. If you are a believer in what you do and you’re offering something, whether it’s an innovative service or really great product, that’s what people connect to,” she says. “People connect to the story and to your energy so if you bring a lot of really great energy, yes, you’re going to have worries, yes you’re going to have sleepless nights, yes, sometimes things are going to go wrong, but if you can focus on that passion, then the sky’s the limit.”
Whether you are just starting out, looking to expand, or your business is blowing up like Patty’s did, CUA provides flexible banking products, personalized service and quick decisions that can help you get to where you want to be.
If you’re not sure what you need – a loan, mortgage, credit card, operating account – the best place to start is a conversation. Our dedicated team of small business advisors will take the time to learn about your goals, concerns and priorities before providing some options for you to consider. If you’re looking for a banking partner and trusted advisor, discover the better way to bank. CUA will help you take your next financial step forward with confidence. Visit cua.com/business to learn more.