My Chef Catering in Naperville is primarily owned by Karen, 60, and William, 61, Garlow.
Describe what you do/sell/serve:
We are a full-service catering business serving both social and corporate customers. Whether it is a wedding reception, intimate dinner for two, box lunches for a corporate meeting or a gala for 2,000 guests, My Chef makes catering plans a reality.
When did you open your business?
We opened in 1989 in Naperville and have served Naperville and the surrounding communities for the last 24 years.
What sets you apart from similar businesses?
We are an upscale caterer known for our services and offering a good value. We're known for excellent food, beautiful tablescapes, friendly and professional wait staff and bartenders, and event planners who truly care about making dreams a reality.
My Chef Catering has a reputation for being a community-minded catering company. For instance, William Garlow, a member of the Rotary Club, created the Soups On event to benefit food pantries and shelters, raising more than $500,000 to date. Karen Garlow played a major role in launching the Naperville Cares' Cuisine for a Cause fundraiser, netting more than $1 million over the last decade. The company also donates to more than 20 non-profit groups annually.
What qualifications or characteristics do you have to operate this type of business?
My Chef Catering does more than 3,000 events a year. Showing our commitment and passion to our business and the community, the company has received 25 local and national awards over the years recognizing My Chef Catering for business excellence, philanthropy and community spirit. Some of those awards include WeddingWire's Bride's Choice awards, The Knot's Best of Weddings award, and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's national small business of the year.
Why did you decide to open your business in Naperville?
We recognized Naperville was a growing, pro-business environment.
Why did you pick your specific location?
Once established, My Chef Catering relocated into its current 13,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art catering facility located in a business park near Route 59 and Diehl Road. It's easy to get to our business.
What obstacles did you find when you started?
Initially we opened a retail, gourmet deli and catering business. We chose to be open seven days a week and found we worked that much until we could build the business and afford additional staff. It takes time to successfully launch any new business, especially in the food industry, which has a high failure rate. It takes time and determination.
If you could offer local officials one piece of advice to make Naperville more attractive to entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Over the years, the city has done a good job of facilitating the process to gain building permits. Anytime city government can focus on making it easier for businesses to open is beneficial to all.
What mistakes did you make?
We came from a corporate background and should have worked in a local food service operation to gain experience prior to opening our own business.
What did you do right?
A major goal for us was to create an environment offering a stable and positive workplace for our employees. We offer above-average industry benefits and constantly promote the accomplishments of our staff. This has resulted in a high rate of retention. Our department managers have anywhere from 12 to 17 years of experience. We have many employees with 10-plus years of experience. Our customers get a high level of quality and service because they build longstanding relationships with our staff. It has been very satisfying to create and nurture this environment.
What advice would you give to someone else looking to open a business in Naperville?
Do your homework on finding a market niche that needs filling and be prepared to have the financial strength and perseverance to see it through. You really have to roll up your sleeves and do what is necessary.
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—Compiled by Kristy Kennedy