We assembled this amazing panel of accomplished professional women to share their wisdom with you at Catersource 2019. But we just couldn’t wait. They have so much to say about their careers in hospitality an appetizer of their panel was in order.
So, we sat down with them (Terrica, Meryl Snow, Jamie Quickert, Meghan Ely and April Lambatos) to gather their perspectives life, work, and the industry. Here’s a taste.
How did you get started in the industry?
Terrica: I’m the wedding planner who never had a wedding. In part, because of several life issues every time I would plan one after eloping—school, new job, moving, a kid. I’d try each time and met some fantastic people who inspired me to give it a shot. Gave up on becoming a lawyer and went straight for J.Lo.
Meryl: I grew up in the restaurant and hotel business and I knew that if I decided to go into hospitality, my life would not be my own. I knew that I would be working non-conventional hours and my carefree weekends would not exist. It was my freshman year in college that I decided not to pursue hospitality and my course of studies into business. However, in my sophomore year, all of that changed. I was bartending part time and I met Andy; he was working in the kitchen of the same restaurant while he was at The Restaurant School.
During our long late-night conversations at the after-hours club we realized that we had so much in common and we devised a plan of opening a string of delis, but these delis would be significantly different from the norm. We would design them to be gourmet delis. This was a new concept in the late eighties. Fast forward we married and found our first deli. We poured all our savings, gifts from our parents, and pure desire ready to buy the deli. The day the papers were to be signed the current owner raised the price $25K due to capital gains. We were crushed and at our financial limit. Then… we got pregnant and catered our daughters christening at our home. We realized that we had a great time working together and we thoroughly impressed our family and friends so with their encouragement our catering company was born, followed by our design and picnic companies. Now looking back on the decision, we made so many years ago, I now know that this is the exact path of where I should be.
Jamie: I started out as a busser in a local restaurant while I was in college. I fell in love with the industry and worked my way through the kitchen to the office. Hustling is starting small. It is getting dirty. It is never being too good or too big to work hard. It is rejection after rejection until someone takes a chance on you.
Meghan: After graduating with a degree in PR from James Madison University, I got my start in the event industry as a part time rental coordinator for a 100-acre historic estate in Richmond, Virginia, while serving in Americorp full-time for a year. I moved up to full-time after a year, then later made my way to an area country club, followed by a five-star hotel property before going out on my own as an event/wedding publicist.
April: I officially started in the food industry at 14 years old working the fry station at my local McDonalds. After graduating from the University of Florida with a business finance degree, I finally landed my first glamorous role in off-premise catering. To be more specific, that is a fancy way of saying dishwasher! I knew that one day I wanted to own a catering company and to do that successfully I needed to first gain experience in every position in the business possible. So, I went to the owner of a large catering company and asked her if I could learn to wash dishes using their huge industrial machine. After three weeks in the dish pit I earned a promotion into the kitchen. From there I was hooked and there was no turning back!
Who have been some of your most memorable women mentors/role models and why?
Terrica: I have always been inspired by bad ass women in history who were told they couldn’t and shouldn’t. If she had power and was fierce, I was a sponge for her story. However, in my contemporary life, no one as affected, influenced or inspired my career more than Sasha Souza. I remember the first magazine I was ever quoted in years ago—my advice was a few paragraphs above Sasha’s. I squealed with delight and told everyone that my name was just close to hers. Many moons later, she was the greatest mentor I could ever have, frankly telling me I was thinking too small when I was shooting for my goals. She was absolutely right. I vowed to never make that mistake again. That woman’s passion for art, culture and an experience are unparalleled. Her love and drive to educate other creatives is downright inspiring. I owe a lot to Sasha.
Meryl: I have five sisters and no brothers. Our parents raised us with the mindset that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens. We were to strive for success and learn from failures. Growing up we were taught equality at an early age, that girls can do what boys can do and vice versa. My parents raised us as strong and independent women. We are still extremely close and act as positive role models for each other.
Jamie: We all talk about how important mentors are, but finding a mentor isn’t just about finding women who you look up to. That is the easy part. The trick is to find a mentor and letting them speak into your life and critique what you wear and what you do and what you say and when you say it and how you say it and then being bold enough to change. To truly be mentored you need to leave sensitivity at the door and say, ‘I want this more than I want to be right, or comfortable or safe.’ A woman who is willing to say that is unstoppable.
As far as women who have mentored me, oh my goodness, there are too many to name. When I first submitted this panel to the conference, I gave a list of a dozen women who I considered friends and mentors and I could have added 50 more. That said, Terrica, Meryl, Meghan, and April have all inspired me, encouraged me, and challenged me in very specific ways. They are changing this industry and doing it with grace and charm and strength and killer style.
Meghan: I was very lucky early on to be surrounded by a number of women entrepreneurs that I could look up to in my area. Susan Benzin was the first—she ran the local bridal magazine and was tremendously well-respected. I was always so impressed by the way she was able to balance her work and home life. My friend Meghan McSweeney back home is one of the top wedding photographers in Richmond and she was equally one of the best moms I know- no easy feat for a single mom. As my network expanded, I met so many great women from around the globe that I admire -- from Kylie Carlson of The International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning and Sandy Hammer of AllSeated to New Orleans very own Emily Sullivan of Emily Sullivan Events. All are incredibly smart, creative and kind people bringing innovation to our industry.
April: I am very fortunate to have my mom as a role model from a very young age. She showed me that it is possible to be a successful hardworking business owner while being a mom and raising a family successfully. She always taught me that you have choice in life for anything you want to accomplish. She would always say, if it is meant to be, it is up to me.