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How to Pivot into a New Catering Passion

The 2009 movie Julie and Julia toggles between the life of chef and TV personality Julia Child, and writer turned chef blogger Julie Powell. In the film, Powell cooks her way through the monumental cookbook written by Julia, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There is a scene where Julia attends the Cordon Bleu in Paris; there she is met with skepticism, particularly in an all-male class. Paul Child, her husband, comes home one day to find Julia chopping dozens of onions in their kitchen. She is crying from the onions, of course, but also from her frustration in proving herself in a kitchen of men.

Why do I start this article with this story? Because this is what I felt like over the past year as I started my new passion project/second career as a BBQ maven. But it is also how many women in food have felt over the course of history in kitchens. As I went around the country taking BBQ and grilling classes, often I was the only woman. Yet I was front and center, wanting to learn to butcher, grill, and create delicious BBQ to begin my pivot.

I have been working in the catering industry for more years than I can remember. At times, I felt extreme satisfaction managing multiple caterers, while other times, I just wanted to be outside in sunny San Diego, working the grill at events. I have always loved the grill and I wanted to start a company that would allow me to pursue this passion but also give back to the community and support women.

During my career I have started 20 businesses. Some of these I sold for a lot and yes, others were dissolved. But I have the knowledge from the good and the bad during my career, that has helped this pivot in my career feel like the right move now.

How to pivot

Step 1. Reflect on your experience, and understand what you value. As I looked back on my years of work, I had to think about what was it that I truly enjoyed within the business process. I love to feed people—it is personal, and food is something that we all have a shared experience with.

Step 2. Think about the risk. If you can manage the risk involved in pivoting and you feel as if you really know what you’re doing, then making a pivot is probably a great move. Do you know how your age may play into this change? Are you willing to lose money or put money into your pivot with the knowledge that it might not work out? This new company was still allowing me to be in the hospitality and catering world—something I feel comfortable in and really enjoy—though not as scary this time around. I felt that I had a better understanding of how risk can play into the process of creating a new business.

Step 3. Think about your community. I realized that I was going to create a company that was in the same community I have already been working in. This new chance may be different than before, but it is still within the same frame of reference. When I first started many years ago, the landscape of catering, marketing, and the world in general was very different. I have had to adapt and learn, but luckily, the community has relatively stayed the same. If you understand your community and feel as if they will value your pivot, then it is a great opportunity to invest in them and in yourself.

Step 4. Are you ready to retire? I am not someone who can slow down. I knew I needed a passion project; a new approach to catering that took my years of experience, my changed values, and my ideas of risk—and one that also allowed me to give back to the public and still be around people serving food. A previous disappointment is what helped me to start back up again and to look at this new catering concept from a fresh perspective.

A pivot doesn’t necessarily mean starting from the beginning. In my case it means I have become an improved leader, better at time management and am more sensitive and attuned to my staff. It also means being kinder to others, more reasonable and understanding, and also just happier. A pivot is how you can take your years of experience and really let a passion and your own joy shine through.

So how do you pivot and start a second career? How can I follow my passion but also be successful? I already had many resources, like a kitchen and clients from years past. This is very important to help with low overhead and using what you have already amassed for many years to work in your favor for a change in career.

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Future goals

My Cowgirl Q company is going to be a women-focused BBQ and grilling catering business that not only will provide catering service but also give back to the San Diego community. It will also become a space of learning for anyone who wants to become better on the grill, to understand the importance of traceability of meat in today’s food systems, or just enjoys being around food.

I want to create a space for women who grill and BBQ to learn, engage and work together to create not just a company about food but one about experience beyond just catering. I wanted this to be a genuine and authentic company, one that’s focus wasn’t just the classic catering business but whose emphasis was on giving back, educating ,and giving a voice to many women in a predominantly male field.

The most exciting part of my new venture is the grant program I am starting. Here, I will allow couples or nonprofit entities or their friends and family to submit them to be considered for a free, BBQ filled event. For the nonprofits, it will be an event that either raises money for their cause or celebrates their volunteers and hard-working staff. For weddings, it will be couples that have faced adversity, given back to their own communities, or just deserve a delicious and beautiful special day.

After working so many years in the San Diego community, I am ready to teach, give back, and provide delicious BBQ for the city I love. At the same time will get myself back outside, standing behind the grill, smiling and enjoying my pivot.  

Lisa Richards

Lisa Richards is a lifelong catering and events entrepreneur from San Diego, CA. In addition to her Cowgirl Q and Picnic People San Diego brands, she is also a member of the Certified Catering Consultants team, specializing in sales management and family business issues.