What inspired you to start U-Kno Catering?
I started out on the restaurant and meat & three side of food-service while doing catering out of my home with my family. I knew I could do this on my own and decided to open my own meat & three business which had a catering arm.
Once I learned my true passion was catering, I officially launched U-Kno Catering in 2005. My initial thought was to target corporate clients vs. social clients. This focus is what brought a lot of the growth into the business. Meharry and Vanderbilt were some of my first clients. I also joined different organizations along with getting certified by TMSDC (Tennessee Minority Supplier Development Council).
Now, only 15% of my business is social, from weddings, church events, baby showers and non-profit organizations. I am not a wedding caterer but I do, do weddings.
Nashville is being called the “It” city…why are you loving Nashville, right now? I feel the growth has helped many small businesses in Nashville, not just in the food industry. I think it has complemented everyone.
You celebrated a pretty awesome milestone last year, your 10-year business anniversary. What would you say was the biggest aha moment you experienced during this time?
Well, I guess my aha moment would be, when we were awarded our first contract with NES and went from catering to cafeteria management. It wasn’t my initial focus but definitely a part of my career history. The opportunities were out there for minority businesses to go into this aspect of the food industry and I was able to position our business to gain this contract. We were awarded the contract in 2009 for 5 years and renewed our contract for another 3 years. Having this contract on our resume allowed us to obtain other cafeterias in the state of TN. We went from one to four cafeteries in less than 5 years.
3 things you loved about NBIC that others may not know?
- They taught me how to be a successful entrepreneur. I knew catering and my kitchen but not the whole aspect of the business side. I needed that mentorship to understand what I was doing and NBIC helped with that.
- I don’t know everything. If you go in thinking you have it already figured out, you will not succeed. But you need seasoned people in the corporate environment and people to listen to you and help find solutions. That is what NBIC provided for me.
- Financing. I was going up for a contract and had never been bonded before. This was a huge component to winning this contract and NBIC helped me with getting the finances to get bonded. This was a major piece of getting our first contract with NES.
Is there one business resource or tip you would give to the readers just starting out in their business?
NBIC is a great resource! Tennessee State University (TSU) is also a good resource, as I interned at NBIC while attending the University.
Everyone is a foodie these days but the food industry is probably one of the hardest for many to become profitable and have longevity? What is one barrier that you faced and how did you make it work for your good?
Strong competition. I was able to sustain my business over the years by providing the same quality meat & three, southern with a twist style product. I didn’t change, I may have upgraded but I kept our consistency the same. Like food trucks, they have one product they stick with and do it very well. I am not trying to compete with other food businesses out there. I am doing what U-Kno Catering does best.
For those looking to get into the food industry, which startup entry would you suggest? Personal Chef, Catering, Food Truck, Restaurant?
I would suggest they start out job shadowing within the restaurant business. You are allowed to see all aspects of the food-service business. Catering has a lot of moving parts, but the restaurant business allows you to learn the front of house, back of the house and how to treat customers.
Lastly, what can Music City expect from U-Kno Catering in 2016?
We want to restructure our business for continued growth. I want to focus more on the cafeteria side of the business. Our clients currently, include TN Tower, Dept of Labor, IRS Building Cool Springs, and of course NES. Our goal is to gain more contracts so we can work smarter not harder.