Jerri Lee George is a chef, franchise founder, and thirty year veteran of the food service and catering industry turned author. A native Floridian, Jerri began her catering career in Miami in 1981 orchestrating posh weddings and extravagant soirees. She later developed a “desktop dining” food franchise concept and founded Catering by George, Inc. relocating it to Colorado by 2005.
Stricken with Bacterial Meningitis in late 2009, the 55 year old mother of two slipped into a month long coma. Shocking the doctors she woke but serious side effects hampered Jerri’s ability to continue with her lifelong passion. Down but not out, she decided to write about her culinary career in an effort to help others succeed and shares her expertise and secrets of success in CATER$AVVY.
BPM: Introduce us to your book and the topics within the book?
The book CATER$AVVY “Secrets of the Trade Revealed” is unique in the fact that it offers a perspective on catering that has rarely been revealed. Forced into retirement by my illness, I decided if I could no longer “do” I might as well “teach”. After opening and operating two successful catering businesses in life both Catering by George and Vision Catering of Denver, I chose topics like sales techniques, talking points for initial inquiry calls, marketing goals, publicity methods, grand opening ideas, menu construction and pricing. It took nearly a year to hammer out my part of the book but I wanted to expand its value.
Using social media, I contacted caterers from all over the US and invited them to join me. My goal? To gather stories/advice and recipes from all walks of catering life. I found them…male and female, newbies and seasoned professionals with concepts ranging from food trucks to hog roasting/barbecue experts to high-end premier event caterers. Their stories are compiled in CATER$AVVY along with special sections for brides, event planners and corporate organizers to help them better choose a caterer and know what to look for. For your publication it would be good to know that at least 3 of the caterers are from the black community with Octavia Smith from Tay’s Homestyle Cooking practicing in Jacksonville, FL from the south.
Now recovered as fully as possible and sporting a cochlear implant, I have begun a new journey. Nearly devastated by the loss of my business, credit standing, home, and marriage over the past 4 years; my faith and hope is undaunted as I plan to hit the road in October to attend book signings in TX, TN, GA and my native FL (if all goes well, I’m doing AZ, NV and CA in January with the east coast slated for late Spring).
I am hoping to rectify my personal financial situation (which was close to homeless) and showcase the Cater$avvy contributing caterers in their markets as well as help increase awareness of Meningitis across the country by donating a percent of book sales to The Meningitis Foundation of America. The MFA has recently partnered with me and are behind CATER$AVVY efforts which is championing their mission of education, vaccination and eradication.
BPM: How did you get your start in this business/industry? Did you have any formal business training?
Cooking from the age of 8 and schooled by my grandmother and celebrity television chefs Julia Child and Graham Kerr, I catered for family and friends from the age of 14. Mentored by world renowned caterer and cookbook author Marina Polvay at 23, I learned the art of upscale food service, party/event planning and menu development.
BPM: Tell us about your journey and how you came to write CATER$AVVY. Do you have any co-authors?
I was cooking most of my life and displayed a passion for catering early on. In 1981, working for a Miami Beach catering diva and absorbing every technique and food preparation secret, I spent many years orchestrating events for politicians, socialites, and brides-to-be. Later, in 1985, I zeroed in on the corporate and business market with the development of Wee-Bag-It Delivery Emporiums serving executive breakfasts and lunches to the workplace.
Desk-top dining became the rage and my flagship store expanded into a franchise operation. With 11 stores sold and 7 open by 1990. By then, missing the grand job of social catering, I sold off the franchise and founded Catering by George. In 2005, I moved my family and business to Denver and restarted my catering business there.
BPM: What separates you and your book CATER$AVVY from the competition?
To my knowledge, no other caterer/author has decided to bear their catering souls and reveal the methods and yes, tricks of the trade to laypersons. This is really the inside track…a peek inside the catering mind -actually 35 minds AND its success is targeted at a possible cure for Meningitis.
BPM: How would you describe your experience as a Entrepreneur?
I would not know any other way to live! My work ethic, ambition and drive has always been suited for entrepreneurship. As one, I can steer my own ship and create my own future.
BPM: What do you like most about your profession or writing?
My profession is and always will be creating dishes that entice and satisfy my client. The total satisfaction derived from watching others devour what I have made is like a non-drug induced high! Writing has always been a hobby for me but the door shutting on my catering career opened the window of authorship. It is a way to relate experiences, re-live the high and low points of my career and do something worthwhile with the time I have left in this world.
BPM: What is your biggest challenge in business? How did you overcome it?
Focusing on the big picture and never letting the competition win! My father always said, “the customer will spend their (in this case catering) dollar and hire someone…it might as well be YOU! I always ask the customer “what will it take for me to become your caterer of choice?”
BPM: What advice would you give someone just starting out in your industry?
Read CATER$AVVY from cover to cover! The customer is always right! Believe in yourself and God and always practice the true definition of “cater”.
BPM: What do you hope to offer readers to shape their lives with your book?
Become successful entrepreneurs and find the joy in working everyday doing what they love. Never give up – when life hands you lemons, make pie!
BPM: How does your mission or vision keep your business growing?
Helping people, whether orchestrating their wedding or teaching a culinary student how to become successful is being part of the human race. Applying myself fully to whatever road I’m on is the secret to success. It’s not only about the money, it’s about using your God given skills/experiences to make a difference.
BPM: Tell us about the people you help. How is your organization or company impacting the public?
I believe my book will touch an untold number of lives providing foodies, students, professionals and host/essess with a unique perspective of the catering world. Experts sharing advice is so valuable and every reader can use a “friend” from the industry to guide them through what it takes to be a success or throw a successful event!
BPM: What social issues or causes do you want to address?
The biggest, Meningitis awareness! My illness, deafness and amputations never needed to happen. Vaccines are available and although not widely publicized, the CDC knows the risks of contracting the virus.
BPM: What are three things all leaders possess?
Drive, ambition and the willingness to listen and adapt.
BPM: What’s new in your company?
I am currently working on several projects. “THE CATER$AVVY COOKBOOK” will be released in the summer of 2014. This will be a 4-color, picture filled book of signature recipes utilized in catering operations from across the globe. We currently have submissions from Canada, the UK, France and Australia with contacts made in Belgium.
Then, “CATER$AVVY and Friends” also slated for publication in 2014 will be filled with stories/advice and tips from other vendors associated with event production. Showcasing the practices, pricing and other intricacies of florists, photographers, videographers, bakeries, D.J.’s, rental companies, wedding planners, etc.
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