A Full Plate
Stephanie Stence grew up in a family that has been in the local restaurant business for “generations,” as she said, so it seemed only natural that she would follow that same path.
Her maiden name is Brown, a name that, thanks to her father, Donald Brown Sr., and brother, Donnie Brown, is synonymous with area restaurants such as Paradise Alley, Club Met, FireHouse, and Black n Bleu, among others.
Today, she carries on that family tradition as the owner of Premier Catering, along with her husband, Eddie, and daughter, Issy.
In 1988, Stence was working as a food broker but recalls that her father “thought starting a catering business was a great idea, so I left my job and started catering.”
Stence has always loved working with food, and her experiences as a broker and her past restaurant work were a big help when starting a catering business.
“But there was definitely a learning curve,” she said. “Catering can be hard. There’s a lot of planning that goes into offsite catering.”
The food, staff, linens, setup, cooking, cleanup, china — the list goes on and on, and all of those things have to be addressed in great detail, Stence said.
“It’s a great field for exceptionally detailed people that have food and service experience.”
Throughout the day, Stence wears many hats.
“I do everything from cooking, answering phones, [to covering] for any staff that may not be able to work,” she said.
Because she is particular about the food served, she spends a lot of her time in the kitchen to be sure everything meets the high standards she and her team have set for the many styles and types of catering they handle.
“We actually love it when we are given the opportunity to come up with creative foods and stations for events,” Stence said. Some of the fun concepts they have produced include a festive taco station and an “amazing Bloody Mary station that even people who don’t like Bloody Marys enjoy,” she said.
Although the creative aspect of the business is something Stence truly enjoys, she also said it can be a challenge when she and her team are asked to produce new foods they have never made and don’t know how those menu items will hold up to the timing of events.
Just like any other business, some days are more difficult than others, particularly when “the client isn’t clear in their expectations,” Stence said. “Our biggest success happens when our clients know what we do and work as a team with us.”
She prefers not to get involved with décor, entertainment, etc., but to focus on the food and the service.
“It’s what we do best, and it keeps our clients within budget and coming back to us again and again,” she said. “We have now not only catered their weddings, but their children’s weddings.”
Stence believes there are times when being a woman in the catering business offers a distinct advantage because of the inclination toward detail.
“Men in catering tend to be more in the ‘kitchen,’ where as ‘us girls’ are the detail and front of the house,” she said.
Her favorite part of the business comes when her team and the client are “in the groove together,” she said. “The party goes so well then.”
Getting the details from the clients, and making sure all of their wants and needs are met, can sometimes be a problem if the clients do not read their proposals clearly.
“It makes it difficult when we get to an event and something isn’t quite right,” she said. “Example — they wanted beverages, but they didn’t order any.”
The Premier team brings many years of experience to the table, something that aids in their success.
“Our team consists of very talented people that have all been in food service for many years,” Stence said. “They know how to do their job, so that makes the company look really good.”
She often receives requests from local organizations for donations, and she will generally donate to the cause.
“I do have a few that I will cater entire events for,” Stence said. “I’ve done that for many years, and they appreciate that. I am not a ‘spotlight’ person, so I prefer my charity and causes to be anonymous.”
Although her plate is often full to overflowing with obligations and responsibilities, Stence said that over the years, one of the biggest lessons she has learned is that she needs to have patience. It will all happen in good time.
“That wasn’t always the case in the early days,” she said. “I’m not sure what the future holds for my team and myself — we just get out of bed and face the challenges one day at a time.”