Who says event catering has to be one and the same? Not Salt & Honey Catering, that’s for sure! Salt & Honey Catering is known for serving up California elegance with a rustic twist, but their path to success wasn’t always as sweet as pie. Here, owner Olivia Colt shares how a lifechanging stroke at 27 changed the direction of her career path, as well as the importance of “joie de vivre” for all aspiring entrepreneurs.
Why were you inspired to start Salt & Honey Catering?
I had a life-altering stroke at the age of 27, which made me evaluate my life and change course. I decided I had a window of opportunity that I would never have again and made the decision to follow my dreams and cook for a living.
How did your business get started? From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
My business was incorporated by my dad while I was in the hospital, so when I got discharged, I had a company. In my immediate recovery, I started to host small tasting dinners in my San Francisco apartment with my mom playing server and sous chef and my dad host at the table. Through these dinners, I landed my first two tech clients and the business began to grow. As I added to my client list, I moved my operation out of my apartment to our first commissary kitchen in downtown Oakland at the end of 2011.
The hardest part of the startup process has been having adequate financial and human resources. The other major challenge is that I have been learning the role of entrepreneur, business owner and boss all at the same time. Mistakes as often as they come are hard lessons learned, costly and are huge teachable moments. The rate of growth was and still is so unexpected that it has always felt like I am playing catch-up to provide guidance, infrastructure and everything else. The most amazing aspect of growing my small business has been other people believing in my vision for the organization and who share my passion for growing and creating this vibrant business.
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with Salt & Honey Catering?
We specialize in local, seasonal and sustainable California food. Our niche is really providing an elegant, tailored and rustic experience that feels both approachable and luxurious. We pride ourselves in providing phenomenal customer service, delicious food and handcrafted bespoke events.
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
The values and core of the business have not changed, but everything else about the business – the scope, size and breadth of services has. As we continue to evolve, Salt & Honey continues to add different event services to our list of event service offerings. We challenge ourselves with more robust and unique presentation and menu offerings and cultivate and grow our team. I never thought I would be someone’s boss or that I would have more work than what could ever support just my livelihood.
What are your biggest challenges in marketing Salt & Honey Catering?
The biggest challenges are that we are in a highly competitive market with lots of competition. For the first few years, I scrambled to really find our voice in what we are and what niche we fill. When you start a business, like I did, without a solid plan, you try your hand at things until you find something that works and feels authentic. Now in our seventh year, I finally feel like we have really nailed what we are good at and what we really love to do, which are rustic and elegant food and presentation. We promote our business as being an “approachable” brand and that we put customer service and quality product before anything else.
I think the most challenging part of marketing is staying true to yourself and brand, especially in the age of Instagram and Pinterest — When you see what other companies are doing and posting, it’s easy to get down on yourself about where you are at or wanting to change course. You just need to remind yourself that you need to continue to market in a way that makes sense for you and your brand.
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
I have found that Instagram, Insta stories and Pinterest are great tools for our business. We also find that utilizing the different vendor listings on wedding websites allows us the exposure to their internal opportunities, such as featured posts and relationship cultivation that will help us get in front of their audiences. I also find that donations and community involvement are key in creating a buzz and recognition in your immediate community.
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting Salt & Honey Catering?
It takes a tremendous amount of grit and self-assurance to be in the position that I am in. I know in my bones that this is what I am meant to do, that I am deeply driven and passionate about the company I started and the industry I am in. Self-doubt and fear have no place in my psyche. I have learned that I need to surround myself with smart, honest people who are able to give me tough love and tell me how it is, especially when I don’t want to hear it. Having an inflated ego and sense of self-importance has no place in my business. In 2012, I suffered a third stroke and was diagnosed with a rare chronic blood disorder that requires bi-weekly chemotherapy for the rest of my life. My illness and subsequent treatment have changed my life drastically and taught me the true meaning of perspective, humility, grace and love. Carrying joie de vivre and enthusiasm is imperative for how I approach the work I do.
If you won $50,000, how would you invest it in your business?
I would invest the money into securing our own facility. We currently still share a commissary kitchen, but I long for the day when we can open the doors of our own shop with adequate storage space for our equipment, office space for our front office and tasting room for clients.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Owning your own business is a roller coaster ride. There will be more tears and hard moments than awesome ones, but treasure the awesome stuff and learn from each and every mistake because teachable moments are valuable and transformative. Humility is your ally and the people in your business, clients and employees alike, will be the hardest part of the business. You need to be able to dig deep and have a thick skin. You will not be praised, you will be the one who is blamed for everything, and you need to know that is okay and learn to be comfortable in an uncomfortable role. You need a strong support network and a sincere and positive way to recharge your batteries, reconnect with your core values (business and personal) and self-care. Finally, fear has no place in vocabulary or your mindset and the best word to get it going is “YES.”
What can we expect from Salt & Honey Catering in the next year?
I expect we will continue to evolve and grow, we will stumble, get up and dust ourselves off and try again. I think Salt & Honey will continue to find its voice and create its own place in the pack, and we will continue to become an industry leader and influencer in the San Francisco Bay Area.
To learn more about Salt & Honey Catering, please visit saltandhoneycatering.com.
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