Have you ever been to a wedding or conference and spent most of your time analyzing the food and decor? No? That’s just me?
Ambiance is one of my core values. Because I plan events and love to plan events, I spend a lot of time at every event I attend taking notes on what works and what doesn’t. And a huge portion of that time is spent thinking about what energy has been created by the people behind the scenes - the event planners and caterers. Beautiful can be done by lots of people. But, sustainable? Zero waste? These are not words you normally think of when you think of events.
In fact, Green Bride says that the average wedding produces 400 lbs of garbage and 63 tons of CO2. With an estimated 2.5 million weddings per year, that is about 1 billion lbs of trash and as many emissions as approximately 4 people would produce in a year, in just one single day. That’s a lot.
Good thing there are people like Lindsey and her partner Jennifer to combat some of that waste. And, for those of us who are picky about the way the food tastes (how many times have you been to a wedding or conference and the food was truly sub-par and you know that it cost so much money?!?) and the decor looks, it’s a good thing they are superstars at what they do!
I had the privilege of working with them to cater a business workshop that I ran. Even though we only had about 15 people attending, the love and care that went into every detail was the same as if they were catering a once-in-a-lifetime wedding. Every single person that came in commented about how beautiful the space was (and we were in a boring old office conference room!) and how delicious the food was. It was truly a spoiling experience and set the bar quite high for everything I have planned or attended since then.
Even more amazing, was that I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with Lindsey and Jennifer that day. The care and love that I knew went into the food and presentation came through every time they talked about their business and the goals they had for it.
I hope that reading Lindsey’s interview will encourage you to not only go all-in with your values in your business, but also to think about sustainability the next time you plan or attend an event.
Tell us about your business. What do you do? Who do you serve? How long have you been at it?
Chive is a women owned and operated catering and event design company. We rely on neighborhood suppliers and sustainable practices to deliver food and experiences that taste and feel as good as they look. Chive’s mission is to bring people together through food. We combine local ingredients, thoughtful design, and a sustainable mindset to create extraordinary food and events that suit both special occasions and the every day. We do private event and corporate catering (full service or drop-off), event design (florals, lighting, custom décor), and full-service wedding planning.
I'm one of the founding partners and I have a varied role as Head Chef, Sales Director and Event Coordinator. My partner Jennifer Freedson is our Lead Wedding Coordinator and Events Manager. Obviously as business owners in a partnership there are one thousand different roles we each take on on any given day, but we are supported by an incredible event staff and internal team of Sales Managers, Staffing and Event Managers, Designers and Chefs.
Why did you start your business?
We found that sharing our sustainability values through events was a great way to educate people through a common interest, food! When prepared from scratch, using ingredients that have a story, and presented beautifully, people ask questions and spark conversation. We found an outlet to share all this beautiful, locally grown food from people we know in a way that felt everyday accessible.
At first we did a lot of non profit, higher ed, and corporate "green" business catering. We brought the design in through the food presentation. Everyone was looking for something different: catering that not only tasted good but was inherently GOOD. We filled that gap in the market and since have created a much fuller event business where now we can serve not only corporate catering needs but also make people's special occasions fully zero waste, super tasty and beautifully designed all while providing a holistic approach to event planning. Again, over ten years later, we are filling a need in the market for a one stop shop in event creation that is totally sustainable.
What does "social good business" or "values based earning" mean to you?
We are committed to hiring those with a passion for food and the environment, and are committed to nurturing a supportive, collaborative, fun workplace.
We believe in complete transparency—from where and how we source our ingredients to how we develop our pricing—and we love what we do.
We care deeply about our vendors and farmers and seek out partnerships that are mutually beneficial.
As caterers, we have the opportunity to tell the story of the season with each and every menu. At Chive, we feel fortunate to be able to grow our business in a community that values sustainable food solutions. With every relationship we cultivate with area farms, we bring our clients a bounty of sustainable food choices. Whether it’s goat milk feta from Valley View Farm in Topsfield or organic basil from First Light Farm, we scour the area for the very best local resources.
What is your favorite part about running a social good business or your favorite experience since you started?
The people, hands down. We're story tellers and being able to share our farmers, our team members and our clients stories with each other toward the common goal of a fabulous event is the best feeling. People may hire us to do an in-office lunch for 12 or a wedding for 200, either way, we get to know our clients. We want them to feel special and taken care of and we want them to leave their event with stories that continue to inspire even after it's all cleaned up and out of site. We want these relationships to last beyond just one event too.
What is your biggest struggle in running a social good business?
We tend to mostly attract amazing, like-minded team members and clients so we're lucky. However, there are times when converting a new client to a values-based mind set when they are used to a lower budget for traditional catering is hard. Once we're in though it's obvious that we stand apart and are not offering the same experience as some other company.
We have always said that we want our values to be more widely adapted by other businesses and that thinking sustainably becomes the norm. That said, we are in a market where it's easy to say you source locally, compost and recycle and pay fair wages but not actually do it. We know what we do and say is authentically true and that really is all that matters, but there is a lot of competition from companies that are cutting corners and saying they provide a similar service and for less $$.
Also the nature of our business is somewhat seasonal and we have struggled with both cash flow and slow season employee retention for folks outside the internal core team.
What would you like most to accomplish in the next year? 5 years?
We are growing! Ideally in the the next 5 years we have a more refined sales process that captures some different types of business and is more year round. This will allow for new hires, growth for existing employees and opportunities for our 2 owners to have more time working on the business and less time working in the business.
That said, we have no intention of growing too big and continue to come back to our four pillars:
is this synergistic?
is this approachable?
is this growth oriented?
is this environmentally sustainable?
When defining the "sweet spot" in business, we are always reflecting on how we got here, what makes us happy and what is sustainable.
Who are your business icons, heroines or mentors?
We hired a coach years ago who has challenged how we work within our partnership as owners, friends and employers. She has been incredible in our personal growth as leaders. She asks the hard questions and makes sure we are really operating from a place of authentic happiness. We have worked hard to create a culture of honesty and vulnerability in a professional setting.
What's your #1 tip for someone just getting started running a values-based business?
Hire people who do the things that you aren't great at so you can focus on your business mission and not waver on your values. Be authentic with your customer base, no one expects perfection 100% of the time, if you make a mistake, own it and learn from it. But yeah, #1 hire people smarter than yourself!
What are your favorite conferences or retreats to attend?
We love any conference that focuses on food, you know, because of the samples!
What is the last book you read?
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker