Roberta Montelione never planned to be a catering chef, yet it’s a career she quite literally stumbled into. Burnt out working for her husband she decided to take a class in stand-up comedy and did so well she was offered a job at McCurdy’s theater. But on the cusp of this lucrative career (Roberta would be making $50 a night) a tennis injury sidelined her for six months.
It was while she was recovering on the couch that Roberta discovered the Food Network. “I would practice every day,” Roberta said of her new obsession, adding that often her husband would come home to find she had spent the day preparing a four course meal.
After she catered a few private parties, Roberta was ready for a real test of her new found passion. She called the head chef of Mattison’s and offered to cook him dinner. The meal went so well he hired her on the spot as a catering chef. After a season with the downtown Sarasota staple, she decided to go into business for herself. The result was Milan Catering and Event Design.
As with most businesses the beginning wasn’t easy. “We boot strapped the company so we used to cook our menus out of a kitchen we rented.” All went well until a transfer of tenants. “The building was subleased to a vegan and vegetarian dinner service. So I would be cooking meat for tastings in the back and the smell would drift up to the front,” Roberta recalled with a laugh. Milan Catering was asked to find a new home.
Eventually the company moved to its own location in Sarasota where Roberta could grill shrimp in peace and has remained there for the past six years. The company is experiencing immense growth and recently secured a contract with the Manatee Convention Center. Roberta sought guidance from the UEP for her growing pains.
“When you have an immediate growth pattern it means you have to be a lot smarter about implementing things because you don’t have time to learn things as you go. UEP is forcing me to push hard on all of the things you usually get time to implement because we have to get it right the first time,” Roberta said.
One of the things that Roberta said surprised her about the UEP program is how self-motivated entrepreneurs need to be to succeed. “I approached it as a school course, but you don’t get a grade by these people,” Roberta explained. “The UEP is not like, ‘do this or else’. You grade yourself by how well your business does.”
Currently, the UEP coaches are working with Roberta on how to market her services for when renovations at the Manatee Convention Center finish in October. Roberta has already created a number of job opportunities to help with the immense growth.
“We hired 30 people over the season,” she said. “We hired two new event planners and a chef. We’ve had to hire 15 additional staff people and we had to get them up and running in a week.”
Even staff added at the last minute impress Milan Catering clientele. “They thought these were all seasoned employees and we were dropping them in with a day of training. It speaks to our ability to manage personnel,” Roberta said.
Roberta has little time revel in the company’s success. She continues to push Milan Catering & Event design forward with a standard of perfection. “Every week we sit down as a team and discuss lessons learned. Because we don’t have time to make the same mistake twice.”
Do you have a special event planned? Roberta can help you put together the perfect day! Visit http://www.milancatering.com/ for more information.