By Jinjuta Teeraratananukulchai, MBA Candidate at the University of Rhode Island
July 23, 2016
If you have ever attended a Social Enterprise Greenhouse event and found yourself eating delicious food, it was probably provided by Easy Entertaining, and for good reason. Easy Entertaining was founded by Chef Kaitlyn Roberts (pictured above), who has been delighting Rhode Islanders with her exceptional farm-to-table catering and cuisine since she launched her business in 2006. Her delicious and creative meals are more than just indulgent -they are also a force for good.
Easy Entertaining is a social enterprise with a multipronged approach to improving the local food economy. By sourcing locally, the company supports local farmers and purveyors, preserves the local flavors of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts and provides fresh, healthy food to its clients. Easy Entertaining also actively gives back, sponsoring catering to many non-profits in the area and donating time and expertise to help other food entrepreneurs succeed do well and do good. Kaitlyn was a coach in SEG’s inaugural Food Accelerator and mentored up-and-coming leaders in the local food scene, empowering them to make a difference in their community.
Easy Entertaining now has a cafe in Rising Sun Mills and is open for breakfast, lunch, classes, private events, tasting dinners, and more. The growing catering-based company employs over 30 staff and plans to continue expanding.
We interviewed Chef Kaitlyn Roberts in honor of Easy Entertaining’s recent 10-year anniversary to learn more about her and her social enterprise.
A fresh, local salad by Easy Entertaining. Photo credit: Easy Entertaining Inc.
Q: How did you get the idea to start Easy Entertaining?
After I finished culinary school and training in Italy, I focused on simplicity, using original, locally sourced ingredients, keeping food fresh and flavor forward. When I returned home, I saw a gap in the market. I saw that a lot of catering companies were serving mass-produced dishes, getting food from large-production farms and not using seasonal items. At the same time, Rhode Island had such a good community of farmers and artisans. I wanted to bring local products to market as a catering business. I started the café three years later. The space can also be used for events and parties.
Q: How did you spread the word about your business at first?
Most of our publicity was word-of-mouth, which is the greatest and most powerful marketing tool!
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have run into with Easy Entertaining, and how did you overcome it?
There are challenges every day. The challenge for small businesses in general is that some government policies do not have our best interest in mind, but they rely on our tax dollars to grow. That’s a continuous issue for us. We also need to anticipate and prepare for unexpected setbacks. For example, maybe there won’t be any power, or maybe it will be pouring rain or there will be a hurricane; all of these things are unpredictable and affect business. We also need to manage people, clients, and expectations. You need to manage people the way they want to be managed because everyone learns differently and understands differently. You have to respect that as a leader. I’m always learning and getting better so that my business can continue to improve. I need to come up with new ways to solve a problem every day.
A catered hors d’oeuvres spread by Easy Entertaining. Photo Credit: Megan Sepe
Q: Do you take breaks from your business, like time off or vacations, and if so, how do you control the quality of your business when you are away?
I definitely take a vacation but never leave the business. Once you open a business, you will never have a day off. I have a management team that can handle some issues, but I still can’t totally leave the business. I need to empower people to make decisions that they feel are right at that moment, trust them, and stand behind them. To control the standard, we write down recipes, and our chefs measure everything according to those standardized recipes. My executive chef and I developed recipes and tested them. We made cost cards, recipe cards, and preparation lists. The hardest thing is to manage people’s ability to make the food exactly the same way every single time. It’s important to do, because changes or variations to recipes could affect costs and customer expectations.
Q: In your own words, how are you a social enterprise?
We support local farms and artisans by sourcing over 70% of our product from local farms and artisans within a 250 mile radius year-round. By running our business this way, we take the dollars from the community and put them back into the community. Our practices with respect to our employees are also sustainable. It’s important that our employees like working here and feel that they have a good work-life balance. We provide benefits that some small businesses do not normally give, like healthcare, extra vacations, bonuses, and incentives. This makes us competitive, but also is the right thing to do, especially in the eyes of our employees! We are ethical through-and-through.
A place setting for a private catered event by Easy Entertaining. Photo credit: Erin McGinn
Q: How do you manage your accounting and balance between making a profit and giving to charity?
We have a certain amount that we donate to charity each quarter, and we have a form on the website that people have to fill out in order to get the donation. They need to meet some requirements to be eligible, such as being a registered non-profit and applying 90 days prior to the event. It is also important that our community partners support us as much as we support them. For example, if we support you, we expect you to be eating at the café and supporting us in return.
Q: How do you have a positive social impact on the community?
In order to be meaningfully involved with the community, it is necessary to do more than just giving food or money. You have to also give your time. If you want to be part of the community, it is important to actually do things within it, rather than just exist in it.
To book Easy Entertaining for an upcoming catering event or your next party, or to learn more, check out their website at EasyEntertainingRI.com. Together, we invite you to dine local, dine consciously, and dine deliciously! Who knew that eating good food could feel so good.
Initial Photo: Easy Entertaining Inc.