Graham Gemoets | Crain's San Antonio

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Graham Gemoets

Background:  

Butter & Company is a full-service catering firm in Houston that provides design, decoration and staffing for events for up to 400 guests. It hosts around 250 events per year specializing in weddings and buffets. Its clients have included United Way, Hermes and Macy’s. Graham Gemoets, founder and owner, has spent his life planning events, from hosting “amateur dinners” at age 9 and staging “on the floor” supper parties on sheet-covered plywood on cinder blocks in his first Montrose apartment to planning trade shows. After working as an executive assistant for WorldCom’s former president, Mathew Wolf, he launched Butter & Company in 2005. His partner, Robert Iris, joined the business five years ago as executive chef.

The Mistake:

Freaking out. Once we blew the transformer in a big Memorial [neighborhood in Houston] mansion an hour before a big Christmas party started. There was an entire block with no lights. On the inside, I started to panic, but on the outside, I tried to stay calm. I couldn’t panic the host, but I couldn’t hide the problem.

So I started looking around. I opened a closet and there must have been 100 candles in it, so we lighted her house in 15 minutes. It’s now called “A Candle-lit Christmas,” and she wants me to do it every year. She always asks me, “Can you blow the transformer again?”

Catering is a language. It’s like walking into a room and being told you need to be funny or speak French.

The Lesson:

You can’t eat your heart out about things that happen. You have to figure it out and get it close.

I’m in one of the few industries where I am not allowed to have a bad day at work because it’s someone’s wedding. I have to be as perfect as I can, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make mistakes. I have to catch every curveball, left or right.

People have the oddest expectations. They will come in and demand something completely unexpected and unplanned, and you can’t say no. We did a huge Hispanic wedding in Galveston. People were bringing their own bottles of alcohol and the mother of the bride asked in part English and part Spanish if we could put ice buckets on each of the tables. There were 22 tables. We didn’t have 22 ice buckets. So we put 12 acrylic cups on the tables and we called them tiny ice buckets. They thought it was wonderful.

We now have an emergency box. It has a first aid kit, a sewing kit, ketchup, aspirin, hairspray, bobby pins, you name it. Every time we’re asked for something new, it goes on the list. Often times you’re the only professional on site. The cake baker, the dressmaker, the hairdresser, they’re all gone.

Catering is a language. It’s like walking into a room and being told you need to be funny or speak French. And there’s no training program that will get you ready for what actually happens out there. You just have to immerse yourself. Never freak out. Always smile.

Follow Butter & Company on Twitter at @ButterNCompany.

Photo courtesy of Graham Gemoets

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