Small Business Spotlight: Amazing Edibles Catering Has Been Serving Great Food and Good Times For 30 Years
Andrea Herrera started Amazing Edibles Catering three decades ago, growing it from a small storefront with just a chef and herself to a thriving business with a 5,000-square-foot kitchen that employs more than 20 full- and part-time staff as well as contract waitstaff, bartenders, and chefs.
She launched her company after working in the restaurant industry for nearly 10 years following college, a career she says she loved, but was tough.
“I was a general manager with the Levy Restaurant Group, running the restaurants and bars at the Goodman Theater in Chicago,” said the Polsky Small Business Growth Program alum. “It was a great gig, but it was all nights and all weekends, and I burned out. I quit my job and rode a motorcycle cross country. One day, I was sitting by the pool and decided that if I was going to work this hard, I should do it for myself. And Amazing Edibles was born.”
Her first chef-partner was a former colleague from the Levy Group who was also looking for something new. The pair teamed up and began reaching out to their networks for potential clients. A conversation with Herrera’s neighbor led to their first big gig.
“One of my neighbors was a schoolteacher and she said, ‘Oh, there’s all these trainings in this building that we go to all the time.’ So, I went to that building and brought them lunch. They really enjoyed it and started using us for their trainings,” she said. “That was Chicago Public Schools, the biggest employer in Chicago. We would feed thousands of people per week and it became our bread-and-butter work.”
The company then expanded into universities, providing food for orientations, graduations, and other events, as well as into corporate and nonprofit events. In 2008, Amazing Edibles landed another major client: Harpo Productions. The team was hired to make dinner for Oprah Winfrey and her staff three times per week. It was then that Herrera began to feel more confident as a business owner.
“I started thinking of us more as a competitive, amazing catering company as opposed to a little storefront where I made sandwiches,” she said. “For clients, they believed if I was good enough for Oprah Winfrey, I must be good enough for them, too.”
Impacted by world events
Yet in between the big wins, Herrera dealt with moments of uncertainty. In 2001, when the Twin Towers collapsed, many corporate events were suspended or canceled, which had an impact on the catering company.
“Within an hour, everything we had for the next two weeks cancelled because nobody wanted to be in office buildings downtown and everyone was taking their kids out of school,” she said. “It took us five years to build back from that, all of our corporate work disappeared. But I figured out that schools and universities were still operating, there were still orientations and graduations, and we doubled down on that market and saw that aspect of the business grow.”
The company also took a hit in 2008 during the economic downturn, which led to fewer and less extravagant events. But the biggest challenge to the catering company occurred in 2020 during the pandemic.
“Overnight, catering basically became illegal and we had to shut everything down,” Herrerra said. “I had to let go of 80 percent of my staff. I had been in business for 25 years and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, telling people you love and care about, ‘I’m sorry, but I have to let you go.’ But I knew that if we didn’t conserve cash, there wouldn’t be a business for people to come back to when the pandemic was over.”
With the remaining staff, Amazing Edibles first pivoted to home meal delivery service and then to curating and packaging luxury gift boxes for C-suite executives and salespeople to maintain connections with their clients. The team also prepared around 40,000 meals for first responders and food insecure individuals in Chicago.
“These were basically break-even businesses,” Herrera said. “But they kept us working and it kept me able to pay the half a dozen people who were here.”
Building back and growing
Things began to look up with the release of the COVID vaccine in 2021 and the easing of restrictions. Even though most corporate, university, and school events were still suspended, wedding and wedding tasting business started to pick up.
“We still lost money in 2021, but things were improving,” the entrepreneur said. “We were very fortunate to receive grants and loans from the city and state and we broke even in 2022. This year we anticipate getting back to our pre-COVID revenue and next year we’ll finally be back to making a profit.”
With revenue growing, Herrera plans to revisit some goals she had set prior to the pandemic, one of which was the acquisition of an event venue. She had connected with the Polsky Center in 2019 to explore the pros and cons of the move.
“I had a brilliant team of students who answered the question of whether or not I should buy a venue,” she said. “They looked at the market locally and nationally, at what incremental revenue would come to us, our competition, and whether they would still use my catering company and they said we should buy.”
While the timing wasn’t right to buy in 2020, it’s something the company is considering again as business improves. Herrera is also looking forward to bringing back more of her staff and filling vacant positions, as well as increasing the profitability of her business.
“The last three or four years have been difficult for many of us,” she said. “And it’s lovely to be able to bring joy back to people with great food and great cocktails. It’s exciting for me that my staff can buy houses, have babies, and move forward with their lives. In the next five years, I’d like us to continue to grow our revenue and be the caterer of choice for amazing events all over the city.”