Amy Brown is co-owner of Chow Girls, a catering company in northeast Minneapolis.
Although Amy Brown was “raised in the home kitchen” and co-owner Heidi Andermack had a grandmother who was a caterer, “neither of us really spent our youth in kitchens the way a lot of people in the industry did,” Brown said. “We both had smaller restaurant jobs – I worked as a line cook in college.” They both loved entertaining and met “going to each other’s parties.” Brown recalled seeing “the way Heidi displayed the tomato salad and thinking, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?'”
They were friends for a year before they came up with the Chow Girls concept. “We were both looking for new careers at that point,” Brown said. “I had a corporate job for Random House. I was starting to get antsy – the publishing world has changed so much. I was looking for a backup plan.” They started the business part-time and thought of it as a hobby. “I never thought it would make me a living necessarily. We did a lot of art openings. We were involved in the northeast Minneapolis art scene. We catered artist friends’ art openings. Our first major gig was for Minnesota Monthly. There we met an event planner who really encouraged us to grow our business.”
Grow their business they did. They are now completing their third kitchen expansion, which will enable them to double their business. They have “about 25 full-time insured employees on staff,” Brown said, in addition to another 50 servers who work part-time.
Brown and her partner are no longer in charge of day-to-day operations. Instead, the women whose business cards read “Boss Lady” are in charge of managing the company’s continuing growth. “We’re really working hard on our bar services,” Brown said. She also recently found an agent for a proposed series of cookbooks.
“We’ve come a long way,” Brown said. “We had some growing pains in the first five years, before we stopped trying to do everything ourselves. The best thing we ever did is to empower people and allow them to build their careers.”
Are the winter holidays a busy time of year for you?
It’s crazy. With the rest of the larger parties we do – corporate parties and weddings – there’s a lot of planning. People call us months out. A lot of holiday parties seem to be last-minute ideas. That’s the biggest challenge.
Are holiday parties different in other ways?
Holiday parties tend to happen every night of the week. People are a little bit more flexible, more apt to say “Whatever you’ve got is fine – I know it’s last minute.” We’re doing a lot more holiday parties in January and February. They call it the holiday party even though the season is over. It’s less stressed, clearly more relaxed. We’re looking for that business. Retailers have parties in February or March. Given the unpredictability of the winters, people don’t want to plan a $3,000 party if for all they know a blizzard could hit and nobody wants to leave their homes to come to it.
Do you still enjoy the holidays?
There is nothing I love more. I like it a lot more now that I’m not the one going to everyone else’s parties. I have a lot more energy for my own family and my own travels down to Kentucky. It’s nice to be able to do that again.