IF THE way to the heart is through the stomach, celebrity chef Meg Hall has stolen a lot of hearts.
Hall is such a talented caterer you’d think she’d been cooking her whole life — not so. Before starting her successful catering company, Made By Meg, she was a financial advisor (which might be why she’s so successful — insider knowledge!). These days Hall specializes in cooking farm-to-table meals for her catering clients and for the patrons of her Redondo Beach storefront counter the likes of The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting. Meg Hall spoke with Lady Clever about balancing the business of catering with the creativity of cooking and what prompted her inspiring career change.
What inspired you to start your company?
I come from five generations of entrepreneurs. It was always expected that I would have my own business — I just had to figure out what it would be. After finding my passion for cooking in my early twenties, I knew that a catering business would be the way to go!
How do you balance your creative duties with the business side of your company? Does one side tend to overtake the other?
The business side really does take over the entrepreneurial experience for me. I love to cook and wish I had more time for it. We just rebranded and one of our important values is innovation. Recognizing that has given me the permission to schedule time just for me in the kitchen.
Is this your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
This is my first entrepreneurial venture. Before starting Made by Meg I was a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney. Working on commission only feels a lot like running your own business though!
What inspired you to make the change from the realm of finance to the world of food? Was food something you were always interested in?
I went from the finance world to food after finding a career coach. We went through a fairly rigorous process of figuring out what my passion was. I didn’t want to go through life without accomplishing something that really spoke to me. Food has always been a focus for me. My family gathered around food for the holidays and I loved pitching in to help out. Work makes up about 60-75% of our waking lives. If I didn’t take the time to figure out what made me happy every day, I would have been miserable doing any job I took.
What was the biggest challenge in transitioning careers?
The finances. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to work through all the different aspects of running a business. The other part was changing people’s perceptions of me. I didn’t have a huge company behind me that I could put on a business card and be reassured that I was this new person. I had to convince myself and everyone around that I knew what I was doing.
What has been your biggest challenge starting and running your own catering company?
Learning to have work/life balance. I love what I do so much that I would work at all hours, if I could I need to learn how to have hobbies outside of my work.
Another challenge is wearing so many hats. When a company is small, you have to take on PR, Marketing, Menu, Ordering, Networking, Payroll, HR — the whole deal. As we expand, I’ve been able to farm out those duties, but the supervision always falls on me. That’s a lot to do!
What has been your biggest challenge in your culinary career to date?
Making sure I have enough time to let my love for cooking and food grow. It’s easy to get swept up in the business side of things, as I mentioned before. I have to remind myself that reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, eating at new restaurants and spending time alone in the kitchen is what fuels that fire.
What has been your company’s biggest success to date?
I’m really proud of building our kitchen in Redondo Beach. It was a huge financial stretch and incredibly stressful, but so worth it! My other favorite was Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting’s wedding on New Year’s last year. It was one of the biggest, most involved production we had done to date. It told me that we could handle productions of that size and length, with grace and tremendous aptitude. My team rocked it!
What are your current goals for your company?
My next goal is to actually do some sales. Thus far, we’ve only been able to handle the sheer volume of calls coming in. I never made a cold call or had time to go out and make sales calls. The team and company have the capacity to handle new clients and that has taken a lot of infrastructure development internally. We’re ready for more and can’t wait!
What is the best piece of advice you received as a woman starting her own business?
Start now. Stop telling yourself that you need to get all the right pieces in place before reaching out to that contact or going to that meeting. Oh, and NEVER be anywhere without your business card.
In the upscale cafeteria in my finance building, there was a lady who moved from restocking the salad bar to manager over the course of 6 months. I asked her one day how she did that so quickly. What she said, I’ll never forget: “Always dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
What is one piece of advice you wish you had been given as a woman starting her own business?
You are not exempt from anything. It will all fall on your shoulders — learn how to be strong on your own. Pay your bills on time, don’t take on too much debt and stay away from people who waste your time.
What is one piece of advice you would give to women starting their own business?
Choose your donations and marketing ventures carefully. Everyone has a “marketing” opportunity for you to participate in. Evaluate each one carefully and be sure it is going to reach your ideal client and demonstrate what you do best.
Have there been any gender specific challenges you’ve faced being a woman starting a business that you don’t feel like a man might have faced?
Everything from telemarketers who ask for the man who owns the business (which is just funny) to people who don’t think this is my full-time job. There is still a cultural belief that men support families and women don’t really have bills, so they don’t need to pay full price or hire us. Not true – I have bills to pay too! I also think people assume women will always say yes while, too often, no one even dares to ask a man to go the extra mile.
What advice would you give to women looking to make a drastic career change?
1. Find your passion. Read books, take quizzes, hire a coach.
2. Make sure that passion has a way for you to achieve the income you desire. I’ve seen the bravest souls take a jump into a new career without evaluating if there was a market for what they wanted to offer.
3. Follow that passion and pursue like a bulldog with lockjaw. Keep after your new career with patience, tenacity and devotion. The rewards will come.
4. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start your research or start networking. Get on it right away and plan your exit wisely.
5. Make sure you have enough money in the bank to wait out any income changes.
Have you found it difficult to balance your personal and professional life?
So hard. I haven’t been to the gym more than 10 times since I opened my shop in March 2013. I need more ME time!!!
How do you take your client’s vision and turn it into a culinary reality?
First step is to translate what they are saying to what they want. I ask all sorts of questions about theme, flow, and guest experience.
What is a meal that anyone can cook regardless of skill level or time?
Pizza. Seriously though, lasagna. Grab some noodles, shredded cheese, a couple jars of marinara and put together your own lasagna. Sounds simple but it’s an easy step in the right direction. Encouragement is everything in cooking!!
Is anyone else’s stomach grumbling?
If you want to drool over Made By Meg’s menus, check out her website at www.meghall.com or visit her counter at 234 S Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, CA 90277.