Introducing: Sally Pickles from Vanilla Catering
Sally set up Vanilla Catering ten years ago and has worked hard to build the business up from a small catering company to an events management and catering business serving the wedding and corporate market. The company is a big supporter of local producers and has just held a ten year anniversary party to celebrate their success and thank their loyal clients.
How did Vanilla begin?
Vanilla was set up in 2004 and in the very early years it was primarily a victualler for the yachts based in the marina where the company’s premises were located. We operated from very basic kitchens but with amazing views of the river. We dabbled in the odd office lunch too but nothing serious. That all changed in 2008.
What has your business grown to?
In 2008 we took a brave decision which we felt would make or break Vanilla and we ceased with our office lunches and small scale yacht catering. This was prompted by the demolition of our premises by our landlords. We could have shut up shop at that point, but we saw this as an opportunity. We moved into larger premises and installed a state of the art kitchen which we knew would attract the quality personnel which needed to push Vanilla up a notch. We rebranded, developed a new website, new personnel arrived and we launched ourselves into the wedding and corporate catering market and have never looked back.
To be celebrating your ten year anniversary is a fantastic achievement especially taking into account recent tough times for small business. What do you think is the secret to your success?
We have a fantastic team of chefs, their food speaks for itself. We use quality Hampshire ingredients and the team are proud to produce five star food with the presentation to match. Our customer service is excellent as we have a team of great event managers. We are flexible and a fun company to work for but we work extremely hard. Forget any kind of social life or free Saturdays. From March this year we have events every Saturday which means we won’t have a Saturday off until November, that’s 8 months!
You are strong supporters of local producers, why is this important to you and can you name a few who supply you?
Supporting local producers is extremely important to us and we try and use as much local produce as possible which isn’t difficult in Hampshire. The county is full of a huge array of delicious delights including Fluffetts Farms eggs, Tunworth and Lyburn cheeses, Laverstoke Farm Buffalo and not forgetting the great vineyards we have here such as Wickham, Danebury and Jenkyn Place. Why would you source from outside Hampshire when we have all this on our doorstep?
What do you most enjoy about running Vanilla?
The feedback we get from happy customers is always enjoyable. We all get a buzz when we have positive feedback and thanks to my wonderful team we get plenty of it. I love the adrenaline of big events and the challenge of catering for an event in a field in the middle of nowhere on a wind-swept rainy day!
What’s the most memorable piece of positive feedback you have received?
I particularly love it when the bride and groom call me before they fly off on honeymoon to say thanks. When this happens I know we have exceeded all expectations. One comment from a happy bride and groom has stuck with me: “We would recommend you to anyone. Since the (wedding) day, whenever we have been somewhere with bad service, we have coined a new phrase – ‘they need a Sally’”.
You did well for awards last year?
Yes we did! At the wedding Industry Awards 2014 we were voted best caterer in London and the South East 2014. This award is due to voting from couples who have used us in the previous 12 months. We achieved 9.9/10 on the Quality of Expertise, Advice and Guidance Received from your Caterer and 9.9/10 for Quality and Presentation of the Food and/or Drink on the day of the Wedding. For 2015 we are aiming for 10/10…..
Have you catered for anyone famous?
We’ve catered for The Duke of Cambridge. Ewan McGregor was on board the Hugo Boss Yacht skippered by Alex Thomson which we catered for in Cowes week. Last autumn we catered for a famous individual but I had to sign an agreement so I am afraid I am not allowed to discuss that one!
Can you describe a typical working day if there is one?
I have two types of day, an office day and an event day. A typical office day starts with a very early morning 3k swim, it clears my head and allows me to run through what I have to achieve that day. Office days involve selling, meeting with clients and planning their events, meeting with the head chef, running through menus, staff rotas and the best bit eating delicious food. On event days I arrive at the venue with the team, set up, do any last minute tweaks, brief the team, liaise with all the other suppliers and make sure the day runs to time and plan. It may mean I am first to arrive and last to leave, sometimes not getting back to Vanilla until 2.00am. Occasionally it is later and sometimes in the summer I haven’t got home until its light…..
What are your plans for the company going forward?
We have lots of things bubbling under at the moment which will take Vanilla to the next stage. It is going to be a very exciting year if all these things happen so watch this space!