Jennifer Baber has a passion for people and food. She’s combined both as co-owner of Baber’s Catering & Event Planning with her husband, Frank. The husband and wife team opened the catering company, now based in Leawood, in 2000. Baber’s clientele includes bridal, corporate and private customers.
With one other full-time employee and a stable of independent contractors, the Babers have combined their skills in their catering business. Jennifer Baber, whose spent several years in the corporate sector, handles the marketing and financial tasks. Frank Baber, after years in the food industry working in hotels, restaurants and catering, handles the kitchen. He also had trained with an international chef.
Jennifer Baber said, “Food and service go hand in hand.… I had all the business background and Frank had the food. He’s a great cook.”
Q: How did you finance the business?
“We made the decision to self finance,” Baber said. “Then you just start piecing things together.”
Baber created her own commercial kitchen in the catering company’s first location at West 75t h Street and Switzer in Overland Park.
“That was an education,” she said, “making sure all the rules and regulations from the city and state were followed. It was going out and getting all the big equipment — refrigeration, freezers and stoves.”
Baber said she made some mistakes along the way, but learned from them.
“I remember buying this huge mixer worth thousands of dollars, and we hadn’t even used it one year,” she said. “When selling it back you only got about 40 cents on the dollar, so that was a mistake.”
By going to restaurant auctions, Baber was able to pick up good equipment at reasonable prices, “but you have to do your homework and maintain the equipment,” she said. Baber keeps detailed files on each piece of equipment to track its regular maintenance.
In the beginning, Baber’s focus was on corporate catering doing business lunches, dinners and events.
“I had so many connections but, at the same time, I wanted to go into the bridal sector,” Baber said. “I love my brides. It’s just a passion – it’s probably my belief in the institution of marriage.”
To enter the arena, Baber went to bridal shows, trade shows and scoured local bridal magazines.
“It’s all about getting your name out there,” she said. “We’ve been blessed with a very high referral rate.”
Today, 70 percent of Baber’s business comes from wedding clients; the rest is a combination of corporate and private customers.
Several years ago, the Babers moved their kitchen to its present location on West 151 Terrace in Leawood. They were able to take most of their equipment with them and had more space to work from. In 2009, the Babers made a big move acquiring the adjacent Tavern on the Green event space. Baber said the move gave the company more business opportunities.
Q: Why did you decide to take over Tavern on the Green?
“I always wanted to own my own event space; taking over the Tavern on the Green was a dream,” she said.
“We did jeopardize a lot when we took on this hall. Because we cater in other halls, some felt threatened.”
At Tavern on the Green, the Babers do allow customers to use outside caterers.
“I didn’t want to take away people’s choices,” she said. However, most clients who rent the 7,000-square-foot space end up choosing Baber to cater. The hall can accommodate about 330 guests.
Though Jennifer Baber is mostly focused on the business side of the company, she does get involved in the food side of things.
“I design the menus,” she said. “They’re to help give guidelines and so flavors will complement each other.”
The couple’s 20-year-old son is also involved with the catering company.
Q: What differentiates you from other catering companies?
“People tell me ‘We can always count on you,’ ” Baber said. “It’s my job to make people look good and they know it’s going to be a very well organized event.”
Baber calls customers after every event to make sure they were happy about things and to get their thoughts.
“I always follow up and I am at every single event. I go table to table asking them how their dinner was.”
Q: How did the recession impact your business?
“It’s beaten us up pretty bad,” Baber said. “I’m giving the same quality of service and food for so much less to get business.… To stay in business, we had to adjust.… We’re not making a lot of money. We keep telling ourselves it’s going to get better.”
Despite the recent rocky road of the recession, the Babers are happy catering.
“I have my hand in everything, and I love it,” she said.