CEDAR RAPIDS — So who’s the Julia of Julia-n-LeChef?
“Nobody,” chuckles Jennifer Heller. “They were trying to come up with something that would speak to the level of cuisine. They didn’t want to cater just standard food. They wanted to kind of bring it up a notch for the area.”
Heller and Brandi Davis purchased the catering business April 2 from Tom and Toni Hauer, who started it about five years ago. The transaction includes Katering Kitchen, which provisions private and corporate jets flying from The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.
“That clientele just also came along with it,” Heller said.
The change in ownership was more than a financial transaction.
“They came in for two weeks and trained us,” said Heller. Toni Hauer “cooked every dish that’s their signature dish.
Brandi, because of her experience, could actually improve on those dishes.
“She makes her own sauces and spreads so when you order from us, we don’t just buy dill dip and ranch. It’s all Brandi.”
“I think they want something different,” Davis added. “I don’t like bland food, and I like fresh food. I like to cook with fresh basil, fresh dill. They want flavor, and different flavors.”
Davis operated her own catering business — “just a little one” — out of the local clubs and halls her clients booked for events, sharing revenues with the venues’ owners. Her mother owned and operated Charlie’s on the River in downtown Cedar Rapids.
“I was just doing it for friends, and it just grew and grew and got to the point where I had to find a kitchen,” Davis said. “I had to get real with it.”
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Davis calls the operation “actually four businesses in one. We have Julia-n-LeChef, we have Katering Kitchen, we have all the recipes from Charlie’s on the River, and then we have Brandi Kay’s Catering, my catering.”
The pair will consolidate those four lines under the Julia-n-LeChef brand.
“We’re in the transition phase,” said Heller. “Brandi does all the stuff in the kitchen, and she books and does all the quoting, and I do all the financial side and marketing and all that. We’re a good team. “
Davis and Heller are Julia’s sole full-time employees. They draw on an on-call roster of cooks when business warrants.
“They know the kitchen, they know how to prepare food, and they understand the business,” said Heller.
“I’ve worked in just about every restaurant here,” Davis said. “So I know a lot of cooks and a lot of servers.”
A Minnesota native, Davis moved to Cedar Rapids about 20 years ago. Heller grew up in Dubuque and worked as a consultant in marketing and business operations before the two joined forces.
“On both sides, there’s just years of experience,” Heller said. “I talked to Brandi for 10 minutes on the phone, came to town to have lunch with my brother and she made the lunch. I was like, ‘I just want to work with you.’”
Julia’s catering ranges from boxed lunches to wedding receptions and banquets.
Davis, who sources local ingredients whenever possible, doesn’t estimate an event’s budget by its head count.
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“You need to come in and talk to me,” she said. “We price not so much by person, we price by how much the food is. People like that.”
“We’re not going to tell you no, we’re going to tell you, ‘Here’s what you can do,’” Heller said.
“From farm to table, the distance is shrinking,” Heller said. “That’s part of what we’re trying to bring — the flavor of your event is what you want it to be.”
AT A GLANCE
l Owners: Brandi Davis, Jennifer Heller
l Business: Julia-n-LeChef
l Address: 426 First Ave. NW Cedar Rapids
l Phone: (319) 261-1032
l Website: crchef.com
l Know a business that’s been in operation for more than a year that we should look at for “My Biz”? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.