Wedding’s Near-Disaster Gives Rise to Prominent Lee’s Summit Catering Firm

Not many companies are born of crisis. But this was a clear emergency, and in a way, the fretting bride-to-be on the other end of the line could be credited with kick starting one of Lee’s Summit’s best-known catering brands.

It was September 2008 when the woman found Jane Monroe answering the phone at the Gomer’s liquor store on Missouri 291. She explained that during the wedding planning process, she booked a venue requiring a liquor-licensed caterer to handle alcohol.

“That meant she could not buy her alcohol from Gomer’s and hire a bartender,” recalls Monroe, who now runs the Lee’s Summit-based beverage catering business, Embrace the Grape. “She had to use a company with a by-the-drink license, not a retail license. She did some pricing of the options out there and was shocked at the cost. She called me at Gomer’s nearly in tears and asked if there was anything we could do to help.

“Her wedding was in May of 2009. I consulted with my business partner and we decided it was time to launch a beverage catering company which would be more budget-friendly than the options available, without sacrificing service. We catered the bar for her wedding eight months later and have been growing ever since.”

When Monroe explains her business to others, she tells them to think of a food caterer. “Now apply the same concept but substitute liquid for food. We consult with the client, discuss budget and menu, do tastings if necessary, invent signature drinks specific to the couple, bring all beverages and supplies with us, set up, serve and clean up at the end. We cater the bar!”

Embrace the Grape is licensed in both Kansas and Missouri, which allows Monroe to work anywhere in the metro, and beyond. This summer, she’s taken the business to Lawrence, Lone Jack, Platte City, past Concordia and many points in between. Much of the work comes from weddings, but the business also caters to fundraisers, corporate gatherings, festivals and other events.

Gomer’s and Embrace the Grape were once connected as businesses. Gomers opened in Lee’s Summit in August 2005. The next year, Monroe became a partner in the company. Three years later, the company spun off Embrace the Grape. Then in 2011, Monroe split the company with her partner. He took over Gomer’s, and Monroe took the beverage catering business.

“Gomer’s was my start in the liquor business and I learned most of what I know about the industry from the other Gomer’s owners throughout the city,” Monroe says. “Those gentlemen were very good to me and without their mentorship, I wouldn’t have succeeded. Even though there is no longer an affiliation with the Gomer’s name, I still contact the owners outside Lee’s Summit when I have an industry question.”

Inside Lee’s Summit, Monroe has raised both a thriving business and family. Married to husband Russ for 24 years, the couple has four children and is involved in the community through the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and Lakeland Community Church.

“When I went away to college, I realized just how good our education is here,” says Monroe. “I was much better prepared than most of my college classmates. I knew by the end of my first semester of college that I’d raise my family in Lee’s Summit. I can’t imagine life any other way, living and working in a Lee’s Summit lifestyle.”