Hiring a caterer for a corporate event, private party, luncheon or wedding is an extremely common occurrence in most metropolitan areas. The Portable Chef, a Lee’s Summit-based caterer celebrating its 20th anniversary in business, has set itself apart in the industry through an innovative business model and unique workforce.
Waiting tables as a student at the University of Kansas and later as a young actress trying to make her way in Los Angeles, Kim Fowler learned the restaurant business. After returning to the Kansas City area, she began managing restaurants and soon was promoted to catering manager.
“I had always thought I wanted to own a restaurant, but after learning the catering side of service I was intrigued with the idea of having a guaranteed guest count, menu and timeline,” Fowler says. “This left the guessing out of the equation.”
In 1996, as a mother of a 2-year-old son and with another on the way, Fowler left her job, moved her family to Lee’s Summit, built a house with a licensed catering kitchen and officially started a home-based catering company now known as The Portable Chef.
“I had grown up in Overland Park, but chose Lee’s Summit because it was legal to run a catering operation out of my home,” Fowler says. “It’s been a perfect city for my business and raising my two boys.”
The staff of The Portable Chef is unusual. It consists of a hardworking group of dependable full and part-time workers, women ranging in age from 34 to 72. A majority of the staff has worked together for 15 years.
“Our staff is one of the main reasons we have been successful,” Fowler says. “We have neighbors, sisters, friends and two sets of mothers and daughters. We are supportive of one another and share a genuine love and friendship.”
Fowler’s mom Jeri Migliazzo, the “dessert lady,” bookkeeper and seamstress plays a major part in the company’s success.
“My mom is my best friend and my hero. She wears many hats at The Portable Chef, and I could not have started my business or currently own my business without her,” Fowler says. “Our labor force is like no other in the city. The company would fail if these particular women were not in place.”
The Portable Chef turned 20 years old this year. By placing emphasis on exceptional service, flavorful foods and eccentric table design, they have been able to secure long-standing clients such as the Kansas City Ballet and the American Royal. Their progressive approach to entertaining ensures every event and menu is personalized to satisfy the needs of each client.
“We have found our niche with our friendly, hardworking staff and gorgeous style of decorating paired with our unique seasonal menus,” Fowler explains. “This has ensured trusting relationships with our clients and their continuous repeat business.”
While very content with her business, Fowler recognizes the human side to being a female business owner and what really matters in the world of a successful single mom.
“I have worked from home, with detailed organization, hardwork, an exceptional staff and the grace of God I raised my two boys all by myself and the catering business has supported us,” she says. “That is my biggest accomplishment.”