Waitress, chef, catering company CEO — Debra Lykkemark has had a varied career but a single goal: serving outstanding food. The founder of 23-year-old Culinary Capers Catering, a $10 million company headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Lykkemark has big plans in store — in fact, Olympic-size plans.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: While many people in the event business can't find enough projects to stay busy, you have the 2010 Olympic Games coming in February. How is business shaping up?
DEBRA LYKKEMARK: We have a number of projects that we are working on, and some that are still in the bidding stage. The business we are shooting for is the hospitality for sponsors and countries, rather than the sports venues or the Olympic village. In most cases, we are being recruited by local or international DMCs or sports-marketing companies. A lot of details are still up in the air due to the economic climate, but I have no doubt we will be very busy and, at some point, may have to turn down some contracts.
SPECIAL EVENTS: I think you deserve 2010 Games' business due to your foresight in pursuing the catering contract for the BC [British Columbia]-Canada Place pavilion at the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Has that project paid off for you in the way you foresaw?
LYKKEMARK: We also catered for the BC Canada Pavilion in Beijing from May to September 2008. We went after these contracts so that we would be in these cities during the Winter and Summer Olympics. It gave us the opportunity to see firsthand how the hospitality would unfold, what the challenges would be and what type of experience our clients and their guests would be expecting. It gave us the opportunity to meet the sponsors, the event planners and the sports-marketing representatives, many of whom will be in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. These clients are looking for companies that understand their needs and the challenges of working during the Games. They need to be able to rely on their suppliers, so having the experience of working in Torino and Beijing definitely has given us a competitive advantage. Neither of these projects were moneymakers; they were an investment that we hope will result in a number of Olympics-related contracts.
One of the great things that came out of our experience catering in Beijing was the realization that there was a need for our style of catering and for a high-end party rental company there. As a result, we have started a division of our catering company and a party rental company in Beijing.
SPECIAL EVENTS: It seems we can't write an article today without discussing the incredible pressure to keep costs and prices down to hang on to business.
LYKKEMARK: Price sensitivity is across the board — social clients, brides and corporate clients. Even clients that have the money do not want to be perceived as too extravagant. I believe that this sensitivity is going to be with us for a long time. We are going to have to be more creative than ever to meet our clients' budgets and not give away our profit.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What are you doing to cope?
LYKKEMARK: In January, the drop in business was quick and dramatic. We reacted right away and basically did exactly what we did when we had a major downturn in business after 9/11. We had to lay off staff, and the event planners and management agreed to work a four-day week with a 20 percent salary reduction. We renegotiated contracts and payment schedules with our suppliers, health-care plan and insurance policies. We looked at every line item on the balance sheet to see where we could make cuts without compromising our product or service to the customer. We challenged all staff members to bring us cost-saving ideas. We also focused our attention on developing less expensive menu items by putting an emphasis on using local, seasonal products and less expensive cuts of meat. In spring the sales started to climb, so we are taking baby steps and cautiously adding staff and beefing up budgets where necessary. If you are in business long enough, you are going to have to go through these times; there is no way to avoid them. You have to make tough decisions and react quickly.
Culinary Capers Catering 1545 W. Third Ave., Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6J 1J8; 604/875-0123; culinarycapers.com