The world of special events looks very different today from what it did 25 years ago. And that's largely because of the talent, drive and vision of Mary Micucci.
In Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, Micucci found herself with a college degree in communications, five years' experience as a flight attendant and a knack for waitressing. At the time, women couldn't get jobs in the better restaurants, and catering was considered the province of amateurs. "I sat around with my girlfriends and asked, `What are we going to do with the rest of our lives?'" she says.
But change was in the air. "It was the middle of the women's movement, the middle of the food revolution in L.A.," Micucci recalls. She forged her own niche, starting an all-women staffing service for private events.
Six months into it, "a friend who was a good friend of a celebrity asked us to cater a dinner party for 16," she says. A food lover but no chef, "I immedi-ately called my aunts and my brother and sisters and everybody for recipes and menus."
That event led to larger catering jobs, with the next big transition coming in 1980, when Micucci was hired to stage the premiere party for the movie "Popeye." "As scared as I was, I was just as excited. Being involved with all those creative people made me realize that I wanted to be in special events, not just catering."
Today, Along Came Mary Productions has 60 full-time employees, a 15,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles and four catering vehicles. The firm handles "hundreds" of events each year, Micucci says, ranging from top-flight social affairs such as the 1998 wedding of Barbra Streisand and James Brolin to corporate events such as a Universal Pictures holiday party for 18,000.
The company's range of services includes event production, logistics, decor, audiovisual, entertainment management and rental coordination.
Food remains the cornerstone of her events, however. She tips her hat to her vice president of catering, Bill Starbuck, and executive chef, Jeanette Holley. "I'm grateful every day of my life that I have so many amazing people working for me."
What's next for Micucci? At press time, Along Came Mary was gearing up for the Democratic National Convention in August in Los Angeles. "We've got 15 events slated for the DNC; we'll probably serve 15,000 people in a week," she says. Along Came Mary's 25th anniversary party is scheduled for November. On top of that, "I'm long overdue to write a book."
But just as significant is what she won't do. "I'm constantly being asked to do a restaurant or food product, but I don't really want to do that," she says. "What I love most is what I do now."
THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS "Surround yourself with committed, passionate, creative people; then you can't lose. I can't tell you how happy with and proud I am of the people who work here, how I've seen them grow, how I've seen them make a commitment to our clients, stretching their own imagination and creativity. It's the thing that makes me proudest. It's a team, a remarkable team of people."
CRITIQUE OF CONSOLIDATION "The companies out there that are consolidating in this business, they are missing the point of creating food and events. It's not `more is better.' Food is not secondary. Everything matters."
AKA "I've been called the Queen of Themes, Madam Caterer, the Master of Special Events and the Epicurean Steven Spielberg."
A QUESTION OF BALANCE "It's been a wonderful 25 years, but it hasn't come without stress. Serving a community like this is stressful. What you have to learn at this stage of life is balance."
TAKE IT ON TRUST "The most important thing for all my clients is that they trust my level of integrity and creativity. I keep pushing the parameters, which affects the product we produce for them."