Featured Entrepreneurs

How to Cater Your Way to the Top

Sweet Tee’s serves dessert at one of their special events.

Latisha Thornton, CEO/Owner of Sweet Tee’s Catering and Event Planning, started cooking professionally more than a decade ago. She opened a restaurant, tuned up her business model during the pandemic, and she’s now busier than ever. Here’s how renting one of our commercial kitchens helps her cater large events and keep her customers coming back for more.

The Day Starts Early

Latisha’s phone starts ringing early in the morning. Sometimes she takes a quiet moment to focus and get ready for the day because she knows once it starts, she won’t stop. Every day, Latisha takes about 20 calls from clients, vendors, and the members of her team who make her catered events happen. Then there are the follow up texts, emails, and everything else that comes with running the show. She’s busy this spring, but every season is busy for Sweet Tees’s Catering and Event Planning. And she couldn’t be happier.

A Family Tradition Turns Into a Business

This year, Sweet Tee’s is celebrating 10 years with a big anniversary party, but her story starts much earlier. Latisha started cooking for her family when she was eight years old. She learned from her mother, watching and prepping by her side. Fast forward to adulthood and she started cooking for friends. She loved the connections that happen when people gather over food to celebrate and share their lives.

In 2012, she took it a step further with a special New Year’s Day brunch for her family. The event instantly became a tradition. The following year, she included friends too, widening the circle. The year after that, word got out – and she had a line out the door of people waiting to come in. That’s when she realized she had a food business waiting to happen. And maybe more.

Great Food + Excellent Customer Service

Today, Latisha describes herself as a serial entrepreneur who’s always run small businesses in addition to her career in finance. Food and hospitality remain at the core. She now leaves the cooking to her staff, but Sweet Tee’s is still known for incredible food. Her menu features American fare with many influences. You’ll find soul food, southern cuisine, and flavors that cross the map from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean with tastes of Asia.

In addition to her delicious meals, Latisha’s known for her professionalism, attention to detail, and the responsive communication that keeps her events business humming. Her customers enjoy her casual contemporary style and say she listens to them. She’s creative and easy to work with. This is how she consistently exceeds expectations and guarantees everyone gets the party they really want.

Pandemic Closure Brings Time to Focus on the Future

Sweet Tee’s started as a restaurant in Clark, NJ. Latisha built a solid business, but when the pandemic hit, she was forced to pivot like everyone in the industry. She immediately moved her business online and focused on delivery. She also started experimenting with new revenue streams such as meal prep. During the shutdown, she took time to hone her ideas and tighten her offering. This laid the foundation for her to scale into the comprehensive events business she runs today.

Over the years, she’s built relationships with venues, musicians, bartenders, DJs, servers, cooks, bakers, anyone she can hire to fulfil any client request. This suite of services, combined with stellar food and customer relations, has proven successful. It also allows her to keep all the pieces of the business under her umbrella and offer clients a one-stop shop.

Commercial Kitchen Space Is Key

Behind the scenes in the kitchen, she has two options for commercial cooking. For events of up to 50 guests, her staff preps out of a small kitchen in Linden. For heavy catering events of up to 500 people, she relies on Garden State Kitchen. Our catering kitchens are built for high volume cooking and come with the professional equipment she needs to get big jobs done. Since we rent space on demand, she can book a kitchen when she needs it, for as long as she needs it. She also rents dry, cold, and frozen storage shelves, so her ingredients are ready when she is.

Takeout + Delivery Based at GSK

A new, growing part of Latisha’s business is Sweet Tee’s To Go. She runs this takeout and delivery service at Garden State Kitchen on Friday and Saturday. Customers order from a set menu of her specialties – mains like crab cakes, fried whiting, Rasta pasta, and sides of string beans, potato salad, cabbage and collards, to name a few. Lemonade and southern sweet tea round out the beverage menu. When it’s ready, customers can pick up their meals in Garden State Kitchen’s designated takeout area. Or they can use one of the delivery apps such as Door Dash to have it brought to their home.

Latisha says her takeout business has been slow to start because her core customer base lives in Union and Middlesex counties. However, as a veteran of the industry, she knows it takes time to build momentum and get established in a new area. She also knows how to get the word out. To increase awareness, she passes out flyers in the neighborhood and posts on social media. She says it’s paying off and that word of mouth is working too. To further maximize her time in the kitchen during this startup phase, her crew simultaneously preps for catered events, whenever it makes sense.

Government Contracting Brings More Bookings

Government contracting is another way she gains customers. She took the time to get Sweet Tee’s certified, a paperwork intensive process, with state and federal governments. Being a preferred vendor helps her win big catering bids and connect with local municipalities for corporate events.

In addition to corporate, municipal, and private parties, Sweet Tee’s partners with entertainers to host themed events in local eateries. On weekends, she brings Soulful Sunday Brunch, a delicious buffet with cocktails and a DJ, to an upscale lounge. She also produces comedy shows and special nights out. Next month, she’ll present Sweet Tee’s 10th anniversary celebration, an elegant food and wine tasting with many special guests. (Mark your calendars for April 28!)

The Future is Bright

With this big milestone achievement, Latisha is excited about the future. And she’s turning up the heat on her business even more. She plans to one day have a multipurpose venue of her own. It will be a space with a commercial kitchen where she can host events, parties, cooking classes, and serve as a headquarters for her business. Until then, we are here for Sweet Tee’s, on demand and ready to get cooking the next time her phone rings.

If you want to hear more about what it’s like to cook a Garden State Kitchen, text or call (201) 589-1456.

Sweet Tee's preps for catered parties and events at a commercial kitchen space.
One of Sweet Tee’s special events.
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