Chicago's own Justin Hall and Molly Schemper run Fig Catering out of a commercial kitchen in the Pilsen neighborhood, and focus on small event catering services for groups from 2-100. Here, I speak with Molly about the business they founded based on 3 little words - "For Intimate Gatherings. (FIG, duh!)
CV: When did you decide you wanted to work in food?
I don't know if I made a conscious decision to get into the foodservice business. I grew up in a restaurant (that was owned by my parents and uncle) and worked in restaurants/catering in high school/college. I went on to get my degree in advertising and worked at a branding agency for 4 years. I left that position to take a job on a private yacht as a crewmember/personal chef; I didn't necessarily know it would be a full time move into the food business until I started FIG.
CV: How did you meet your partner, Justin?
Justin and I met while working together at Poag Mahone's, a bar and grill in the Loop. He was working in the kitchen and I in the front of house.
CV: What is Fig's "food" philosophy, or to use a Top Chef buzz word, point-of-view?
I think our culinary point of view is that food should satisfy and bring people together. Our food is not overly fussy or dependant on intricate techniques or ingredients. It is good food, done well.
CV: What are you favorite restaurants in Chicago?
My favorite is Topolobampo or Frontera Grill. I love Rick Bayless' exuberance and passion for food.
CV: What is challenging about running a catering company in Chicago?
I don't know if Chicago contributes to the challenges of running a catering business, but the hours and low salary make it most difficult.
CV: What are you goals/plans for '09 for Fig?
The goals for FIG in 09 are to continue to grow (obviously) and to hone our focus. We removed prepared meals from our repertoire and will be focusing on dinner parties/intimate events.
CV: What is your favorite part about running a catering company?
Participating in other peoples' special events and helping them to enjoy those events a little more.
CV: What are some of Fig's specialty dishes or items?
I always struggle when people ask what our "signature" dishes are because our menus are always changing and evolving. As the pastry chef, currently I've been excited about making caramels, candy and chocolates.
CV: I know you're located in Pilsen, a neighborhood known for great Mexican food. Why did you choose Pilsen and how has it affected your business?
We actually chose to live in Pilsen before we chose it as our place of business. Once we realized what a great neighborhood it was, both for diversity and food & location, we found the perfect spot to open our kitchen. Because we don't have walk-in traffic some of the most important factors were low rent and accessibility to expressways.
CV: What tips would you give someone who is interested in working in catering or started a food business?
Start off slow and grow into it. Make sure you have experience in both the kitchen and business sides of the operation (or, at least, get really good advice and guidance)!
For more information about Fig or to hire them for your next special event, click here. And read Molly and Justin's blog, all about their life running the business HERE!