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With a long family history in the food industry, Jamie Erickson left her career as the Catering and Events Manager for City Bakery to launch her own company, Poppy’s Catering. Focusing on a variety of events and offering small pick-up orders to full service corporate events, Jamie has finally made her popular Poppy’s Pop-Ups a regular weekend occurrence with her first storefront which recently opened in Brooklyn. To find out how she got her start to where she recommends you dine, read on…

poppys catering

Jamie, you started Poppy’s Catering just over four years ago as a catering company and you just opened your first storefront in Brooklyn (congrats!). How did you get started?

I was working as the catering and events manager at City Bakery and knew it was time for a change. I dreamed of starting my own business and had been coveting a kitchen and storefront on Degraw Street in Brooklyn for years. I watched the shop change hands about 4 times in the years I lived in Cobble Hill, and each time I wondered who the new owner would be. After I got married in 2012, my husband, Kevin, was walking by and noticed it seemed vacant once again. The timing was all very serendipitous.

Not only is your food locally sourced, your rustic approach is gorgeous to say the least. I don’t think anyone has made eggs look so beautiful and your Instagram is one of our faves for food porn. Tell us more about how you focus on the aesthetics of your creations. 

Well, thank you. Aesthetics are absolutely a focal point of our company and have been since we began. I believe that people eat with their eyes, as well as their mouths, and that everything from how the food is displayed, to where the food comes from, and how it tastes are all important. Instagram was just becoming a popular social media platform when we began Poppy’s, and we utilized it to show beautiful images of food, tagging the clients we were working with. I loved that through pictures we were able to show what we were up to without having to say too much or send promo emails.

Your setup is pretty unique in that you aren’t actually the chef in the company, instead you focus on the business aspect. How do you think this approach has helped you grow your business so successfully?

There is no question that being able to focus on the business has helped us grow steadily and successfully. Many business owners in the food industry (specifically catering) are the chefs as well and they need to juggle working long days in the kitchen with emails, inquiries, estimates, food orders, prep lists… it goes on.

That’s not to say we don’t wear a lot of hats here, but having the time and energy to focus on customer service, sales, and billing was essential in getting us off the ground. Having found our amazing chef Sharone, who has been at Poppy’s since day one, along with my right hand gal, Rachael, was instrumental in making it feel like a team and a company from the very start.

Aesthetics are absolutely a focal point of our company and have been since we began. I believe that people eat with their eyes, as well as their mouths, and that everything from how the food is displayed, to where the food comes from, and how it tastes are all important.

Can you tell us about your Pop Ups? How did they come about and what is your strategy now that you have a storefront?

Two years ago, we were in need of more kitchen space and were lucky to find a second spot, just a few blocks away.  Meanwhile, our original kitchen space (which is really a charming storefront) was begging to have a retail component. I mean, how can you have French windows and a screen door and not let customers in? We cater seven days a week, so it was tricky to fit this into our schedule, so we decided to start with the concept of a “pop up” to have more control over store hours. The “pop up” ended up being a great marketing tool so that neighbors could finally taste our food and hear what we were about. It was an added bonus that they increased our business in the neighborhood as we saw a spike in birthday, holiday parties, etc.

I love that by offering sandwiches, baked goods, packaged goods, merchandise etc. we have brought our brand to life in an accessible way. We’ve become a gathering space for neighbors, friends and family and there was a demand from our customers to be open more often. This past month we finally committed to a regular schedule of opening every Saturday and Sunday and have renamed it Poppy’s To-Go. Come on by!!

Did you have a mentor or someone who was instrumental in the launch of your business?

Absolutely. When I was in college, I was part of the opening team for the restaurant, The Kitchen, in Boulder, Colorado.  One of the owners, Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon Musk), changed the path of my career from that point on. I remember in the interview he was strict in saying “you need to work 5 nights a week. You can’t go away for Spring break, and you can’t go back to NYC for the Summer.” I obliged, and quickly became less interested in my undergraduate degree and more interested in my life at the restaurant. I ended up graduating early in order to spend more time at The Kitchen and Kimbal offered me a management position in marketing and events. That restaurant taught me the meaning of farm-to-table dining (before that became a popular concept and overused term) and refined my palate to enjoy simple, beautifully made food. It also became the benchmark for how hard work and a good work ethic was already paying off.

I eventually moved back to New York City (where I’m from) and Kimbal and I remained in touch. Every time we would meet up for dinner and I would tell him about where I was working, he questioned why I hadn’t started my own company yet. Well, it wasn’t that easy. I was working in the food industry and barely had a savings account.

Fast forward to that moment that my husband noticed my favorite store front vacant, and my first phone call was to Kimbal. I had no idea how to navigate a commercial lease, needed to write a business plan, and submit healthy looking bank statements (I literally had friends wiring me money just to fake it). Kimbal believed in me enough that he ended up loaning me the money to get the business going. And miraculously within a couple of months I had convinced the broker and the owner of the kitchen space that they needed to take a chance on me.

The loan was set up as a four-year plan, but I did everything in my power to pay him back within the first year of opening. Without that initial job as a hostess in college, I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What is your philosophy as a business woman and as a boss?

I have a lot of drive, but I also believe I’m only as strong as my team. I feel like I’ve always had a natural instinct to be a leader and a boss, but I also know I’m not good at everything. I believe strongly in creating a culture that encourages creativity, support, hard work, and work/life balance. Not just for me, but for my employees as well.  Every new challenge we take on begins with a conversation. It’s never dictated, that way we’re all in it together.

I’m a very transparent person and boss.It’s important to me not to have a big ego, and that’s a philosophy of my management staff as well. I also believe that if you want to grow, you have to let go, delegate, and learn when to ask for help and when to say, “I f**ked up”.

I also was told never to say “NO” to a job when starting a business but I don’t always agree. I think it’s extremely important to know what jobs/clients are right, and which ones aren’t.  When something doesn’t feel like it’s the right match to our brand, or we would be taking on more than we can handle, we graciously decline.

I had no idea how to navigate a commercial lease, needed to write a business plan, and submit healthy looking bank statements (I literally had friends wiring me money just to fake it). […] And miraculously within a couple of months I had convinced the broker and the owner of the kitchen space that they needed to take a chance on me.

You had your son 16 months ago. How has becoming a mother changed your approach to your business?

The week leading up to my labor I was hosting dinners at our shop, working a wedding and was even at the pop up the day my son was born! I thought I had two more weeks of the hustle (at least), but Dylan had other plans for me and arrived early. The week after his birth, I was back on my computer and doing payroll, but I definitely took a step back from my daily (production) role at the company. Luckily jobs kept going on without me around and the company continued to thrive and I learned to let go and let my team succeed. If there was a small issue, my team learned they could answer it without me and just pulled me in for the big issues.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve taken on a more “macro” role with my business. I’m still here every day growing the business, but I’m not really a part of every day-to-day job and I don’t really go to most evening events anymore. I consider myself a manager of managers and that in itself is a big job when you have a growing staff like ours.

It’s still a balancing act, and I think as Dylan and Poppy’s get older, my role will continuously morph and adapt.  

What are your “must have” items and “go-to” dishes for the perfect dinner party? 

My first suggestion for any dinner party is to make sure to have some sort of snacks or hors d’oeuvres as guests arrive.  Be it a cheese board, or passed hors d’oeuvres, it’s nice to have a nosh while guests are waiting to sit down.  As far as “must-have” dishes, I couldn’t even say as we change our menus daily! I would say that my favorite season for menu writing and for dinner parties is in the Summer. There is so much amazing produce for simple salads, and firing up the grill makes for a perfect dinner party. My philosophy is to keep it simple.

We know you have a passion for cheese plates. Us too! If you could design your perfect one, what would you include? 

A combination of at least three cheeses with a variety of hard and soft, stinky and mild. I like having something salty like marcona almonds as well as something sweet (a fig jam, seasonal fruit spread or local honey). And don’t forget some fresh herbs for a garnish.

 

It’s important to me not to have a big ego, and that’s a philosophy of my management staff as well. I also believe that if you want to grow, you have to let go, delegate, and learn when to ask for help and when to say, “I f**ked up”.

You have catered some pretty major events. What is your biggest “pinch me” moment?

The first “pinch-me” moment was when Coach hired us in our first month of being in business. I couldn’t believe we were given an opportunity to work for such a big brand, and that exposure no doubt gave us some street cred for more business in the fashion world. Currently, we are working towards our biggest event to date – two full days of catering for 600 people. When that job went through, we were all like, “holy sh*t!”.

What restaurants should be on everyone’s radar? 

All of the Andrew Tarlow restaurants (Marlow & Sons, Reynards, Romans) are all still my favorites. I also love Lilia, Olmstead, Frankies and Il Bucco Alimentari

What are your favorite ways to escape the city? Any local farms that you love?

I’m very fortunate in that I’m from NYC and my parents have a house in the Hudson Valley that we escape to on weekends. My best friends (who have a baby just three months apart from Dylan!), have a house in Amagansett and we love spending time there as well. As for local farms, my favorites are Fishkill Farms upstate and Bhumi Farms out east, and Westwind Orchard in Accord, NY.

Running your own business can be all consuming. What do you do to escape it all?

It was all consuming for the first few years, but I don’t feel that way anymore.  We have hit our stride and thankfully we have a great team in place. My escape from work is being with my family. I’m still trying to figure out how to find some “me time” in between being a boss and being a mom. My husband, Kevin, is an incredible stay-at-home dad, but I get it when he can’t wait for me to get home at the end of the day. We also all moved to Red Hook which feels like an escape from the city itself. I can’t wait for it to be Spring and Summer again and enjoy sunsets on the rooftop with the fam.  

What are your words of Motherhood Wisdom?

Ha, I don’t think I have wisdom in this department yet, but I’ll give you three words: HAVE. NO. JUDGEMENT.  I think it was easy to judge until you have your own kid, and then you realize this is way harder than it looks.

poppys catering

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