How Elaina Vazquez Runs Boutique Bites
Project Entrepreneur’s founding partner, Rent the Runway, has a special place for women entrepreneurs. Not just in its heart but also in an actual community called “The Real Runway.” Here is an excerpt from the collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be. Read on for Elaina Vazquez’s story.
It all started with… eating awkwardly at parties.
Elaina Vasquez set herself up for a dream career as a chef in the fine-dining scene. After holding positions at two of the country’s best restaurants in Chicago, she relocated to Las Vegas, where she cooked at the three Michelin Star restaurant, Robuchon. Despite her success, restaurant life wasn’t for her. Elaina wanted to use her experience in the food world to create perfect party bites: delicious, stylish and not awkward to eat as you chat at a party (think fresh shrimp ceviche in delicate cucumber cups). In 2008 she moved back to Chicago to launch Boutique Bites, and has been serving beautiful, fuss-free food since.
Can you describe the leap from high-end restaurant life to starting your own business?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so even when I was kid, I knew I would have my own something at some point. I looked at my life 10 years down the track and thought, I don’t want a restaurant to dictate my schedule and my life. I wanted to work for myself. I had been playing with my idea for the catering company for a while and I knew that I could execute it well. So the leap actually felt natural.
Was it scary to start fresh?
Not really. I started it when I was so young that I didn’t think too much. I think if I had asked myself back then, “Why don’t you wait until you’re 30 so you can put more money into the business?” I would have talked myself out of it. I technically started my business while I was still working full-time in Las Vegas. I concepted the whole company — figured out my brand vision, listed my competition in Chicago — and booked tiny parties in my spare time to test out my idea. It was working. So I quit my job, moved to Chicago three months later with my plan, and hit the ground running.
This is the life I want. My worst day at Boutique Bites is still better than my worst day at a restaurant working for somebody else. I always remember that.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Keep good relationships with people that you worked for and that you learned from. When I moved back to Chicago, I still had all my contacts from when I worked there and every single one of them was willing to help me. If people like you, they will help you no matter what. I can’t stress that enough. People don’t realize that your exit is just as important as the time you put into a business. I hate to see people throw two years of hard work away because they left on bad terms.
Is it stressful running a catering company?
There are a ton of moving parts in catering. It isn’t just food — it’s all the staff, liquor, bartenders and the rentals. We’re responsible for every last spoon to arrive at your event and make sure that it all goes flawlessly. Thankfully, I have a great team that I can rely on. But it took years to get to that point. When I hired my first employee, little by little we transferred everything in my brain into files on a computer, so that my team would know where to look if they had questions.
My team and I are in the business of making it happen. That is what we do. We like to say we’re like ducks — we’re swimming underneath, but up top we look very serene. That’s what hustle is to us.
What’s the payoff for you?
Client satisfaction is huge — I’m very fortunate to have such fantastic clients. I’ve also never managed a team before and have a huge source of pride and happiness in people who started with me and are doing so wonderfully. More recently, I’ve been having a lot of pinch-me moments because we moved to a giant space that’s 8,000 square feet. Our old space was 1,100 square feet. We can start hosting events here, which has been a dream of mine for years. My current desk used to be the main desk that my whole team used. Now it’s just mine! I’m so happy to come to work every day and find it pretty hard to complain.
Connect with Elaina Vazquez’s Boutique Bites
Read the full article on Rent the Runway’s The Real Runway.