- A Q&A with Capers’ Owner & Founder, Emma Roberts -
We couldn’t allow Women’s History Month to pass us by without a nod to Capers Catering’s own intrepid leader, Owner and Founder, Emma Roberts. The Capers team is proud to be an equal-opportunity, woman-owned business that supports the endeavors of so many women. As Capers celebrates its 30th year of crafting out-of-this-world cuisine, we asked Emma a handful of questions about the origin of Capers, her secrets to success, and advice for fellow women or anyone taking the leap into business ownership…
Q: What made you want to launch your own business, and why did you choose catering?
A: I was working in the Boston office of a large New-York-based advertising firm in 1990, and a few things happened that made me question my choices. One of those things was watching the firm downsize from five floors of an office tower to two during a recession. I wasn’t laid off—instead, the pink slips were given to my coworkers with higher salaries, mortgages, kids to feed, and kids in college. I felt awful for them and decided I would never rely on any employer again. I loved to cook, so I quit my job and enrolled in culinary school to see where that took me. Working in catering, you could pick and choose which events to accept, and be home most nights—which I loved, as a newlywed. It was also the perfect field for someone like me with hyper-organized, Type-A, neat freak, ADD tendencies—a fast-paced, gorgeous circus every day of the week! I still love it to pieces.
Q: Can you describe any highs and lows of owning a business? A: I think one of the greatest challenges for any business owner will forever be building and managing a team. Understanding employees’ strengths is critical. Once that’s figured out, it’s vital to be sure each team member is in a role they can succeed in, and then hire the right combination of people to ensure the whole team can be successful together. Teamwork is everything at Capers—I’m so grateful for the symbiosis we’ve achieved and continue to achieve as a team.
The pandemic taught me it was imperative to be quick and agile—to shift course as fast as possible to save everything we had all worked so hard for. I now know that Capers cannot be taken down by anything. We are survivors, and tough as nails—which is exactly what a business needs to be successful. I couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished together.
Q: How has the landscape changed for woman caterers or business owners since starting Capers in 1992?
A: To be honest, I have never really considered Capers in the context of being woman-owned—I just think of us as a small business. It’s true that most other catering companies in Boston are owned and run by men, but I’ve always just been so focused on what we’re doing—on our own goals and clients—I haven’t really stopped to think that what I’m doing as a woman running a business is particularly special. That said, there is definitely more of a societal spotlight on and recognition of women as business owners—awareness of the challenges of being a woman in business and lots of organizations to support us. I’m grateful for that, for all women trying to make their mark in all industries—especially those typically dominated by men. Post-pandemic, most caterers have banded together to help each other in any way they can. It’s similar to Wes Anderson’s movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel—if you get a call on the secret phone line, you are obligated to put all hands on deck to save one another. Catering has become a vast team sport in which old competitors are now best friends. I love that.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Capers’ evolution through the years/what are you most proud of?
A: Wow—there are so many... Successfully navigating the pandemic was huge, of course. I will always be especially proud of Capers’ first Best of Boston win for Best Caterer in 1997. It was a time before the internet when magazines were read by absolutely everyone, and we were such a young business…winning this was really a coup! It put us on the map with the big boys in town and we never looked back.
I am humbled by how long team members have chosen to stay at Capers, and for the career and life trajectories Capers has helped facilitate. Staff members hired 21 years ago are still here—many have risen through the ranks from entry level to top leadership roles. Together, we strive to make Capers a supportive team environment that fosters growth, recognizes the value of every single position within our company, and rewards hard work, loyalty, and dedication. Having seen first-hand early in my career how hard it is on families when people lose their jobs, we moved heaven and earth to try to retain all our staff, even during the most critical phases of the pandemic. Knowing Capers has made a difference in the lives of our team, their families, their ability to purchase homes, and to build their American dreams…that might be my favorite thing about us.
Q: What advice would you give to other women endeavoring to launch their own business? A: I would tell a woman (or, truly, anyone) launching a business to never give up, always surround yourself with the best talent, and capitalize on each employee’s gifts. Business is a team sport, and you have to be careful to always treat everyone with grace and respect. There will be good times; there will be times of great challenge—it’s vital to always keep the long view, even if it’s harder in the near term. Always, always be true to yourself, your team, and your brand. And do your very best, every day.
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