Ula Robertson took an unlikely route to her position as president of At Your Service NY Catering.
An international sales manager in her native Germany, she moved to the United States in 1993 and started her own business importing modern plumbing fixtures for American bathrooms.
The company did well until 2003. “The Euro became so expensive, it didn’t make sense to keep the company open,” Robertson says. So Ula became an employee again, for a company that sells furniture. Then her career took a sharp right turn.
She met a trained chef, and the two women decided to start a catering business together. They soon won a contract to run the kitchen at Rockland Country Day School. Her partner left a year later, “so I went looking again.” She used a church kitchen for a while, but has since switched to a hotel kitchen.
Cooking and feeding people fits Robertson to a T. She’s been a foodie all her life – she loves cooking, and, while not professionally trained, took some cooking classes in Germany and France. She’s always been the cook when her in-laws have parties – with as many as 50 to 70 attendees.
An accomplished networker, she’s a member of the Rockland Business Association, the North Rockland Business Alliance and the Rockland Business Women’s Network. She’s a Rotarian, and co-chairs the Rockland/Westchester Business Networking Meet-up. “After a while, people get to know you,” she says. She’s also well-known as a volunteer. “I’m a volunteer chef at a soup kitchen,” she says. It’s a smart move, because other volunteers – “very high-profile people” — hire her for events. Additionally, each event she caters tends to yield more clients.
Robertson says the biggest challenge she faced in starting her catering business was her husband’s opposition to her leaving the job she had.
Her biggest dream: “A catering hall or a restaurant that’s totally mine.” Alternatively, she would like to run the cafeteria for a company like BMW
Things someone who’s planning a catered party should know:
- The caterer will want to meet you in person and visit the location where the event is going to take place.
- The caterer should give you the opportunity to have a tasting – there will likely be a fee. If you book your event with Robertson, she’ll credit the money to your account.
- If you know what kind of food you want, that’s good. “It makes my life easier,” Robertson says. If you have a theme and want food to go with the theme, Robertson can accommodate.
Robertson’s advice if you want a career in food and catering:
“Know where you want to go, and do the baby steps to get there.
“You have to be willing to take risks,” she says. “I started with no money at all. But I thought, if I don’t do it now, I will never do it. I didn’t want to wake up 10 years from now wishing I had tried it.”