There are certain people who just know how to go after what they want in life. Nate Turner, Executive Chef and Owner of Your Custom Catering & Events, is one of those people.
Growing up in Maryland, Nate’s love of cooking was instilled by his mother, Chef Rebecca Padgett, and continued through high school where he focused on a culinary arts program. Then, just three days after graduating from high school, Nate moved to Charlotte where he worked three jobs to put himself through culinary school at Johnson and Wales University. He graduated in 2008 with bright eyes and a head full of steam.
Then the Great Recession hit.
During the economic downturn, Nate managed restaurants and worked in the hospitality sector, but by 2009 opportunities were drying up all around him. It was at that point Nate transitioned to nursing. But two years in, and he knew that despite his affinity for helping people, his heart wasn’t in the healthcare field. He longed for his first love—food. And so in 2011, he launched Your Custom Catering & Events.
“It was tough. There’s a lot of competition in the catering world,” Nate says with a knowing smile that the best was yet to come. “It’s not enough to be good at what you do, you have to be resourceful.”
For nine years Nate was at the helm of a growing catering business that had diversified its offerings and earned a sterling reputation in Charlotte. He built a strong business network and was a positive force in the Charlotte community. Life was good. And thanks to his leadership, 2020 was shaping up to be the best year in the company’s history.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“Of course, we were just as anxious as anyone when the virus began to spread. But when things started to grind to a halt, my main concern was our employees,” Nate said. “These people are family to me. I kept thinking that I wanted to keep everyone safe, but also employed.” He was determined to ensure that they were going to get through this event together.
As such, Nate resolved early on in the pandemic that closing his doors was not an option. “Too many people depend on us.”
Thanks to contracts to feed children in need, as part of the company’s commitment to the community, Governor Cooper’s executive order in March to close all non-essential businesses in the state meant that Your Custom Catering & Events could stay open. But it was hardly business as usual.
“A couple of weeks after states began shutting down, the food supply chain started to collapse,” Nate said. “That was a devastating blow.” And a precursor of what was coming.
In the weeks that followed, 85% of the business the company had secured for 2020 was gone. Catering, like many businesses, relies on seasonal events for work. “We basically lost all the seasons,” Nate said.
As the pandemic raged, Nate turned to his network—pooling resources from different organizations and farms to ensure that he could continue serving food to communities in need.
Thanks to his years of involvement with a range of community organizations, Nate was able to secure donations and gifts to continue providing meals for vulnerable sectors of Charlotte throughout the pandemic. From their company kitchen, and a pantry at a Wedgewood Church, Nate and his employees currently serve 500 meals each day across Charlotte.
“We serve food to the Brookhill Community, Sacred Souls, The Relatives, and two tent cities in town. We even serve 250 families every Wednesday at Wedgewood Church.”
When asked what keeps his team going during this global event, Nate responded, “Humility. We know it could be us out there who needs the food. We’re lucky.”
“Serving those in need is extremely rewarding work. And we’re grateful for the opportunity. But it’s nothing like doing regular business. I feel for all the small businesses that have suffered more than we have during this thing. We know plenty of people who have had to close their doors and even sell their food trucks.” After some reflection, Nate continued, “We’re entrepreneurs. We all just want to do what we love. We all just want to get back out there.”
So what advice would he give other small businesses struggling to survive during COVID-19?
“Get up. Get going. Join every group you can. From getting active on social media to using the resources at the City of Charlotte—do everything in your power to keep moving in the right direction. You’ve got to get your brand out there. And if you’re open for business during this thing, join Charlotte’s Open for Business program. This is no time to be meek. You have to move forward. You can get through this.” Powerful words from a man who knows a thing or two about going after what he wants in life, which, as he’s learned, means doing what’s necessary during tough times.
Nate Turner, executive chef and owner of Your Custom Catering & Events, is an Access to Capital Grant recipient. Through the grant program, the City of Charlotte is distributing $30 million in federal CARES Act funding to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. If you are a small business owner with a business headquartered in Charlotte, learn more about the Access to Capital Grant and apply today.