Bringing them to the table.

AuthorBailey, David
PositionRUNNER-UP - Company overview

SOMETHING CLASSIC CATERING & CAFES INC.

Headquarters: Charlotte

President: Jill Marcus

Employees: 69 full time, 112 part time

Founded: 1989

Projected 2011 revenue: $5.8 million

Business: Catering and restaurants

Jill Marcus and Karen Teed juggled day jobs with cooking at night to get Something Classic Catering & Cafes Inc. going. In 2000, after working out of sometimes rented--and always cramped--spaces for 11 years, they borrowed $250,000. "We took a giant leap of faith and opened an 8,000-square-foot kitchen," Marcus, 45, says. "We hocked our houses and our firstborn children."

Their bet paid off. In the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades, Something Classic's co-owners have parlayed their after-hours passion into a company that combines catering some of Charlotte's highest-profile events with opening eight eateries around the city. "Something Classic has not only survived the recession but actually come out of it in a far stronger place," says Mary Cantando, a Raleigh management consultant. "Jill is never afraid to follow her instinct, and it seems to never have led her astray."

Almost every move they have made has been a response to an opportunity, not the next step in a business plan. Seeing opportunities, they've seized them. Starting off catering weddings and small private dinner parties, they would eventually work their way up to prestigious clients such as Neiman Marcus, Bank of America and Levine Children's Hospital. But the seasonality of catering makes for precarious finances. Before becoming restaurateurs, they consistently made money only seven months of the year and couldn't keep good people. So, in 1991, they added sit-down service and take-home meals to their offerings in hopes of evening out cash flow.

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Their first cafe was little more than a storefront. In 2001, they moved to a bigger space in the upscale Myers Park neighborhood but still focused on selling take-home meals. The fare? "Gourmet TV dinners," Marcus quips. Think uppity comfort food such as tarragon chicken and mac and cheese (the cheese being Emmental), Their target customers: "People who don't cook." Marcus says. "Thank goodness."

In 2002, they opened their first real restaurant, a cafe in the Mint's former Craft + Design Museum location downtown. In 2009, they...

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