Last December, I hosted a Holiday Party for GEARSHIFT. I experienced Cecelia’s excellent food before and I knew she was exactly who should cater it. I called her, we discussed it, and soon, thereafter, we began work on the details.
Nothing is too hard for Cecelia Hamilton, Founder and owner, Heartfelt Catering!
Decorations, sure! Add to the menu, sure! Music, sure! Cater to dietary restrictions, sure! Cecelia was delightful, never lost her cool and she and her food exceeded all my expectations.
Just as Heartfelt Catering prepares food with natural, fresh ingredients, Cecelia is as down to earth and natural as they come. But wait! I’ve known her for many years now. From the start, she impressed me with her determination to make it big.

This is Cecelia’s story.
“When I was a kid – 8 or 9 years old, I became the prep cook for my mom during the holidays.  She made our favorite meals for each holiday.  And she put her heart and soul into it. 
No holiday went without a proper meal. I chopped the vegetables, kept the kitchen clean and was the taster.  Thanksgiving is my favorite.  We’d all sit around the dining table laughing and having fun.   Mom made cornbread dressing and she never served it to our family until I tasted it. Those are my first memories around my love of cooking.”
She went on to say,
“I was working on a rehab/gutting project with a friend and one of my jobs was selecting all the various fixtures.  I discovered I really like working on creative projects.  I knew I would eventually do something around catering. That’s when I started cooking again, and entertaining. 
It got me thinking about how to cook, how to select meals and the best ways to prepare them.  After that, I took a cooking class at the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago.   
Besides the cooking, I really enjoy bringing people together.  Sitting around eating,
talking and just being close to friends and family. While in culinary school, one of our projects was “What would you name your food/catering business?”.  
That’s when I came up with Heartfelt – a place of love.
I was working full time in corporate America and attending culinary school on the weekends.  About 7 years ago, I realized I was getting further and further away from what I love. And that’s when I left my corporate job!  It was time to do something different. 
My heart was tugging at me.  It was the same feeling I had when I left Detroit to come to Chicago.  It was 2011. I began creating  menus and catering events for family and friends, providing both food and service. That allowed me to work out the kinks. I knew I wanted to create something for everyone, including Vegetarian and Vegan.  With so many dietary and food restrictions I began concentrating on menus to satisfy every taste and need”.
It was a lot of fun.
When people tell me how good the food is, I realize I get to enjoy something I love…It’s a win, win for everyone.
This year I move to a brand new kitchen in a larger space where I can control the environment, offer breakfast and do catered events. It is a major step and puts me with two feet firmly on the ground for expansion.

When did you start working with Gail and why?   (Interview by Nancy Reid)

I started working with Gail early in 2018.  We’d been talking about it for a while. Last year I was included in the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce program, “Coaching for Growth”.  Sponsored by Bank of America, it was a great curriculum that covered all aspects of a business.  High-level things I knew I needed to do if I was going to build a real business.  That’s when Gail and I started talking.  I wanted to take a deeper dive – one on one, with someone I trusted and respected.   Someone I could sit down with and have candid conversations.  Gail doesn’t let you off the hook.  As much I want her to, she doesn’t, which is good.   Gail would say, “Cecilia you know what you need to be looking at…

It’s really good to have a person like Gail who can help you stay on track.  It’s still your responsibility.  That’s when I decided to work with Gail on my business.

Can you tell me some of the key takeaways from working with Gail?

  • Financial Statements –  it was critical to review them monthly and quarterly and look at the profit
    • I was not using my accountant correctly and have now started to meet regularly.
    • I was not using all the reports to advantage.
    • My goal is to be more strategic about my company’s financial progress; tracking revenue and expenses, along with other metrics that help me measure results. 
      • It’s important to monitor expenses and if they are higher than they should be, and we’re over-purchasing certain items, and over-staffing certain events, I understand how that hurts the bottom line.
      • The goal is to keep it lean without sacrificing the quality of the food and the service.
      • It makes you think in other areas, too – food costs, labor costs.
      • I constantly question how we can reduce costs without compromising quality.
  • Structure & Purpose – it’s crucial to maintain a schedule and timelines and let people know exactly what they need to do within those parameters.
    • My purpose is my guide.
    • I can’t be overly regimented.
    • I need to allow for flexibility.
    • My staff has to be in on why I do this
  • Business Development – I was not proactively identifying business opportunities.
    • It’s been hard as I’m transitioning to a new space while still working out of the old kitchen space.
    • I want to focus on business development and not so much on the operational side of my business.
    • Gail makes sure I pay attention to the pipeline and think ahead to seasonal opportunities and major contracts.
  • Goals – Gail helped me establish goals at the beginning of the year and we continue to track them throughout the year.
    • The goals I set are coming to fruition and in the right order that are critical to grow my business.
  • Staffing –  the other difficult part is hiring the right staff, and preparing them to work in my culture; staffing is always a key point.
    • They have to be aligned with my values, possess the work ethic I require and can be trained
    • It’s hard to yield responsibility to staff for the preparation and quality of your food; for example, when we have to eliminate butter and salt due to dietary issues,  it’s our job to replace these ingredients with the proper herbs and spices; you can’t take any shortcuts.
    •  I stop and think about the staff person you need for each job.
    • I want people who are dedicated and interested in the work.
    • What is a key characteristic? I need people who are disciplined and structured.

It all goes back to discipline and structure.  Our business is about service and quality.  We are very passionate about providing that.  Because my family has type 2 diabetes, I always try to create food that not only tastes great but has the right ingredients to maintain a proper diet.  I never refer to my food as “healthy food”.   I do remind people that it’s made from scratch and from love; creating flavors and combinations for a memorable food experience. When you say “healthy” it can mean tasteless to some people.  I’m not trying to change anyone or infer they need to eat healthy. I’m just trying to make it enjoyable! 

So with all of these ideas in my head, I need someone I can talk to and formulate a plan.  That’s what Gail’s been great about working through with me.

Do you have suggestions for anyone considering hiring a Business Coach?

There are so many issues you need to address in business and a lot of tasks that need to be done. Without a key management person, or a coach, to bounce ideas off, it makes it really, really hard.

A Business Coach keeps you on track with the goals you establish and makes you look at your business in ways you might never think about. There are some things you just can’t share with your staff/team. Working with a coach you feel comfortable with, and trust, and who offers you an independent point of view, with no stake in the game, and sees you grow and develop your company, is priceless.

 Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Gail and I met three years ago.  The reason I felt comfortable working with her is that we developed a relationship over time.  Getting to know the person you’re going to be working with makes it so much easier. It was for me, anyway.  You don’t hold back anything.  There’s a trust factor.  Again, you don’t’ want to hold back.  You want to talk through everything.

This year I am making the big move. Having Gail by my side definitely aids my courage and I know that I can bounce anything off of her and always get an immediate response that calms my nerves and sets me back on the right track.

Cecelia, you are a winner! Your brilliance, attitude and perspective make you who you are. Keep up the great work and let’s start planning this year’s party:)