SEATTLE — In 2020, few small businesses were hit as hard as caterers.
But a women-owned catering company in Seattle became an inspiring example of embracing change.
They didn't just survive - they pivoted, and thrived.
Over it’s 20 year history, City Catering ran four cafes and catered thousands of events. But within two weeks of the COVID shutdown, 98% of their business simply disappeared.
"We got down to one employee," said owner Lendy Hensley.
She and her two business partners, Shana Hicks and Katy Carroll, quickly realized there was no path forward.
“It was just kind of surreal,” Hicks said. “Never thought in a million years anything like this would happen."
But rather than parting ways, they brainstormed and decided to go in an entirely new direction by launching a modern gift basket company: Bite Society.
"One of the things we wanted to do was change the gift basket market and make it a little more up to date,” Hensley said.
They hired tattoo artists to design their logos and labels. Grey felt boxes replaced traditional wicker baskets. And they innovated unique product ideas, like “before dinner” and “after dinner” cookies.
Every Bite Society delivery comes with a personalized, handwritten card. Customers can also choose from an array of food items. Some, like chocolates and champagne, are sourced elsewhere. But many products are handmade in the same commercial kitchen where City Catering once operated.
"In the end, I think we ended up making about 50 products that we do ourselves. That was unexpected,” Carroll said. “We thought, ‘We'll make cookies.’ And then it was pickles. And then we just kept on going.”
Other locally-made options include pub mix, potato chips, mustard, salsa and hot sauces – all packaged in tins or jars with tattoo flash art.
Both the aesthetics and products lead to their slogan: "Gift baskets for cool kids."
"That was actually direct feedback for a customer. He was like, ‘This is a gift basket for the cool kids.’ I don't know, I've never been a cool kid,” Carroll said, laughing.
Bite Society is now shipping gift baskets around the country, with plenty of room to grow. The success allowed the owners to re-hire some of their former catering employees.
"This is the silver lining for us,” Hicks said.