Part I in a series profiling the women-owned vendors featured at the Birchtree Catering Supper Club at New Century Trust on International Women's Day, 08 March 2017.
Name of Business: Birchtree Catering
Official Title: Allegra Derengowski, Co-owner
Years in Business: since 2008
Size of Business: Nine full time, and in season forty part time wait staff, bartenders, and dishwashers
Percent of women employees: 50%
What part do women play in your business? Co-owners, 50/50 ownership
What called you to your work?
I went to Drexel for literature but did not have much ambition for what I wanted to do. While working at the Barnes & Noble cafe, Rasa [Stirbys Benefico, Birchtree Co-owner] had the kernel of an idea to start a cafe with fellow co-workers. I moved to Hawaii and worked as a journalist at a small weekly paper. I loved it, but Hawaii was not the right fit for me. Rasa went to McGill University in Canada for literature. While she was in school, she had been throwing parties and cooking for people. That was her love. She apprenticed at a few places but her real training came from her grandmother who made everything from scratch. Rasa started the catering company while I was in Hawaii and it sounded like something I wanted to be doing so I came back to help get the company started. Rasa is the chef, she is the talent. I didn’t know what my strengths were. I discovered my love of being a business owner, manager, marketing and branding through the development of the company. The catering was really only meant to make money towards opening the cafe, but it really took off. We incorporated in 2012 as a 50/50 LLC and moved into the Globe Dye Works kitchen. We had worked so long out of basements, kitchen, u-hauls to have as little overhead as possible. Moving into the Globe Dye Works kitchen solidified the company. We are so lucky to be inside this great community, living and working in a little neighborhood.
Birchtree Catering Supper Club I Photograph by BG Productions
What was the inspiration behind the Supper Clubs?
Rasa had always wanted to do the supper club but we didn’t know what it was going to be. At the worst possible time, right before a giant wedding season and while I was eight months pregnant, that was when we decided to do the first supper club. It was meant to be a way to showcase ourselves in a way that was not dictated by any clients. It also helped to highlight the vendors we like to work with. The first year, we did it every month, which was difficult and tiring. Each supper club showcases a different venue, vendor, planning, paper goods, rentals, and flowers every time. We always have a professional photographer and rely heavily on the images from the supper clubs for marketing. We do it now as the mood strikes and opportunities come up and we've started using supper clubs to highlight causes we love.
What has been your favorite one so far?
Every single Supper Club is our favorite but the first one at the Maas Building in Fishtown will always be special. It was a magical night with magical weather. The second one at Greensgrow Farms my best friend was visiting from Hawaii. That was a beautiful one. Since then, they’ve all just been awesome. We're trying to control how big they are getting, which in a way is great, but they're losing their intimacy which is a part of what makes them so wonderful. A conversation with strangers is part of the magic. But they are really taking off; we sold tickets to the New Century Trust supper club faster than ever before.
What does leadership look like in your workplace?
Rasa and I are the majority of the management and very much in charge of overseeing everything that is going on. After that, it becomes very specific to each person's role. In the office, the management is entirely made up of women; the kitchen workers are mostly male. Mutual respect, communicating ideas, and a willingness to talk is a big part of what makes things work well. We put an emphasis on niceness in an industry that is not necessarily known for being nice. Catering is hard and demanding work that tends to be focused on the bottom line and not employee happiness. At Birchtree, we’re focused on happiness for the whole team that we feel carries through to the events.
What is your favorite thing about your workplace?
For sure it's the people; I just love my staff so much. They keep me totally energized and everyone is awesome. It's a good vibe, we’re all pretty close, even though the kitchen is separate from the office by a couple of floors, we feel really connected. Our office is really awesome as well. The kitchen is in the basement level and the office is in the old Rival Bros space, full of brick and natural light.
What is the tool/object/ritual in your workplace you could not live without?
Our coffee maker, we love our coffee maker. Our newest one was a gift from one of our employees and we all drink a lot of coffee. The preferred brand is Folgers because we can buy it in bulk. But after event, we get the local leftovers - Philly Fair Trade Roasters, ReAnimator, and Rival Bros.
What woman has been your biggest inspiration?
My sister Martha Grace who runs the Circle Thrift store through Circle of Hope church. She and I have had the best conversations about business, employee management, and cash flow. She was the one who got me to realize that I’m running the show. If I need to start paying myself, if I need something from the business, I can ask for it.