Founder, Tasty Thoughts, LLC.
Cristina Verger always loved the hospitality industry. But this daughter and granddaughter of Italian hoteliers was nonetheless urged by her mother, who had experienced this exhausting career firsthand, to pursue investment banking and real estate development. Cristina dutifully did until she followed her heart to the catering department of the Saint Moritz Hotel in New York City, taking a small secretarial job and a big pay cut. But in the words of her previous boss, “when you find what you want to do, you will be a star,” and he was right. Cristina soon became the Director of Catering for the Helmsley Hotel Group. She later held the same position at Windows on the World, generating 20 million in sales. After that she raised The Harvard Club’s dining revenue from 1.5 million to 8 million, eventually leaving in 1999 to start her own event planning business, Tasty Thoughts, LLC.
Cristina has weathered many dramas over the years: a woman’s hair caught on fire at a wedding; an angry chef threw not only a tantrum but sharp knives. But through blackouts and floods, (literally hell and high-water) Cristina has always single-mindedly moved forward. Cristina’s dream is to own a hotel. Hardly a small goal but as they say in the business, “reservations?” Cristina will happily tell you, “no.”
What we learned from Cristina: Things are going to go wrong. So do your homework in advance. You’ll be well prepared to react to whatever happens instead of being caught off guard.
Banking vs. Banquets
My mother didn’t want me to go into the hotel business. She knew, after owning her own hotel in Italy like her mother and grandmother before her that the owner could never leave. It is an all-consuming life. I tried to take another path but it’s my passion. I knew it in my heart.
Rock the boat, baby
In general, people are afraid of change. I’m not; I look for it. It’s the only way to raise the bar and reach the next level. Really pushing yourself is hard work. When people are comfortable in their jobs, they don’t see how making their lives more difficult will lead to success. Why rock the boat? But if you ever want to be successful, you’ve got to rock the boat.
After taking a secretarial job with The Helmsley Hotels I worked my way up quickly. It was intense work, grueling at times. Out of all the top restaurants in the city – Rainbow Room, Tavern on the Green, the big ones – I was not only the youngest Director of Catering when I worked for Windows on the World, I was also the only woman. The same was true when I worked at the Harvard Club of NYC, an institution that had only started admitting female members in 1973. I met with tremendous resistance from management. But when I increased their revenues from 1.5 million to 8 million, what were they going to do? They had to give me credit.
She Who Hesitates…
My husband didn’t understand why I was hesitating to start my own business. In his mind it was what I’d always wanted, so why not? He kept asking me, “what’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work out? So you do something else.” I realized he was right and I stopped fighting myself.
Ready, Set, Struggle
I couldn’t start my own business while working for someone else at the same time so I quit my job. I had to jump in head first, giving 100%. I knew that if I was going to be successful, psychologically I had to put all of me into it. I was prepared to struggle. When you’re starting a business you’re going to suffer at times. But the wonderful rewards are worth every gray hair. I’ve never looked back.
A Toast to Tasty Thoughts
I started my own company, Tasty Thoughts, in 2000, specializing in event design, wedding planning and catering services. But even though I knew my craft, entrepreneurship is a very different ball game. It’s always a risk. Just because I knew my industry and had years of experience working for other people didn’t mean I could run a business. I didn’t have a whole team behind me. I had to come up with my own, creative ways to succeed.
The Customer is Not Always Right
People will say to me, “I want my wedding in a castle.” Now, there are lots of castles and I can find them one. But the trick is determining if what they’re really after is Scottish food or troubadours at the reception. I’m very good at reading between the lines. If at the end of the night they’re happy, I’ve done my job.
All In Good Time
I don’t let myself get overwhelmed. If I don’t stay calm I’m going to be in, well I don’t like to be vulgar, in a big mess! There’s no difference between organizing an event for 6 people or 600. Every gathering requires advanced planning and carefully coordinated table settings, flowers, food and drink. It’s all in the details.
This Featured Lady was profiled by Ladies Who Launch Associate Editor Susie Lacey.