On Pushing Forward: Chef JRodi of 3 Small Plates Catering

this spring, our theme is: synergy.

It’s time to invest in relationships, projects and people that will help us grow. It’s time to create a little synergy.

synergy (n.): the benefit that results when two or more agents work together to achieve something either one couldn't have achieved on its own.

It's the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. In life, at work and in our communities, synergy is that space where the magic happens—where things fall into place, values align and our ideas find a home.

So, what does professional and personal synergy look like? How do we reject cultures of comparison and approach collaboration? How do we protect our own energy as we navigate opportunities, success and failures? This Spring, our programs will serve as a moment to hear from and amplify women and nonbinary leaders in our community who create synergy through their work.

As we prepare for craftHER Market Spring ‘19, we’re interviewing some of this market’s featured makers to learn more about their businesses and the ways in which they create synergy through their work. Read on for a peek into their process.

About today’s featured maker:

Chef JRodi (Jen) is the founder of 3 small plates LLC, a contemporary tapas catering company specializing in quaint, intimate parties of 40 people (more) or less. Drawing on her European travels, Spain and Germany residences, family heritage along with a culturally-diverse group of friends and the love of food, Chef Jrodi cultivates one-of-a-kind flavors and dishes for guests to experience the artistry of Europe without leaving the their residence or venue. Click here to learn more.

Q: How did you get started?

At 14, I traveled to London, Spain and Amsterdam with my father on business, I was so enamored with the culture and food that I determined one day I would live there, too. Fourteen years later, my husband and I lived and worked in Spain (at the time, I was a journalist).

When I returned to the U.S., I knew I wanted others around me to essentially experience Europe through food like me. When you taste something, I believe it should transcend you to that place or time. So, 3 small plates LLC—a culinary voyage via your palate, one plate at a time—was born 2012.

But, my passion for entertaining and love of cooking didn’t become a full-time venture until 2014, after I retired my pen and paper, and picked up an apron and knife. Today, I draw from my European travels and residences along with a culturally diverse group of friends and the love of food, to cultivate one-of-kind flavors and dishes for clients to experience the artistry of Europe without leaving the comfort of their home or venue.

Q: what does 3 small plates look like today?

We are a mobile catering service. We prepare our dishes from the Cook’s Nook, an incubator kitchen, and transport it to the final destination. We are a four-person crew with chef, sous chef and two assistants. For larger events, we pull in additional help. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a plethora of food entrepreneurs who are willing to help us when needed.

Our clients are corporate offices, private affairs, special celebrations, demos, pop-ups. We primarily sell in person for personal, corporate, organization or private events. Occasionally, we host demos or events, and will be participating in a R.O.S.E.S Celebrations of Sisterhood Pop-up, March 30.

(craftHER is our first market, and we can’t wait.)

Q: How do you approach collaboration within your work? When and where do you collaborate on making products?

I approach collaboration, openly. I want to know what others think. Often collaboration occurs within the Cook’s Nook Kitchen within my team or other entrepreneurs. In the kitchen, we taste each other’s products to offer suggestions of what works, doesn’t or have you considered this?

Additionally, I collaborate with my crew, specifically my sous chef. We work very closely together while reviewing the menu of the day. We look at textures, uniformity of ingredients and how it’s presented. He’s my right-hand man, and he knows the brand and how we present food to our guests.

Additionally, I’ve collaborated with the Taste of Black Austin team of African-American chefs presented by the Greater Austin Black Chamber. Together, we develop the event menu, (last year was farm-to-table) and donate our culinary skills for two-nonstop days of cooking to present dishes to more than 150 Austin community members. It’s a night of camaraderie among culinary peers, and the growing of lasting friendships. We follow each on social media, converse and give accolades throughout the year.

Q: How do you balance the creative side and the business side of your work?

Those sides fight all the time. I would rather be creative 95.5 percent of the day, but that’s not the case. I struggle as I’m sure many of us do. On a school field-trip to the zoo, there was a polar bear in a small cage, walking from side to side, shaking its head. I could never imagine why a polar bear would be in Texas. It’s entirely too hot here. But, that’s often the way I feel about the business side of work, pacing from side-to-side, shaking my head—why, why, why?

To be successful, the business side is an integral part of the process. So, I buckled down, stopped pacing and did the work. I compile a list in my phone of the to-do items for the day or week. Each time, I accomplish a task, I place an ‘x’ beside it. I don’t explain the steps, when I started, who I talked to—just that it’s accomplished. Then I reward myself with a creative project. After a while, I couldn’t tell what was the creative side or the business side, it just became business to me—and I love my business!

q: What resources have helped you grow your business? What resources do you need more of?

Having a mentor is a plus, as well as having fellow entrepreneurs to connect with. Though our businesses and products may be different, we still face similar challenges and it’s helpful to talk over the how-tos of having a business.

When I first began, I attend a Women’s Entrepreneur Potluck with Joi Chevalier of the Cook’s Nook. The only prerequisite was to bring a dish to share with everyone. Women entrepreneurs from all types of businesses attended. We sat around a large, round table, introduced ourselves told about our businesses and then presented our ‘Ask’ for the day. The ‘Ask’ was any question to help our business, i.e. labeling, obtaining best ingredients, marketing, taking your product to shelf, market, pitching, you name it.

I remember how invigorated I felt, leaving the meeting. It was like “I can do this! I got this! I can conquer the world! Oh, it’s so on right now!

The same is true of Rising Tide Society, a group of women entrepreneurs who meet once a month to discuss topics, such as social media, branding, software, finances, building blocks. It’s also a good time to collaborate with some of the women there, many of whom are photographers and artists.

q: How do you handle perceived failures within your work?

I talk it out with my husband or a fellow entrepreneur to determine if my reactions to the perceived failure was rational or if I went off the deep end. But with each so-called failure there’s a plus, I use it as a learning tool to see how to execute the situation better if it repeats itself. I review the situation and see where I could have done it differently, and the steps to take to get back on track. Failure isn’t a bad thing—it’s a learning tool and a pathway to future success. Besides, I journal a lot—the stories my journals could tell.

q: What makes a good leader?

A good leader wears many hats. Some days I’m the head, other days I’m a follower. Either day, I’m right besides, working along with the team. It’s important as a leader to know all roles of the company. Earlier in the business I did every, single job, and some days, I still do. But, it’s all in the growing process.

A good leader is also a team-builder. One of my roles is to build a cohesive team, train them better than me for them to succeed. At the same time, a leader knows when to take the reins off. I often encourage my crew to develop a dish to add to the menu. Oftentimes in the kitchen, if I step away from the prep/plating area, and return, I’ll hear, ‘we made a command decision.’ And then they’ll describe what they did, and ask if it’s okay?

I try to give this emotionless, stern persona, but I’m a cut-up. I’ll commend them for thinking outside of the box, and determining if the final prep/plate lines up with our brand. I want them to have an active voice. We’re a team, we have to be on the same page. After all, they’re looking to me for guidance and direction, and some days I have so much on my plate, it’s nice to know that for today, someone else has my back. Today, he is the leader, while I follow.

q: What do you wish you knew before starting your own business?

Be more patient in the process, everything takes time and effort. Be resilient but patient. Because in the catering business there is a lot of zig-zag, highs and lows, and I have to keep pushing, moving even when I don’t see the path. I have to trust and believe there is a path beneath my feet guiding me in the right direction, even if I can’t physically touch it. Be patient. Be resilient. Believe!

Would you like to meet Chef JRodi in-person? Come out to craftHER Market on April 14, 2019 at Fair Market and stop by her booth. Click here to learn more.