Meet Jann Robinson, Owner of Backstage Catering Company
Jann Robinson is a dynamo entrepreneur with a big smile and an even bigger laugh. She is also a widow with six children. Jann and her late husband, Dave, started Backstage Catering Company in Birmingham, AL in 1995. At that time they had no children, Dave a contractor, and Jann a home-maker. But their shared love of food and preparing it just right won out. “Food was our shared passion. We enjoyed every aspect of it, and doing it together,” exclaimed Jann.
Although it wasn’t the proverbial piece of cake, Backstage was a hit early on. They specialized in catering to entertainers who visited the South, serving their own style of Southern Hospitality.
Customer service is standard for Backstage. It is the desire to offer exceptional customer service, which lead to the growing Thanksgiving Dinner catering of the Robinsons. Since 1997, had Dave offered Fried Turkeys, with his own special recipe in their home town. In 2000, many customers at their new restaurant asked about the possibilities of a catered meal with his famous Fried Turkey. Several customers were Baby Boomers caring for mom or dad, who had always hosted the family and prepared the holiday feast, but now had little time to prepare a holiday meal. Some were newly-weds or new moms desiring to “host” the family, but little knowledge of holiday meal planning. Dave and Jann prepared a menu of holiday favorites; ready for the oven, to welcome guests with the scents of the season as they entered the home. Helping their customers enjoy the holiday without the work, brought delight to the Robinsons. A great new business and many referrals were the result of offering customer service.
In 2005, Dave became ill. After trial and error diagnoses and treatments, doctors finally found the problem: Lymphoma. The prognosis was grim. One of Dave’s last wishes was for Jann to be financially secure, and although Backstage was doing well, Dave was concerned about whether Jann, who was then pregnant with child number six, could keep up the pace without his help, and still raise their beautiful children in the way they had planned. He smiled and said, “I’m proud of you, and you know just what to do.”
So, at age 32, Jann Robinson became the sole owner of Backstage Catering and the mother of six, ages 12 to “on the way”. Central to Jann’s every decision was the need to provide for her family. Once the baby arrived, she hit the ground, caring for the six, and networking in order to keep her business before the community.
True to her passion, and the heart of her late husband, Jann has continued, despite her daily challenges to Pay It Forward. Dave was always supportive of Jann’s community involvement; he saw that it brought joy to her heart. Dave, the designated babysitter, also saw it as the family’s way of giving back to the community which was supportive of their business. Jann speaks to students about their least favorite foods, cooking, and careers in the food industry. In 2009, Jann began to host a weekly radio show, BodyLove, a radio drama and talk show which speaks to health issues, and encourages healthy lifestyles, including one’s diet and meal planning. Jann’s greatest delight comes when she speaks to an audience on diet, lifestyle changes, and the challenges of proper menu planning for optimal health. Although they ate well, Jann learned what foods were important to sustain Dave’s health and vitality while receiving his chemotherapy treatments. Jann shares how simple changes in their diet gave him strength, and also helped her maintain great health while pregnant with Ephraim. The audiences marvel at her strength and her waistline as the mother of six.
Jann has found that her business success is, “in the doing.” Jann believes that what you do daily in your business builds the rewards of client loyalty, respect of the competition, and TOMA (top-of-mind awareness) for your business’ growth. Daily, Jann uses social networking tools such as facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, to keep Backstage on the minds of potential customers. Jann says, “It’s not if they’ll need catering, but when, and I want to be the first name on their lips.” Networking events and sitters for the children are also a part of Jann’s weekly agenda. Chamber events, and association meetings round out Jann’s’ plan for marketing Backstage Catering Company in her community. Jann attends at least five events monthly, arriving early, when the news media and others are present for guest interviews and photo ops. Jann is always ready to smile.
Jann’s business model is simple: serve delicious and healthy southern food, and serve plenty of it! At the same time, Jann knows she has to somehow be the caterer of choice in a down market and Jann truly sells herself. She has at times even streaked her hair pink to add that touch of flair that people will remember. Jann’s’ unique presentation is indeed part of her business model. She is tall, beautiful, has great spiky hair, has an incredibly style in her dress (no one would ever believe she is the mother of six!), and her personality always wins people over. Indeed, Jann is now looking at ways to take her love of cooking to new mediums – television, radio, and demonstrations – any venue where her style and presentation can win the day.
Fortunately, Jann believes in herself, and is a master networker. Serving in the Junior League of Birmingham and on the board of a local non-profit, gives her access to a wide variety of potential customers and word-of-mouth advertisers. Jann has been able to increase and diversify her business.
Jann’s cheerful, positive optimism has amazed her friends as they watched her take the reins of her life firmly in hand after Dave’s death. “Jann is working hard to make Backstage Catering a top of mind business, and to brand herself as well. I think she may be Birmingham’s answer to Paula Deen!” says a friend.
For more information visit Backstage Catering Company online at www.backstagecateringcompany.com or www.linkedin.com/jannrobinson