While most small business owners wanna’ make it big, Sally Kaiser of Palate Pleasers in Eastport is fighting to keep her catering business small.
“So many people want us to move to a bigger place,” Sally says. “But a bigger place would mean we would have to hire more people. And a bigger staff would mean a higher chance of having people who don’t really want to be here. Right now, the people who work here really take pride in what they do. I like being small and offering good quality.”
Unfortunately for Sally, her loyal customers are her biggest enemy. They can’t keep their mouths shut. The hosts of the first wedding she catered more than 24 years ago still send people her way.
“I started the business throwing parties for people I knew,” she says. “Now I don’t know most of my customers and yet all of them came to me through word of mouth.”
Sally is, of course, grateful for her customers’ loyalty. So grateful, she will occasionally break her rule of catering only small parties ranging from two to 300 people to catering big ones for an especially deserving customer.
“We once catered a party of 700 for one customer’s 60th birthday,” Sally says.
The key to throwing a great party is to have a theme, according to Sally. A theme makes the party more personal because it often says something about the host. More importantly, a theme makes the party more fun. “Good music is key,” she says.
“We’ve had all kinds of parties,” Sally says. “We’ve had Italian, Swedish, Thai – you name it. Cuban parties have been our fun thing lately. The music is so great and we serve tapas, which is casual, but features really good food.”
One of Sally’s favorite parties was the wedding party of Kelby and Rhiannon Gelston. Rhiannon, who grew up down the street from the Kaisers in Murray Hill, wanted a fun and casual wedding to reflect the attitude of Annapolis in the summertime. Together, they came up with a Mexican theme that featured the couple’s favorite type of food in the relaxed atmosphere they desired.
When the couple left the church, a mariachi band was playing outside. Guests then joined the couple for a parade from the church to the family’s home with the band playing the whole way.
“A cooler full of Coronas and a wagon full of flip flops and parasols for the bridesmaids met us en route,” Rhiannon says. “Sally really helped make our dream wedding come true, taking into consideration who Kelby and I are and making sure our wedding reflected that.”
Sally says she likes her parties to have a casual feel that looks elegant.“I’m very into the visual aspect, but you don’t want people to feel they have to dress up,” she says. “You also don’t want to invite stuffy people.”
She learned how to throw parties from her mother, a homemaker and the wife of the commercial attachÈ to the American Embassy in Sweden.
After spending her childhood in Bethesda, Sally and her family moved to Sweden when she was 16 years old. While there, her mother threw many parties that Sally would attend. And when she wasn’t attending her own family’s parties, she was going to others thrown by her friends’ families.
“The teenagers would invite their friends over to their house for these amazing sit- down parties,” she remembers. “Children were treated much more like adults there than here in the United States. I still can’t believe those adults would throw their children such elaborate parties.”
When Sally wasn’t attending dinner parties, she was in the kitchen cooking baked goods for her family. Despite her success in the culinary field, she has never had formal training. In fact, her degree from the University of Maryland is in English.“I’ve just always loved to cook,” she says.
After college, Sally got a job as a technical writer in a research firm where she met and immediately fell in love with a co-worker and scientist named Michael Kaiser.
“We wanted to get married the first week we started dating, but my mother said she couldn’t possibly organize a wedding that fast—she needed at least two months,” Sally says. “It was just like they say—when you know, you know. We just knew.”
After their wedding, the couple lived in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and had a little girl named Amy. The area was perfect for Michael because it had no streetlights to hamper the view from his telescopes. When the streetlights finally did come, the couple promptly left, landing in Annapolis’ Murray Hill neighborhood. Once again, for Sally it was love at first sight.
The couple had another child, Michael, and when young Michael began to make his daily trek down to Annapolis Elementary School on Green Street, Sally says she was left feeling very lonely. To feel better, she began to cook and then to cater. Twenty-five years later, it is still her favorite way to cheer herself up.
“If I’m in a down mood, I always feel better if I go to work,” says Sally, who catered from home for 10 years before moving to the Eastport Shopping Center 15 years ago. “The people I work with really like what they do. It’s not the way to make yourself a fortune, but it is a way to please yourself.”
In addition, the staff, which includes Sally’s daughter and son-in-law Amy and Eric Daniels, is very organized. So there is not as much of the stress there is in most restaurant establishments, even on weekends when they are catering eight to ten parties.
“People who start working here can’t believe how happy the staff is,” she says. “The people are just not that stressed; therefore we are able to attract and keep very good servers. People are always complimenting our servers.”
The joviality of her servers is especially appreciated on the many charter boat parties they cater. Palate Pleasers is the exclusive caterer for the Woodwind, recently featured in the movie Wedding Crashers.
Sally says she can’t see herself retiring any time soon, because she loves what she does. “My son always asks me, ‘How can you can care about every party after all these years?’” she says. “But my staff and I wouldn’t enjoy our work if we didn’t. We care about every single detail because we take pride in every single detail.”