Most toddlers are content to make mud pies; but when Deborah Lowery was 3, she preferred to help her grandmother hand-roll meatballs. That homespun heritage is the main ingredient at Ladyfingers Catering, which recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary.
“I feel strongly about keeping the homemade quality of our food; it’s more important than the bottom line,” she said. “I can’t imagine ever changing that.”
Born on Long Island, N.Y., Lowery inherited her love of cooking from generations of Italian restaurateurs, bakers, maître d’s and waiters, with an extra dash of flavor from the Russian-Jewish side of her family.
“My dad (the late Nick Salvatore) broke that mold when he became a veterinarian,” she said. “We moved to Kentucky in the 1970s so he could be a horse doctor. He worked at Churchill Downs for many years.”
As for Lowery, she studied commercial art and advertising at Jefferson Community College and the University of Louisville, but soon found that “the opportunities were in what I already knew, not in what I was studying, so I stuck with the restaurant industry.” She developed her managerial skills at establishments ranging from Sizzler steakhouses to the Seelbach Hotel before going out on her own in the late 1980s.
“If I was going to work 80 hours a week, I should do it for myself,” she said. “For about two years, I had La Rosa Bakery in Holiday Manor. We cooked in a brick oven that my grandfather built.”
When customers kept asking her to cater their parties, she closed La Rosa and opened Ladyfingers. The business now has about 37 full-time employees (including Martin Baugh, executive chef and master baker) and more than 100 “weekend warriors” who pitch in when needed; many are former employees who still want to help at big events. Opportunities abound, from Barnstable-Brown celebrity parties to Thunder Over Louisville festivities with 7,000 hungry guests.
“Big galas are challenging. We might be on a cliff, serving 1,200 people in a monsoon,” she said. “We cook on-site, with grills, fryers and other equipment – we don’t have food sitting in warming boxes for hours. That’s a major achievement that sets us apart from some other caterers.”
Purveyor of Kentucky Proud foods, Ladyfingers looks for ways to show off the commonwealth’s culinary delights. Dishes such as beef tenderloin are smoked over bourbon-barrel staves from distilleries.
Lowery keeps her staff current on taste trends by taking them on trips. Last year, they learned Cajun recipes in New Orleans, and they’ve studied under celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in Manhattan. They’re looking forward to visiting Guy Fieri in California’s wine country.
Ladyfingers has added a Gourmet To Go line, with items ready for pick-up in 24 hours (longer for holidays). Customers may bring their own serving dishes to be filled. Ladyfingers also can deliver the food in unmarked vehicles if the hostess wants to play “I cooked it myself.”
Such services keep Ladyfingers in demand, but Lowery doesn’t aspire to having the state’s largest catering center.
“I like having a friendly competition with my peers,” she said. “Some of them have been in business much longer than I have, and I respect them. That’s a positive way to run a company – and there’s still plenty of business out there for all of us.”
Ladyfingers Catering is located at 12901 Old Henry Business Park. For information, visit www.ladyfingersinc.com or call 502.245.7734.
Category: Business Profile