Women of The Wedding Industry Wednesday, Cammie Buehler of Epicure Catering and Cherry Basket Farm
It would be so weird to start this blog series with anyone but CAMMIE BUEHLER. Cam. Camdam. Damn, Cam!
She's the legend. The myth. The gold standard for the hospitality industry. I wouldn't be here, doing this wedding planner thing if it wasn't for my summer job last year with Epicure Catering and Cherry Basket Farm.
The kitchen at Cherry Basket Farm. Photo Courtesy of The Weber Photographers
In 2017 I was newly unemployed, having lost the funding for my position with the National Park Service and had just bought a house in the most beautiful place in the world, Northern Michigan. I started following Epicure Catering and Cherry Basket Farm on Instagram after reading out them in a local story sometime in 2016. In the spring, they shared a Now Hiring post for their 2017 season and I was in like flynn.
Well not quite.
We still had to interview and attend a training session at the 100 year old barn that spring. I'll admit, it was unlike any other service job I had ever walked into. I thought we'd casually banter and maybe talk about how to properly pronounce beef bourguignon and be on our merry way.
There was a workbook. There were diagrams. There was an intense review of how and why Epicure Catering is able to maintain high standards throughout the season, and why in turn they are sought out for beautiful, laid-back luxurious events in the heart of Leelanau County. There were ties and starched white button down shirts. There were new, custom, unique menus and food pairings for every event that needed to be memorized.
So, Epicure Catering is unlike any other service job I've ever had. Because they do events unlike anyone in the region. For starters, they were developing regional farm to table fare long before the words were a part of our national dialogue. They are going into the start of their 17th season in business this year, and have an esteemed reputation along with a fiercely loyal team who return year after year, often bringing friends and family members with them.
And they have Cammie. Many of us say we wish we had a Cammie running our business.
We had so much fun that summer. I sort of learned how to tie my own tie. We went super hard for every event and in turn, I saw some of the most beautiful weddings from behind the scenes. We laughed with our feet up in the back firepit area and drank shift drinks to the sounds of midnight. We ate so good and took leftovers home to lovers and I ate Epicure Brunch Boxes on Sundays on my porch bone tired. I slept out in my car over Labor Day Weekend and worked the entire weekend with them and enjoyed every minute.
I had plans after I lost my job to start my own business, and knew it would be in the creative industry where I wanted to grow, or the hospitality/service industry where I was most comfortable. And after that summer I knew I wanted in on it. To be a part of creating some of this wedding magic that I saw on the weekends, and help couples see why choosing vendors like Epicure Catering would be so, so worth it.
I definitely look forward to the day when I have the opportunity to serve a great couple and match them up with Cherry Basket Farm and Epicure Catering, and until then I fangirl Cammie hard, work some catering events with Epicure when I can, and spring wild ideas for events on Cammie to see if she's down.
But enough wait, here she is. Cammie Buehler. Sultan of the seating set up. Maven of ambiance. Logistics qween. Event sherpa.
Photo courtesy of The Weber Photographers
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in the 'Nati.
What brought you to Michigan?
I'm a 5th generation summer kid from Omena. My parents moved here full time when I was 17, so this became home at that point.
What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?
"Follow Your Dreams". That is such malarkey! I love dreaming but that is simply not enough advice to be actionable, and I'm a pragmatist. One needs to be ambitious, open minded, and willing to fail. One must also teach oneself how to interact with all types of people if this skill doesn't come naturally. Unless you are brilliant, which most of us aren't, you'll need a lot of help along the way.
Who is someone you want to eat dinner with?
Because I've lived all over the place, my friends and family are spread out all over the country and beyond. I want to eat dinner with them. If we are talking about anyone, anyone at all...it would be Julia Child (RIP).
What inspired a love of food and the hospitality industry?
The honest answer is that I love to eat. All the women in my family also love to eat and subsequently learned how to cook so they could make all the tasty things. My first job was in the food industry and it became apparent to me very quickly that it was a vast world and one I wouldn't tire of over time. And the people! Restaurant people are the best people.
What contributed to you having the courage to start a business at 27 years old, and what was the first year like?
You are sweet to think I had courage, I didn't. What I had was naiveté. Epicure wasn't actually my first business. When I lived in Tahoe I owned a landscaping and irrigation company with my ex boyfriend. We were both in the snow sports industry and wanted a gig that would get us through between winters. That proved to be too challenging for our relationship and I ended up coming back for "one summer" to help Andy with the catering business he started, which of course became Epicure. The first few years were hellacious to be honest, for many reasons, but I knew there was merit there. I was still my own boss and had winters free to work in snowier climes. Incidentally, my ex and I are great friends and the landscape business is still thriving.
Talk about being an entrepreneur before social media, what did marketing and getting jobs in a small community in Northern Michigan look like?
Great question and thank you for reminding me of those halcyon days before digital everything...talk about a daydream! It was all word of mouth, meeting people and accepting jobs that weren't necessarily lucrative but put us in front of potential clients. There was a lot of working for free to prove our worth, and things took off from there.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Leelanau
County since you started?
An influx of activity and tourism but sadly economic viability and sustainability has not accompanied this boom. I could go in deep here but I'll spare you.
Favorite part of the wedding day?
Hmm, tough one. As a morning person, I like the quiet time at the farm when I'm setting up and no one is there. As a kitchen person, I like the moment when I'm finished expediting and all the entrees have gone out without a hitch. As someone who is exhausted all the time, I like the end of the event, and the accompanying satisfaction in knowing we did a good job, the clients are happy and sleep is right around the corner.
You have had the same partner, a dude named Andy for seventeen years. What’s it like to work with a friend, and how do you make it work each season?
It's been tough, I'm not going to lie. Andy and I have had different goals and communication styles at different points in our maturation as individuals and business owners. We've had some fights, like whoa. We've travelled all over together and had some fabulous adventures and mishaps. I learned with the landscaping business that these things are not worth losing people. There will be other jobs and other ways to make money. Friendships, though, those are gold. Those are rare. Those are to be valued above all else. The friendship between Andy and me is paramount to the whole thing functioning as long as it has and as well as it has.
A world without bacon or a world without chocolate?
Bacon, full stop.
What are three things you do in the winter that you try not to feel guilty about?
I went to Catholic school for 14 years so I'm all set on guilt. I am mindful about not letting that emotion creep into my consciousness, but we all feel it, amiright? If I had to pick one thing, I try not to feel guilty about being selfish with my time. Summer takes it out of me in every way and when winter comes around I want to be selfish with my time, deep chill and practice self care daily. Being accessible to friends is important to me, though, so that can be a struggle.
What is one compliment or something that someone has said to you that you hold onto?
Someone recently referred to me as an athlete. I was an athlete in my former life and I'm always working to get back to that place. It's where I find my best self, my most confident, on-point self. For someone to recognize that in me felt great.
There are undoubtedly difficult times as a business owner. What is a business mantra that you live by?
I don't have a specific one, really. I do the best job I possibly can for each client, for Andy, and for our team. That's all I can do.
What do you do too much of? What do you not do enough of?
Too much - computer time. Not enough - reading of books, riding of bikes and time on the water. You can never have too much time the water.
Have you been asked to do something you would never do again?
Yes, many things! People are nuts.
What’s something you didn’t understand at the beginning of your career that you do now?
Other people's anxiety is not my anxiety.
What are some of the qualities of your favorite couples to host or cook for?
Laid back. I like nice people, people without an agenda, people who can talk about all sorts of things, people who are kind from the depths of their heart.
Epicure Catering is known for exceptional food, service, and fine dining standards scaled for large events. What goes into a fine dining experience, and what makes the weddings that you cater stand out?
It's the team. They are everything and we are nothing without them. We are known for our ability to deliver a very detailed and nuanced level of service for high guest counts. That speaks to the proficiency of the team and to the workflow we have developed over the years.
Do you have a local or regional mentor that you have looked up to over the years?
Yes, absolutely. Alicia Fritz, who owns A Day in May Events. I have learned more from her about how to conduct myself, true accountability, client relations, networking, and just 'gettin' after it' than I could have ever imagined. She's a force and I feel so lucky to be able to work with her and by her side.
Do you have any goals you’d like to make happen in 2019?
Yes, I have the same ones every season - be the best possible boss and partner I can be, don't drop any balls and don't injure myself.
When Cammie's not hosting your wedding, she's throwing the most beautiful f***ing beach parties you've ever seen and hanging out with Ty and Walter the Dog.