Chyna Pace never dreamed of getting into the catering business. In 2012, Pace lost her job at an herbalist's office—and, as a new mother, was left unsure of how to make ends meet. She recalls living month-to-month, worrying about how to pay rent or a car payment. That's when her mom offered a suggestion she'll never forget.
"You love to cook," Pace remembers her mom saying. "Why don't you go around town and sell some plates, and see what happens? You've got nothing to lose."
The suggestion made her uneasy. Scared of rejection, she was hesitant to turn her skills in the kitchen into a business. Then, a family friend offered to match the $100 she had to her name. "This is all I have in my pocket," Pace recalls the friend saying. "I was so honored. I took that, and I knew what I had to do."
Starting with one dish—chicken Alfredo—the business grew rapidly. Within a couple of weeks, Pace was in full hustle mode. What started with five to 10 plates—sold mostly at local beauty salons—quickly garnered inquiries about how much she'd charge for regular catering. Thus, her Instagram, @_a_little_taste_of_chyna was born. On her social media, she started to post the recipes she'd be making during the week to collect orders.
"I got up to a point where I was selling 50 different plates in one day," she says, explaining that her most popular dishes included shrimp and lobster, chili, and chicken enchiladas. "I had been trying to keep the food affordable, so the pricing started at $10. After about a year or so, I went up with my prices, with offerings between $12 and $25."
In 2015, Pace started her catering business, and that's when everything really changed. Bigger opportunities popped up, from local weddings to bashes like Prince Jackson's graduation. But even though on the surface she appeared to be swinging from win to win, imposter syndrome slowly crept in.
"I felt overwhelmed. I was so excited because I was a huge Michael Jackson fan," she says. "But I didn't have a ton of experience in the business, and I never went to culinary school. I remember Joe Jackson came into the kitchen when I felt as if I was at my breaking point, surrounded by my staff of 17 hired helpers, and told us how great the food was. I snapped back into the swing of things, that was a huge moment for me."
Today, Pace doesn't worry about living month to month like she once did. What started out as a $75,000 to $85,000 business in 2015 has grown immensely; Pace now sells one-off products like garlic butter, detox waters, and healthy meal delivery services. All of these ventures have enabled her—for the first time in her life—to have a healthy savings account with funds for her daughter, Chloe, to use for college one day.
"These days, my mindset is so different. You only live once, so we owe it to ourselves to work hard so we can have the things we really want. I want Chloe to experience the world, and I want to do it with her. I'm not super-rich or anything, but this business helps me do that," she says.
Inspired by Pace's entrepreneurial journey? So are we. Here, she offers up her top tips for female founders looking to grow a business of their own:
Nothing happens overnight.
For Pace, the first few years were the hardest. "It's not going to be an easy road," she says. "You're going to have days that you don't have all that much money in the bank. Keep working and believe in the process."
Make time for self-care.
If you don't take care of yourself, then you won't be able to show up for your business. These days, Pace looks forward to the occasional spa trip for a little mental health TLC. "You need to include time for you in the way that you plan your week," she explains.
There are new concepts that hit the market every single day. "Somebody could come right up under you that's doing the same thing," she says. "So you have to stay inventing. Create new things and stay hungry for the next goal."
Pace reiterates: It's not a competition with other people. Rather, when you think of business as a constant competition with yourself, you'll be more motivated to grow and stand out in your community and beyond.
It's easy to find the cheapest or fastest solution, especially when things aren't going as planned. But if you want things to go well, you are going to have to invest and aim for quality over quantity. "If you're going to buy products, don't buy something because it's cheap," she says. "Even if you do have to spend a decent amount of money, do it right the first time because it'll cost you more money to go back and try to fix where you cut corners."
Find time for family.
As an entrepreneur, Pace really appreciates the flexibility that she has in her schedule now to show up to things like school events for her daughter. But when others are spending all of their time with loved ones during the holidays, Pace gets down to business, literally. She works hard to achieve balance and suggests that other business owners do the same.
"I've made sure that my family knows that I want to be there, and I am as much as I can be," she says, adding that she loves combining her work with family as well. "I love showing my daughter more responsibility, especially when she's with me in the kitchen or on a job. It's a great way for her to develop great manners and people skills."