Creating Joy

Joy Wallace, president and CEO of Miami-based Joy Wallace Catering & Design, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

A colorful rebrand marks the 30-year anniversary of Joy Wallace’s Miami-based catering and design company

By Sara Perez Webber

Joy Wallace has always loved throwing parties. “I love making people happy,” says Wallace, president and CEO of Miami-based Joy Wallace Catering & Design, celebrating its 30th anniversary. “I love food. I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces because we have made their dreams come true.”

Before becoming a caterer, Wallace pursued her passion by frequently entertaining at home. “My husband did not feel as ‘joyful’ as I did about throwing parties,” she quips. “When I found a handbook from Florida International University that showed me the way to get paid for parties that were not at our home, my husband was so excited for me to go back to school and get this degree, he went out to FIU and signed me up for classes with Professor Steven Moll, my mentor through all these years.”

Wallace landed a catering job in downtown Miami after graduating from FIU’s School of Hospitality, and seven years later launched her own catering company in 1988. “When asked what the name of my company was, I knew people would be looking for me, and I knew the list was alphabetical, so I told them it was A Joy Wallace Catering Production,” she says. “I was on my way.”

The newly formed company soon started catering for Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the historic Italianate villa that’s a sought-after venue for Miami weddings and other high-end events. In 2003, Joy Wallace became the in-house operator for Vizcaya’s café and gift shop, as well as its exclusive caterer for daytime events. Today Joy Wallace boasts more than 60 full-time employees, with Executive Chef Elgin Woodman leading the culinary team, and more than 150 part-time employees. The company works on more than 500 events annually, and its services include social and corporate catering, wedding design, floral and event design, contract services, and large-scale events, such as air-and-sea shows, and disaster relief catering and logistics.

To commemorate its milestone 30th anniversary, the company has dropped the once-advantageous “A” from its name. The newly rebranded Joy Wallace Catering & Design also boasts a new color scheme of mango and coral to accent its signature teal, injecting fresh, bold hues into its 25,000-square-foot Miami headquarters, logo and fleet of trucks. An anniversary party with clients, industry partners, friends and family featured the new Museum of Party concept, a catering-themed pop-up museum.

“We designed and created five unique rooms with trending themes, eye-catching color palettes, and incredibly out-of-the-box food and drink concepts,” explains Wallace. “From the moment you walked in, everything was a photo opportunity or had an interactive element to it. It was a party for your senses, from having a specific scent in each room to the corresponding design concepts that had our guests doing double (and triple) takes. We wanted to demonstrate how versatile our team is and to showcase several new items we are adding to our design inventory and new recipes we’re adding to our seasonal menus.” The company will recreate elements for clients who are interested, and have begun incorporating features from the Museum of Party—such as a prosecco wall and coco frio station—into their events.

Services offered by Joy Wallace include event and floral design.

Catering Magazine recently interviewed Wallace about her company’s 30-year legacy, the rebranding process, and her advice for others just beginning to pursue as a career their passion for entertaining.

CM: What characteristics define a Joy Wallace event?

Wallace: Integrity; we always do what we say we are going to do, providing the best the client could ask for. We understand the value of word-of-mouth in our community and even globally. Happy team; we work together as one united team, passionate about the job we are doing and understanding that each team member has a duty to help all other members succeed. Delicious food; never sacrifice the quality of the food for the price of the food. One can always feel secure that we are going to serve the best of food to all of our clients, who very wisely selected us to be their caterer. Beautiful atmosphere; we try to take their breath away as they walk into our events. This has always been extremely important to us. Attentive service; I teach our staff that eye contact is extremely important, smiles are their number-one most important tools, and to spoil our guests as if they are serving the Queen of England in their homes.

CM: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the catering industry in the last 30 years?

Wallace: Technology. People expect instant response to emails, texts, proposals, Instagram, and if you don’t get back to them immediately, they move on. The public follows you on your website and all of your postings on social media. If you are not constantly keeping up and refreshing it, you get lost in the shuffle. Word-of-mouth and doing a terrific job used to be all that we needed to grow. That still matters, but if you are not active on social media, people forget about you. This is an expense that your company must understand is necessary. Hire someone (aside from your already busy team) to manage it.

CM: Do you think Miami is different from other catering markets, and if so, what sets it apart?

Wallace: I do think Miami is a unique experience. People come to Miami expecting a party experience from the moment they arrive. The Latin culture is so much fun. Great music with passionate dancing, great Latin cuisine (my favorite being our executive chef’s Peruvian ceviche), beautiful people, bars and parties going all night, hot colors, hot clothing, sunshine and beautiful beaches.

CM: How do you infuse your cuisine and design with a local South Florida flair?

Wallace: The South Florida clientele is quite diverse. We have out-of-town corporate and social clients who come to Miami as a destination and want to experience the local flair. We also have the locals, who are looking for high-end and trendy. As a Miami caterer, you have to be able to satisfy all their needs. It used to be that Miami was automatically paired with Cuban cuisine and Cuban cuisine only. I believe that the demographic and cuisine has expanded tremendously since then. It is still heavy Latin cuisine but a broader variety.

Miami has also become a hub for affluent people from all over the world, and the Miami culinary scene has stepped up to the plate. We serve all ranges of food and cuisines, but when clients come here and ask for Miami flair, we see that as upscale Latin food, or Latin food with a fun twist. [Examples from the menus of Executive Chef Elgin Woodman, a native of Peru, include arepa sliders passed in hawker trays, octopus and causa push-pops, giant tostones with guests’ choice of toppings and a make-your-own ceviche ice station.]

South Florida is a melting pot of amazing color, culture and fashion, so you do not need to look far for inspiration. We use a lot of tropical leaf and tropical flowers in our floral décor, and draw from the abundance of interior trends and iconic locations in our area. We have created in our collection bongo high-top tables for Havana Nights parties, interior-style bars for events in the Design District, and palm leaf-covered walls as focal backdrops for stages and bars. We are very lucky to have access to amazing floral varieties in South Florida, so the sky is the limit for the fun and beautiful arrangements we are known for.

Executive Chef Elgin Woodman’s upscale Latin-influenced menu includes braised oxtail on arepa.

CM: What was your rebranding process like, and how do you expect the rebranding to help grow your business?

Wallace: Painful…. It took a while for me, as owner, to buy into the idea that we needed a new look, because I thought our previous branding was wonderful. The next generation finally convinced me that rebranding would appeal to both the loyal JOY believers, and to those clients and contacts just beginning to look for their own network of event professionals. Once my husband and I decided to let go of the old and embrace the new, half the battle was won. The other half was finding a new look that we all felt excited about—a logo that would prove that while we have been in business for 30 years (and have the expertise to show for it), we are still fresh, fun and trendsetting. Our food, service and reputation have always been top-notch; however, we needed to show that we were keeping up with the times as well. We produced an amazing event for almost 600 guests, showcasing our new logo/colors, trucks, website, business cards, promotional materials, and all-new marketing approach with social media—a totally new look! The impact has been astounding.

CM: Any words of advice for caterers just starting out?

Wallace: Hire an accountant who will sit with you and give you advice, and takes an interest in each line of your expenses and income. Some people say they can’t afford a CPA; I say you can’t afford not to have at least an outside financial advisor. I went through a lot of them before I found someone who intimately cared about our success. I don’t think you would start a catering business if you didn’t love food and serving others, but knowing how to manage money is a different side of your brain than the artistic side. You must establish a great relationship with an accountant who can give you advice and guidance. You just have to constantly remember that the bean counters can put you out of business if you let them run the show. They have to realize how to help you excel at what you are great at while keeping the money rolling in.

Joy Wallace Catering’s make-your-own ceviche station is a big hit.

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