You need to be extremely transparent. I am candid to a fault at times, but at least people know where they stand with me. It’s truly about surrounding yourself with the best people. If you have the best people working for you, it brings out the best in yourself.

Fast Facts

Location Chicago, IL
Number of employees 500
First job Bussing tables at my family's restaurant, Vernon Park Tap/Tufano’s, in Chicago

Questions & Answers

How have you seen the catering industry change and grow?

People are more savvy and they know more about food. When I started in the business, food was fuel and you had to feed people for them to be able to function at events. Now, food is considered entertainment and a hobby.

The Internet has also transitioned the universe of food. Before, people didn’t know some of the most basic terms, but now everyone can be food experts because they can Google everything. TV shows have also glamorized being a chef, making it sexy and cool.

When you first started Paramount, what was your biggest hurdle?

I think the biggest hurdle when I started Paramount was myself. I was so unsure of how it was going to turn out and whether it was going to be successful. I wasn’t as aggressive a salesperson as I could have been, but over time I have gotten more comfortable working in all of the different departments.

It was also a challenge starting Paramount because I was out of the industry for a little while to stay at home with my kids. When you jump into something, you have to jump in 100 percent, and I don’t think I was completely ready in the beginning.

What is your favorite type of event to cater?

Anything that’s logistically challenging with large numbers. I like big. We do a lot of weddings and corporate parties that have a few hundred attending and that’s easy. But give me 50,000 people in a tent outside with no running water and no electricity… I like the crazy stuff.

As the CEO of one of the largest catering companies in Chicago, what’s your biggest challenge as a leader who is so prominent?

You need to be extremely transparent. I am candid to a fault at times, but at least people know where they stand with me. It’s truly about surrounding yourself with the best people. If you have the best people working for you, it brings out the best in yourself. I also make it a point to hire people who have completely different skill sets and personalities than me. The biggest thing that sets Paramount apart is that all of our people work for us [long-term]. Most other catering and event companies outsource the staff.

Do you have any plans to expand Paramount?

Yes, we recently opened a restaurant called Eden and a private dining venue called The Lakewood.

Eden offers modern contemporary American and Mediterranean with flairs of Italian, Spanish, South African and Lebanese. The menu constantly changes, whether it’s a weekly menu or switched daily depending on whatever fish, vegetables, or herbs are freshest. There’s always something new and different.

After you graduated from school, was your goal to open a restaurant?

No, I went to hospitality school so I could learn the different parts of the business and how to manage people. Because of my past experience, I can act as an HR manager or Chief Financial Officer, or in sales, business development, public relations, etc.

Is there a piece of advice you’d give your younger self or others beginning their careers?

If you want to do anything well, you’ve got to work hard and it takes a lot of time and energy. I would never want anyone to settle and only be in a job because of the money. You have to do something you love. It’s also important to realize it’s no longer a work/life balance, it’s a career balance—your job is part of your life. There’s not one or the other, because technology [melds the two]. You have to stay connected 24/7.

You started the charity Tickled Pink. How has that inspired you?

I started Tickled Pink after my cousin died in 2004; the first time we held the Tickled Pink event was in February 2005. She was my sister, she was my life, she was my everything. I started [the charity] because I knew that I would never forget, but I didn’t want other people to forget her either. In the last couple years we turned it into a chef event and restaurants come from all over the city to do chef stations. We also have a band, a DJ, and photo booths. It’s really quite over the top. At Paramount we have a mission to give back to the community and to non-profits. It’s something that’s important to me and all the people that work here. During the week of Tickled Pink, everyone in the building gets involved, and everything almost shuts down leading up to the event because that’s all we do.

What would you say is the most important quality of a leader?

Being accessible. My employees are the most important asset at Paramount and I recognize that. It’s important for the people who work for you to know that you care about them. I typically spend the first couple hours of my day walking around saying hello to everybody and talking to them about what they’re working on or what’s going on in their lives. As a leader you need to show people their job is important, no matter what it is.

Interviewed by Brooke Dahnert and Sydney Bickel.