Owner Leah Sherer officially began her career in the food business in 1995. Before her start in the food business, the Alabama native was schooled in home-style Southern cooking, gardening, and sewing by her late grandmother. As her love for food blossomed, Leah resigned from a teaching and anthropology career to try her hand at entrepreneurship, a career employing her creativity and culinary affections came to mind.
Her first business venture, The Light Brown Bag Lunch Company was centered around creative lunch menus that were quickly delivered to local businesses during the daily lunch rush. At a time when pizza and Chinese food were the only available cuisines that offered delivery, the climate was right for a creative (and Leah hoped healthy too) corporate meal delivery service. Business clients and corporate employees were craving something more vibrant than fast food. The delivery to their offices, via a pre-planned ordering system was a much welcomed and added perk for busy Gainesvillians. The creation of a lunch delivery business, taking brown bags right to the customer’s desks, was a no-brainer to Leah.
After a few short months, the small lunch delivery business was popular and booming. Corporate accounts were quickly and easily set up, monthly menus were handed out door to door (these were pre-internet days!), and clients clamored to get on the list. Along the way, a quaint walk-up restaurant also arose, as passersby would notice Leah prepping and cooking her famous brown bag lunches. Future customers would inquire about grabbing a bite and hanging out on the porch. The business was located on a busy corner in High Springs on the way to the local river hangouts. This quaint little restaurant became an unintended way to get to know future catering customers!
Due to the popularity of the lunch delivery business, Leah found herself in search of a larger kitchen to accommodate the growing business. She was then introduced to Mike Case by a mutual friend. Mike, the owner of small lunch spot called Celebrations Café, provided a space solution. His cafe was quaint, friendly, and centrally located near to Shands Hospital and The University of Florida (just a few of Leah’s largest clients). Most importantly, the new location at Celebrations Café included a very large empty room in the back of the cafe, which led to the idea of building a state-of-the-art catering kitchen. With no initial intention of taking on a partner, the inevitable happened. The dynamic duo immediately united, combining Celebrations Cafe and The Brown Bag Lunch Company. Discovering that they worked well together, Leah & Mike teamed up to form a new business, Celebrations Cafe & Catering, the best of both worlds working from one kitchen. This new name actually facilitated the transition from her lunch only business to a full service catering facility. The brown bag service evolved into catering for all meals and all celebratory occasions.
Longstanding and new customers were asking for all types of catering. The newly formed company was quick to answer the demand. Not only were clients requesting food for weddings, birthdays, meetings, and holidays – they began to ask for custom event design, help with lighting, music, china, advice about local vendors, party invitations, floral centerpieces and more. One-stop shopping became the norm for Leah and her team. Celebrations became a company that provided it all, everything needed for any type of event. Providing table linens for events were a natural progression for Leah who spent many hours sewing custom linens and draping for all occasions. Opportunities to harness her creative talents consistently arose. Leah felt lucky and very blessed to be able to make a living from all the activities that she loved.
Before long, a space shortage once again became an issue. As a result, Mike was forced to relocate Celebrations Café, moving down the street to a retired Hardee’s burger facility that had recently become vacant. With the Cafe no longer at the catering location, more space for the event business ensued and rapid expansion was under way. Additional off-site warehouses became necessary as the immense amount of furniture, dishes, décor & necessities needed for full-service events are endless. Food service was often the easy part of this growing business. Meanwhile party rentals, event planning, and event design became an equal portion of the Celebrations Catering agenda. Rentals and party planning became standard for the busy clients who no longer had time to piece together their events on their own. Relying on Leah and her team to pull of the entirety of an event became the standard and is still the standard today.
With the café and catering business acting as two separate successful entities, Mike and Leah found it necessary to separate the businesses and dissolved the partnership in 2007. The result was the creation of Celebrations Catering & Event Planning, being solely owned and managed by Leah and team of caterers, cooks, chefs, managers and event planners!
In 2008, Leah noticed a nearby space with a “for rent” sign, she once again ventured into the restaurant business. Leah would name this new business Café C (the “C” representing Celebrations, of course). All of the Café C food is prepared by Celebrations’ catering which offers a quaint and relaxing place for locals to dine for lunch. Many of the recipes offered at Cafe C originate from Leah’s extensive travels or from her Southern heritage. Cafe C reflects Leah’s true, eclectic personality. It’s a creative outlet with each plate, each piece of decoration & furniture, all collected by Leah herself from her many journeys, from local thrift stores or gifted from the Cafe’s loyal customers who enjoy contributing to the scenery!
In early 2015, fate would present Leah with another “for rent” building in the nearby neighborhood. Her then team of 65+ employees excitedly agreed that a soul food restaurant was a venture they would lovingly embrace. Combining Leah’s knowledge of Southern recipes with that of the many soulful chefs and cooks employed at Celebrations, a new take out restaurant was born. The Soul Shack, located on one of the busiest University Avenue corners, is dedicated to home-style, old-school soul food. The Soul Food now being produced daily for the Shack has become an integral part of the local catering trend. It’s affordable, and the resurgence of comfort food, in light of a more relaxed, less sophisticated party & event style, has become the norm in Gainesville.
With all the cooking and expansion happening, space became a challenge once again. In early 2015, Celebrations began renovations at the newest facility, and in March of 2016 moved into a spacious 17K square foot warehouse. Through a partnership with local business woman Kim Kwak, Leah and the Celebrations’ Team are set to experience their most successful and profitable year thus far. The new space accommodates optimal production space, a comfortable warehouse-style kitchen, ample space for table linens and a fully functioning laundry department, and wide aisles of decor and catering props. The new facility also features a large loading bay for Celebrations’ now 12-vehicle fleet, and finally enough parking for the whole team. This new space is big enough for whatever the future holds.
The Gainesville community has been great to Celebrations, Café C and the Soul Shack. Leah still loves showing up daily with vigor and endless drive. No sign of slowing down in sight!