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 food options 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 service 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 what she was doing, grab a bite and hang 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 charming, 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 Café and The Brown Bag Lunch Company. Discovering that they worked well together, Leah and Mike teamed up to form a new business, Celebrations Café and Catering, the best of both worlds working from one kitchen. The new name prompted the transition from her lunch only business to a full service catering facility, as the brown bag service evolved into catering for all meals and all celebratory occasions.
Longstanding and new customers began asking for all types of catering service, and the newly formed company was quick to rise to the demand. Not only were clients requesting food for weddings, birthdays, meetings, and holidays, but they began to ask for custom event design, help with lighting, music, china, advice about local vendors, party invitations, floral centerpieces and more. The one-stop shopping source for catering and presentation became the norm for Leah and her team, and Celebrations soon became the company that provided it all, 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 café no longer at the catering location, more space for the event business became available, and rapid expansion was under way. Additional off-site warehouses became necessary as storage for the immense array of furniture, dishes, and décor required for full-service events. Food service became the easy part of this growing business – soon party rentals, event planning, and event design became an equal part of the Celebrations Catering agenda. For busy clients who had no time to piece together their events on their own, Celebrations was the full-service solution. Planning, food and beverage service, rentals, decor and overseeing all aspects of events became the standard and is still the standard today.
With the café and catering business acting as two separate successful entities, Mike and Leah eventually decided to separate the businesses and dissolving the partnership in 2007. The result was the creation of Celebrations Catering and Event Planning, being solely owned and managed by Leah with her team of caterers, cooks, chefs, managers and event planners! With all the cooking and expansion happening, space became a challenge once more. In early 2015, Celebrations began renovations at the newest facility, and in March of 2016 moved into a spacious 17,000 square foot warehouse. The new facility provides optimal production space, a comfortable warehouse-style kitchen, ample storage for table linens, a full-service laundry department, and many wide aisles for the endless stream of party decor and catering props. The new facility also features a large loading bay for Celebrations’ 12-vehicle fleet, and finally enough parking for the whole team. This new space is big enough for whatever the future holds. Business is booming!
Leah made a tough decision in late 2017, to close both Cafe C and The Soul Shack. The catering success far exceeded her expectations, and having the two offsite restaurant locations made it difficult to focus on giving the longtime, loyal Celebrations’ customers the detailed quality and service they had grown accustomed to. The agreement was made not to renew leases at both locations and to be one hundred percent dedicated to catering only. An immediate surge in business and increased revenue has resulted from the team’s focused energy, with improved teamwork, and abundant leftover energy due to fewer demands on the staff. The decision to streamline to a single very large building and one location to manage has had a very positive effect on team building, and communication has soared!
The Gainesville community has been great to Celebrations for over 20 years. Celebrations is grateful for the repeated patronage of UF, Santa Fe College, and Shands, and the many small and large businesses in Gainesville who keep them busy. Celebrations also owes lots of thanks to all of the brides and the growing wedding industry, hosts of small backyard parties, and casual lunches. They are very happy about the increased demand for boxed lunches, and they don’t mind if someone just wants to pick up a dozen homemade cookies too! Leah still loves showing up, and does so daily with vigor and endless drive. No sign of slowing down in sight! Every day is a party planning fun time, what’s not to celebrate about Celebrations Catering?