Today we’d like to introduce you to Sam Toselli and Scout Sparrow.
Sam and Scout, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
A little background on Sam: Ever since her first job as a teenager at an authentic Italian restaurant in Milwaukee, Sam has had a passion for cooking. After coming home from serving in the US Marine Corps, Sam dove right back into the culinary world, earning an AA from Le Cordon Bleu program in Pasadena and beginning fine dining training with Wolfgang Puck Catering. She then broadened her repertoire by working at his flagship restaurant Spago Beverly Hills for five years, where she specialized as a saucier and lead line cook. She wanted to take a break from fine dining, so she accepted a kitchen manager/general manager position at a new restaurant called Skynny Kitchen that focused on delicious and health-conscience cuisine.
How Mad Hatters was born: While at Skynny Kitchen, Sam missed the creativity and spontaneity of fine dining, so she started catering private five course tasting menus for friends who were interested in hosting at their homes. The hosts would come up with a theme, and Sam would create a tasting menu to fit whatever theme was chosen. Soon Sam realized that while she very much enjoyed cooking fabulous meals for friends, the fine dining parties were getting a little too involved to pull off alone. Her girlfriend, Scout, gradually started stepping in to help respond to client emails, negotiate event details, and help sous chef/set up/serve at the events. Soon they were getting asked to cater to more events, such as friend’s wedding receptions and festival barbecues.
It was then that life took a more complicated turn. Scout’s uncle had a sudden stroke that left him incapacitated and led to his eventual passing a few months later. Scout’s aunt was in the beginning stages of dementia and needed someone to look after her. She had no children of her own and Scout lived nearby, so the responsibility fell to her. Around this time, the owners of Skynny Kitchen had decided to close the restaurant, so Sam was out of a job. Scout had to quit her job in the cosmetic industry since she needed a more flexible schedule and weekday availability to care for her aunt. Sam and Scout started thinking about how successful their side business had been thus far, and how much great feedback they had gotten from everyone who tried Sam’s delicious food, and they figured why not try to run a catering company full time?
Where we are now: It’s been over three years since we officially started our business. Through a combination of vending and catering, Mad Hatters’ Custom Catering has been thriving on word-of-mouth recommendations from our clients and friends. This year we’re looking at starting to market ourselves more broadly and expand the business to bring it to the next level.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Scout: Of course starting any new business is challenging, but I do feel like it was a bit moreso for us since I was also dividing my time with caretaking for my aunt until recently (she just passed in October). Sam was also involved in helping with that, and it’s understandably difficult to focus on building your business when you can’t devote all of your energy toward it. That being said, I’m impressed with how well we’ve done despite our personal struggles. We are both very good at not allowing personal matters to interfere with our performance at work, so any time we are catering an event no matter how large or small, we’re 100% committed to making it as amazing as possible. I feel like that devotion to quality shows in everything we do.
Sam: Another struggle we had was figuring out pricing and learning to say no sometimes. In the beginning I feel like we used to bend over backwards to accommodate any and all requests and would say yes to any job offered, no matter how small the compensation. We still, of course, work to fit the budgetary needs of our clients, but we’ve learned how to establish boundaries and more detailed contracts so that everyone gets a more fulfilling experience at the end of the day. We’ve also done a lot of research on the pricing. It’s difficult to hit the mark of making sure we feel compensated for our labor and creativity while also staying competitive, so I think we’ve gotten much better at that.
Please tell us about your business.
Our greatest strength is our versatility and the special attention we pay to our customer’s dietary needs and preferences. We can create menus based on any theme or genre of food, and anything from casual to fine dining. We are very flexible regarding making substitutions and accommodating special requests, which not all caterers are open to. Since we don’t have a particular specialty or limited menu selection, we’re capable of servicing the entire event, including (for example) small bite appetizers, cheese boards, and dessert spreads in addition to full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. Over the past few years, we’ve catered weddings, funerals, private dinner parties, children’s birthday parties, company holiday parties, corporate lunches and happy hours, retreats… You name it! We also regularly vend at The Other Door in North Hollywood and at a few local festivals. No matter the size or budget of the event, we always bring our “A” game, and (not to jinx ourselves) we have yet to have a customer be anything less than wowed by Sam’s culinary expertise. Sam is truly a master at balancing flavors and seasonings perfectly, whether it’s comfort food or something more intricate. And as we know everyone feasts with their eyes first, we’re always striving to create a beautiful presentation, whether the meal is plated or buffet style. As our name implies, we try to curate a tea party aesthetic with our events, so we use a lot of authentic vintage China platters and silver serving utensils.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I think the strongest quality we demonstrate is that we treat every event as if we were catering for our own family in terms of the amount of care, attention to detail, and the time we invest. Whether we’re feeding ten people or 150, we want every bite to taste like it was made just for you.
- Phone: (818)835-1586
- Email: Madhattersfeasts@gmail.com
- Instagram: @madhatterscc
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/madhatterscustomcatering
Josh Reiss (first and fourth photos)
Akiko Liu Photography (second and third photos)
Scout Sparrow (last 4 photos)
Steve Chelski (top photo of Sam and Scout)