After discovering she could get paid for the parties she hosted as a stay-at-home mom, a caterer creates a thriving business
Joy Wallace has catered events for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II, and every president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. She remembers a food taster being sent in to keep an eye on the kitchen before an event for the pope and President Ronald Reagan.
“For some presidents, they’ll send someone to watch your preparation,” she says. “Also, there cannot be a specific plate prepared just for the president. Your entire working staff needs to be preapproved, and there’s a zero tolerance for cellphones.”
She learned that a member of royalty attending a party that she was catering had an allergy to MSG. “So do I, so we never prepare anything with MSG,” she says.
There’s never a dull moment for Wallace, who has been in what she calls “the business of feeding people” for nearly 30 years. She’s proud that her company is located in the 33156 ZIP code. “If a client from out of town looks up our address and sees the ZIP code, they know where we are located, and they know they are coming to a very nice place.”
The location, just off of U.S. Highway 1, has five buildings, including one that houses a 25,000 square-foot commissary, and another where a master builder’s creations for events are as elaborate as Broadway theatrical sets. She has 60 full-time staff members who speak nine languages, including American Sign Language, among them.
“We chose where we are because of its location. It’s close to all the major highways and roads and the turnpike,” Wallace says. “Pinecrest is like falling into the honey pot of Miami.”
She launched her company in 1998 with a 1,000-guest, seated dinner for Exxon Mobil. Wallace remembers that she faced the challenge by telling herself a quote that has always inspired her. Credited to Olympic champion Gail Devers, the mantra Wallace kept repeating was, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”
Now averaging more than 500 events a year—off-premises catering, on-premises design, and events at the Vizcaya Museum Gardens Café and Shop, of which A Joy Wallace has been the in-house operator for 12 years, the business owner says she tries to personally attend every event.
“I feel the company should live up to my name,” she says. “I believe that’s been a core of how I conduct myself. How can you have the name Joy and be grumpy? How can you be Joy and not bring joy to other people?”
Wallace wanted the business to be close to her home in The Falls, where she’s lived since 1972.
“That’s a pocket of heaven,” she says. “I can’t imagine ever moving. I’m three minutes from the shop.”
A stay-at-home mom, she was searching for something to do after her children had grown. “I went back to school at Florida International University and got a degree in hospitality management,” Wallace says. “I loved having parties at my house when my children were growing up, and then I found out you could get paid to have parties.
“So, I stopped having parties at home and started having parties that I got paid for.”
There’s no taking for granted the importance that the entrepreneur believes is part of being a caterer. She remembers getting a call to round up her catering trucks and head to Pass Christian, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “We fed 3,000 people every day for 3½ months.” Wallace had lost her home in 1992, during Hurricane Andrew, so she was more than eager to help. It led her to form a disaster relief services division in her company, one of the few catering companies in the nation to have a disaster response team.
While she is drawn to catering large events, Wallace says there’s a special place in her heart for couples planning their weddings.
“I get to hear the stories of how they met, how the groom proposed, about how the engagement was at the top of a mountain in some exotic place with violins playing,” she says. “You get to become part of people’s lives when it’s about food. Food is very personal. Food is emotional.”
To learn more about A Joy Wallace, visit ajoywallace.com or call 305.252.0020.
A perfect Easter treat, these are beautifully enticing for a brunch menu.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dry lavender
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Rub the dry ingredients with the lemon zest to extract the flavor. Cut cold butter into cubes, then cut the cubed butter into the dry mix with a pastry cutter until incorporated. The result should look like pea-sized crumbles.
Mix in heavy cream until moist. Do not overmix the dough. Scoop out even-sized balls of dough, then refrigerate for one hour. Bake on a baking sheet until light golden in color, about 10-12 minutes.
Makes about 15 scones.