My Career Choice: Julie Rose – Sweet Hospitality Group

If you’ve been to a play in one of New York’s theaters recently, including Roundabout, Playwrights Horizon, Atlantic Theater Company, or many others, then during intermission, you probably a drink or treat prepared by Julie Rose’s company Sweet Hospitality Group. Julie is the president and the founder of this innovative catering company,  a leader in theatrical food and beverage services that is now expanding to curate luxury events, galas, and private dinners.

Julie passion for the arts began in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio and brought her eventually to New York City to pursue her love of theater. A gifted composer and lyricist, Julie attended the prestigious BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater workshop in Manhattan.  Her natural musical ability, love for the theater and Midwestern hospitality values provided a foundation for Julie to reinvent the world of theater food and beverage services to offer show-inspired cocktails and bites to compliment the Broadway show experience.

Julie also spearheaded the creation of the theater souvenir cup, which made its debut at The Lion King at the New Amsterdam Theater in 2000 and has become a popular and coveted collectible for all theatergoers. Julie serves on the Education Council for Manhattan Theatre Club and is a board member for the Harlem School of the Arts.

In the last thirty years, Sweet Hospitality Group’s presence has expanded to 26 theaters including the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, New Amsterdam Theater with VIP clients including Disney Theatrical Group and New York City Center. Sweet Hospitality Group works with all three of New York City’s not for profit theaters as well as many commercial venues. Comfortable executing events for 100 people up to 2000, Sweet Hospitality Group is a formidable force within the New York City catering world, on and off the stage. For more information go to the website.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I honestly don’t think of my business as a career. I think it’s more of my calling. Early on, I used to think the way Sweet Hospitality Group started was a fluke and I just “got lucky.” But to be completely honest, being an entrepreneur is the only thing I could have done. Even in odd jobs as a child, I was always fixated on how to make the operation better. At 16, I worked for a gardening company for a few months, until I realized I could be more efficient on my own, so I went and got my own business. At 19, I decided I wanted to teach piano and put an ad in the paper and soon had 10 students. I still teach piano to this day.  I always knew how to market myself and I think this has helped me along the way.

One instance in college in St. Louis still sticks out. I remember calling my parents and announcing an idea to open up a high-end burger joint. I can’t cook but that didn’t deter me at all. I had this business plan and concept conceived in my mind. They thought I was nuts. Truthfully, perhaps I was nuts, but I had an idea and I just knew it could work. It’s not lost on me that some odd years later this elevated burger joint concept is all the rage! But truthfully, I think I had an early capability to recognize an opening in the marketplace and the creativity and intuition to envision how to make something happen. I don’t give up easily or take no for an answer!

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I love that I control my own future. If something fails, it’s up to me to figure out a solution. I also like that I control my own time. I don’t do well with someone else’s structure.  I might work more then most people I know, but I decide how and when.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
In the very beginning I didn’t have any training. Eventually I joined business groups with other like-minded entrepreneurs, which was incredibly helpful.Today, I have a business coach who is fantastic. I never really worked in an office setting so his guidance has been invaluable in developing management practices that have helped shaped our company. It wasn’t always smooth sailing though, and he actually fired me at one point because I “bored” him. He was trying to get me to manage people and it freaked me out, so I wasn’t making progress. In all honesty,  “firing me” is probably the best thing he could have done for me at the time. He and I started working together a few years later after I went through some personal and emotional growth and all of sudden this light bulb clicked and everything he had been hammering away at me made sense! I try to surround myself with people who spark progress in me and help take my career to the next level.

Sweet HospitalityAlong the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
My dad has constantly supported me throughout good times and bad. I also have two close friends – one is a business owner and another an ex-bond trader. They have always been incredibly supportive and expressed that they are proud of my accomplishments.

There are always a few that aren’t. I have had people say to me, ”You were lucky. You just fell into this.” That is partly true, but what is also true, and I know this to my core, is no one could have done what I did. No one else would have wanted to. A couple of weeks ago a good friend said to me,“ Your business is simple. That is why you are successful.” He may have meant well, but quite frankly it was insulting. No business is simple. It made me mad in the moment, but in the end, I truly don’t care what he or anyone else thinks. I love what I do and that is all that matters.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
In the early days, I was resentful that I was a business owner and not an “artist.” I felt all I was doing was hawking brownies and alcohol and I wasn’t producing anything meaningful  or relevant. I considered trying to be a producer or a lawyer. There were also times when things were really hard and I would have paid someone to take the business off my hands or I got bored with it. Thirty years is a long time! I would be dishonest if I didn’t acknowledge a love-hate relationship at times. But what is also true is that the last five years have been so, so rewarding and we still have a long way to go!

When did your career reach a tipping point?
In October of 2010 we doubled in size  (literally!) overnight. It took a while to catch up to our growth, but that is when I fully engaged. We have almost tripled since that time.

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
We were at risk of losing our biggest contract when a competitor bid a lot more money. We almost walked away but threw a Hail Mary at the last moment and saved it. By the way, this led to our enormous growth and ironically it seems to always work that way. Things that at first seem to pose the biggest problems eventually end up making us a better, larger and more profitable company.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
My emotional intelligence.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am proud of becoming a decent manager. It took me 27 years and then something clicked. It was psychological and I overcame it!

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Be passionate about what you do and you will succeed. Never, ever, ever, do something for the money.  Life is too short.