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“Basically, we said to ourselves, we know this business, we’ve done it. Why don’t we stop making money for other people, and start making money for ourselves?”

TaNeá Graves has a background in events planning and marketing, as well as a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management. TaNeá is the Events Coordinator for G2 Gallery, and handles the company’s Marketing and PR. TaNeá’s commitment to G2’s customers and the Jefferson City community has helped G2 Gallery grow into the successful and prestigious event center that it is today.

With nearly 20 years of food service experience, Kasey Green is the Executive Chef and Chief Operations Officer for G2 Gallery. Kasey is responsible for creating the menus and preparing the delectable meals for thousands of G2 Gallery customers each year. Kasey’s extensive knowledge of the industry, preparation techniques, and versatility have allowed G2 Gallery to consistently deliver quality food and services.

G2 Gallery, Catering & Events is a private event center, specializing in unique, upscale events at affordable prices. Located in the heart of downtown Jefferson City, Missouri, G2 Gallery is housed in the renovated Lohman Opera House, with 22 foot high ceilings and ornate architecture.

MO: How did the two of you meet and what inspired you to launch a business together?

Kasey & TaNeá: We met while working at another establishment, and realized that we worked well together. Both of us had wanted to start our own business, but we had different visions. Kasey had wanted to own a restaurant, and I had wanted to start an event planning business. We realized that a banquet center was a perfect marriage of our talents and experience, and when the opportunity came around a few years later, we decided to take the plunge. Basically, we said to ourselves, we know this business, we’ve done it. Why don’t we stop making money for other people, and start making money for ourselves?

MO: Can you talk a bit about the process and challenges of renovating a historic building and what you wish that you would have known before taking on such a huge project?

Kasey & TaNeá: We were very lucky to find such a beautiful space in historic downtown Jefferson City. We knew that we wanted to locate our business in the downtown area, close to the state Capitol building. We fell in love with the architecture of the Lohman Opera House right away. It had been updated in the 1980s, but it certainly wasn’t ready for what we had in mind. So, we took on the daunting task of renovating, which was way out of our comfort zone. We had hassles with contractors who were not as conscious of our time constraints and budget as we had hoped. We put a lot of sweat equity into the project, with both of us pitching in to demo the existing walls, build new walls, lay floors, paint and move in all our equipment. Kasey even built the bar! Opening G2 Gallery was probably the most exhausting and rewarding project we’ve ever tackled.

Honestly, we don’t have enough time to say what we wished we had known then, the list is too long! We were pretty new to everything. But, it would have been nice to have a good network of people who knew the answers and could help us out. In the beginning, we didn’t realize the importance of joining organizations such as the Downtown Jefferson City Association and the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce. Had we joined those organizations before we opened, we wouldn’t have been navigating all the obstacles on our own. Using those organizations as resources has become invaluable to us.

MO: How have you started to create your own events to highlight your special space and services?

Kasey & TaNeá: G2 Gallery is unique compared to most event centers, because we are only open for private events, and not open to the public. Most banquet rooms are attached to a hotel or a restaurant, so people are familiar with their brand, have a chance to taste their food and tour their facilities. However, because we’re only open for private events, our guests must be invited to an event here in order to get to know us. We are also located on the 2nd floor, which means that people don’t necessarily recognize our space from the street level.

So, we’ve found that it’s essential to throw our own events to highlight our talents and strengths. About twice a year, we host events that are free to the public, so we can showcase our latest menus. In addition to those, we love to dabble in creative ventures, so we’ve also put together a number of themed events, such as a Hawaiian luau, with authentic banana roasted pork and tables scattered with plumeria blumes shipped from Maui. A couple of years ago, we had a very popular tapas party, with Spanish appetizers and sangrias. We even did a “Shot in the Dark” party, lit the whole room with blacklight, and asked the guests to wear black & white attire so they all glowed in the dark. We had glowing centerpieces, and even the drinks glowed in the dark! Most recently, we’ve partnered with a local entertainment company to bring a concert series, featuring singer-songwriters who give the stories behind their music. However, even after hundreds of events, we still have people come up on a regular basis and say “I didn’t know this was here!” So, we know we have some work to do, but hopefully our reputation reaches those who have yet to attend an event here, and we look forward to many more guests coming in the future.

MO: Can you expand on how engaging with your clients has been a key element to your success? Can you give an example of where you’ve gone the extra mile and how it made all the difference?

Kasey & TaNeá: At G2 Gallery, we pride ourselves on providing exceptional service. From the planning stages right through until the last person leaves the event, we personally engage with our clients. We have built a comprehensive website with photos, menus and pricing, rules, and tons of other information so that they can easily learn a lot about our business before they even call. When a client does call us, they talk to the owners directly, so we can answer all of their questions and give them advice on what we can do for them. We make menu recommendations based on their needs and send out detailed estimates, often in the same day. We work with the clients directly to make sure all their event needs are taken care of, and we are here to meet them when they come in to set up on the day of their event. They know that if there are any issues, we can take care of them immediately. Most of the time, we are here during the duration of the event, and we are the last ones to leave the building. Because we are so involved in every banquet, from beginning to end, we have accountability to our clients that they won’t get anywhere else.

Our clients often tell us that we go the extra mile to make their event special. Sometimes it means doing specialized menu tastings, so that they feel confident their food choices will be perfect. Other times, it means multiple meetings with a bride to answer all of her questions and calm her nerves. One wedding asked us to make a family recipe, and we had to get it just right. Another group ordered elk meat from Colorado, because the retiree they were honoring was an avid hunter. Many of our guests with severe allergies are thrilled that we have gone the extra mile to prepare them a delicious alternative to our normal menu items, so they can still enjoy the event. Vegetarians have repeatedly told us that they are thrilled with the effort we make to prepare them a full flavored meal, rather than simply serving them “side dishes.” However, I think the most appreciated aspect of our client services are the personal relationships that we form with our clients. Recently, a long-time client had to miss her office Christmas party because of a surgery. Our staff signed a card, we got her a small gift, and we made a take-out box for her so that she still got to experience a little of what she missed. Those are just a few examples of the kinds of relationships we form with our clients. We consider ourselves lucky to be in the business of sharing special events with our clients, of celebrating some of their life’s most memorable moments, and they become more than clients to us.

MO: Why has community involvement been an important corner stone of your business? What are some ways that you demonstrate your support and commitment to local causes?

Kasey and TaNeá: Community involvement has been integral to our business in a variety of ways. First, we’ve built a network of business contacts through the organizations we joined. TaNeá is definitely the person who has been involved in many of the community organizations, including business associations like the Downtown Jefferson City Association and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as charity organizations like The HALO Foundation and The Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association. She has been active in these groups, taking on a leadership role and serving on committees and boards for several of them. We have had the pleasure of providing catering services to many of these groups as well, whether for meetings or fundraisers they had.

Many community organizations have also approached us to donate to their organizations and we’ve been happy to help in a few different ways. Some charities have chosen to have fundraisers at our facility, and we’ve been able to be a larger part of their efforts. We’ve also found that gift certificates for unique events tend to be good donations to charity auctions. For instance, we partnered with a local beer distributor to donate a “beer themed dinner” to a charity auction recently, which included beers paired with (and used in) a four course meal. The party was a huge hit, and we were so happy to be involved in such a great event, for such a great cause.

By being involved in these organizations, we’ve had the opportunities to meet people and market ourselves, but we’ve also become more a part of the community and more aware of local issues. For instance, TaNeá was chosen to be a part of the Jefferson City Chamber’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee, one of only 8 people under the age of 40 on the committee. She was also recently asked to serve on the board of StartUp Jefferson City, an organization dedicated to furthering the entrepreneurial community in Jefferson City. By being involved, we really have a chance to shape the future of this community, and we’re excited to be giving back to our community in a number of ways.

MO: You’re currently in the exciting stages of expansion. Can you elaborate on the services you’re adding for customers and how you’re upping the game for your marketing strategy?

Kasey & TaNeá: After 6 years in business, we’re very lucky that our customers are asking us for MORE! In 2013, we’re poised and ready to accept the challenge! Our clients are constantly requesting for us to provide our food on a regular basis to the public. We have finally reached a point where we’ve grown and stabilized our current business, and we want to expand beyond our current capacities. Our first step in making growth happen has been to change our existing roles within the company. Since the beginning, we have really been actively involved in the daily operations at G2 Gallery. Amazingly, Kasey has been the only Chef for nearly 1000 banquets. Now, we have more kitchen help, as well as a larger wait staff, and we have the capacity to take on other projects.

We’ve explored a number of options for expanding our business and having our food available on a wider scale. We are hoping to open either a full service restaurant, or a food truck in 2013. Last March, we petitioned the City of Jefferson’s council to change ordinances to allow food trucks in smaller lots, which opened up the downtown area for the possibility of food truck operation. Although we’re still exploring our options, we’ve had enough interest in providing our food to the public, we know that’s where we need to focus our efforts. Of course, we’re going to have to do a ton of marketing to get the word out. There are still many people in this area that haven’t been to an event at G2 Gallery, and have no idea what kind of food and service we provide. So, we realize we need to utilize our existing brand and client base to really mobilize our new efforts to the masses.

This last year has really been a tremendous year of growth for marketing our business. In 2012, we revamped our website and started our social media presence. We now interact with our clients and potential clients on Facebook and Twitter. Although we were hesitant to join the world of social media in the beginning, it is now simply a part of doing business every day. Facebook has given us a new way to interact with our clients like never before. We have learned to post more pictures, information about our business, and really showcase what we can do on a daily basis. However, we recognize that it isn’t all about tooting our own horn. We also do our part to promote community events, help out other businesses, spotlight our clients and their efforts as well. We’ve learned to be more strategic in our marketing as well. For the first few years, we didn’t have a marketing plan. We didn’t identify sectors we needed to reach, or take advantage of all the opportunities to market our business. We were more worried about running the business than promoting the business. Now that we have the stability and operations handled, we are really turning our attention to building our brand.

G2 Gallery also had the honor for the 2nd year in a row of being named the City’s Best Banquet Center, and the #2 area Caterer by the readers of Jefferson City Magazine. G2 Gallery was also chosen as a finalist for the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award. Each of these opportunities has given us a certain amount of press and recognition. We plan to leverage all of our brand recognition as we start the next chapter of expansion, and see what new heights we can reach.

 

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