Nicole Quaisser has a lifetime of experience in the hospitality industry, stretching back to her childhood in Hamburg, Germany, where her parents owned and managed several restaurants. She began her professional career with Hilton International in the early 90’s and after stints at Hilton properties in London, New York and Guam, she accepted a position at The Drake Hotel in Chicago. She was the Drake’s Director of Catering and Convention Services from 1993 to 2002, responsible for selling, planning, and executing hundreds of deluxe events. Following her time at The Drake she served as GM of the Mid-America Club, one of the most prestigious of Chicago’s private dining clubs, and the General Manager of The Clare at Water Tower, an upscale senior living facility. Outside of work, Nicole is an active member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs and the German American Chamber of Commerce. When not working, Nicole can be found riding horses or spending time with her two children, Luc and Mary. Read our interview with the lovely Nicole below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
My husband Stephan. It was his dream to open his own restaurant which is how the company began; with the original LM Restaurant located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood in 2009. I still worked full time at another company while he managed LM and then I joined the company full time when we opened our 2nd and 3rd restaurants (Troquet Ravenswood and Brasserie by LM) in early 2012. Stephan handled the day to day restaurant operations and I managed the private dining aspects and also started to grow LM Catering, our full service catering operation.
Tell us about your business.
LM Restaurant Group is a family-owned hospitality company that specializes in creating intimate local gathering places that deliver great food and down-to-the-last detail service. Our portfolio includes an eclectic assortment of hotel restaurants, catering venues and investments that all share a common goal: making people feel cared for. LMRG is the unifying brand behind LM Catering, Troquet River North, City View Loft, Lacuna Events by LM and The Zhou B Art Center as well as the forthcoming restaurant at the Essex Inn.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Each of our venues; City View Loft, Lacuna Events by LM and The Zhou B Art Center, offer inclusive Winter wedding packages.
We currently manage 3 of the top event venues in Chicago; City View Loft, Lacuna Events by LM and The Zhou B Art Center. Each of these spaces are very unique and are popular destinations for weddings, corporate functions, fundraisers etc. City View was just named to The Knot’s Best of Weddings-Chicago 2017!
Where is your business based?
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Before we opened LM Restaurant in 2009, the first step was to find the perfect location and then hire the right team. A lot of those original employees from 2009 are still working for LMRG. From there everything began to grow fairly organically – people would inquire about private dining and off-site catering and LM Catering grew from those opportunities. We began catering at small dinner parties in people’s homes and hosting small wedding receptions at the restaurant and other local event spaces. Fast forward to 2016 and we are the exclusive caterer and on-site event management team for three of the top venues in Chicago. We’re currently on track to host about 160 weddings in 2017 between these 3 venues.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Marketing, PR and social media play a huge role in raising awareness about the business and our offerings. Word of mouth marketing in the form of recommendations from satisfied catering customers or patrons of our restaurants is also an extremely valuable resource. Stephan and I are also very hands on business owners. We’re involved in the day to day business and I think clients really respond to that.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Definitely managing the infrastructure of a growing company. There were times where we grew too much too fast and didn’t have the appropriate systems in place to handle it all. Additionally, recruiting the right talent is proving to be exceedingly difficult in the hospitality industry – not only in the back of house (kitchen staff) but front of house as well (sales, servers, managers and marketing).
How did you overcome these challenges?
Growing a company without sacrificing the quality of your product is always a challenge. We had to take a look at what we were doing and after reevaluating certain aspects of our business we had to scale back on some things. As business owners it’s hard to do that – to be in growth mode and then take a step backwards. However, going back to our roots and identifying the parts of the business that were the most successful and setting forth a clear plan for growth has made us so much stronger as a company.
In terms of the staffing issue obviously, we want to make sure that we hire the right people. That means it’s important for us to build relationships with local hospitality programs so we can be top of mind when these students enter the work force. Our management team are all involved with these programs in some capacity and we find it to be a very mutually beneficial relationship. We can help prepare these students for the reality of the workplace while in turn we have a better understanding of what they’re looking for in their careers.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Focus on our long term goals. Small problems are just that – small. The big picture is made up of so much more than that.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I think the quality of service we deliver as well as our attention to detail really sets us apart from some of the other players in our field. In our industry it’s the little touches that show you care. Which is why we put thought and energy into every detail that goes into our clients’ events.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
When you feel discouraged, take a moment to reflect on where you’ve come from and take stock of your accomplishments. Look at everything you’ve built and how that affects others (ie. providing a stable work environment for employees, helping people host successful events etc.)
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t lose focus. Stay true to your vision and try not to get distracted by things that don’t affect your end goal. Work with people you trust and believe in and that help you accomplish your goals.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
Networking is a timeless business resource. Our connections have contributed so much to our success as a company. Having a strong network of people you can call on for advice is always a benefit as well. There is always new technology in our field that helps us to execute successful events for clients or to better manage our day to day business.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
Website www.lmcateringchicago.com and www.lmrestaurant.com
Hashtags #lmcaters #lacunaevents #cityviewloft #zhoubevents #troquetchi
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“The Longest Ride” by Nicholas Sparks – I like to read to relax.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
We’ll be focusing a lot of our time in 2017 on growing our corporate catering business. So we’ll be learning more about the corporate dining climate in Chicago.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Growing our corporate catering business. We’ll dedicate some time to networking with key players in the corporate dining space.