We caught up with this year’s ImpactPHL Award honoree to see how the Greater Philadelphia business community has contributed to their success. Check out what Allegra Derengowski, Owner, Birchtree Catering has to say as we highlight one of the excellent small businesses driving the Greater Philadelphia region. Join us as we honor this year’s winners at the 37th Annual Excellence Awards on Thursday, November 21.
Where did the idea for your business come from? Describe the moment that you decided to go into business for yourself.
Chef Rasa was interested in joining the culinary world in Philadelphia after growing up cooking next to her grandmother but she was put off by the competitive atmosphere around restaurant kitchens. Catering was a way for her to get started without needing much overhead and her friend community came together to help get it started. I joined the company as a friend and ended up finding my calling as an entrepreneur who could be the business partner to Rasa’s creative genius.
What is your business philosophy and how is it unique?
Our company began with local food sourcing because the flavor and quality were the best that we could find and through that we learned that supporting our local economy is the way to stabilize its growth. We expanded that mission to include sourcing small and sustainably in all aspects of our business, from office supplies to business services and everything in between.
What is the biggest challenge in owning/running a business in the region? How do you deal with the challenges?
Catering is such a unique industry, and Philadelphia has no shortage of excellent caterers. Standing out from the crowd is definitely a challenge but we always stay authentic to our mission and hope that clients can feel the difference.
How has the Greater Philadelphia business community impacted your success?
I could talk about this for hours but I’ll say that it has had a tremendous impact. To name a few of the resources that have helped me along the way, there’s The Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia, The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and Power Up programs through the Community College of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), and the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia for which I serve on the board. These communities of like-minded entrepreneurs that collaborate, share, and enjoy each other’s success have been a joy to be a part of.
Others will be looking to you for advice about starting and/or operating a business here. What are your top 3 tips?
- Find your philosophy. When your company has a mission, it becomes easier to make hard decisions and easier to stand out and your clients will better understand your offerings.
- Take advantage of the city, state, and neighborhood resources. Get to know your government officials and local business owners. The business community is incredibly supportive and here to help.
- Be kind and be honest. That goes a long way.
What does it mean to you personally and/or to your business to be named an Excellence Award winner?
Three years ago, I had just finished the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and we had received funding from PIDC. It was the beginning of our next phase of business growth, a very exciting time, and I was invited to the Excellence Awards as a guest. I listened to the winners give their speeches and thought, “I’ll be up there one day.” I just never thought it would be this soon. Our company is thrilled to be recognized for the hard work that we put in every day and we look forward to seeing where we go from here.
Where do you see your business in 10 years?
I see a very bright future for Birchtree. We’ve learned so much since 2008, and we’re at a point where we feel very focused on the type of work we want to continue doing. Our weddings and large corporate events have given us the most satisfaction and sustainability is becoming an even larger part of the conversation with clients, so we feel lucky to be in a great position to expand on that. We want our clients to feel good about every dollar they spend with us and know that it’s going back into the local economy.
What drove your decision to be a sustainable company? What advice can you give other businesses to implement sustainable practices in their work?
Sustainability found its way into our philosophy early on. Chef Rasa was set on local sourcing because she knew that it was the best product and, through researching this, I started on my path towards making the company as mission-driven as possible. Once your eyes are opened to the amount of waste produced as individuals and as companies, it’s hard to look away. That became our guiding force in our decision-making. We are called a “triple bottom line” business: people, planet, and profit. That is the philosophy of the Sustainable Business Network which we joined in 2010 and it was a natural fit for us. My advice is to make it part of your business practice and educate your employees as much as possible so that they follow through on the ideals of your company.
Get your tickets to help celebrate Birchtree Catering as this year’s ImpactPHL Excellence Award honoree.
Thursday, November 21
5:30 – 9:00 p.m.