by Kit Webb
It was New England winters that got Dotti Cannon into cooking. She is not a fan of cold weather, so while her brothers and sisters were out building snowmen and throwing snowballs, she stayed inside helping her mother and grandmother cook. This is where she learned the secrets of making her grandmother's pepper relish (she still cans her own peppers).
Dotti is the owner and head chef of Brown Sugar Catering, LLC, based in Manchester, Conn. Opening a catering business was a natural progression for Dotti—she grew up cooking, then went to culinary school when her previous job was eliminated.
Her enthusiasm for cooking shows in Brown Sugar's offerings. All the ingredients are fresh, and all the dishes are made from scratch, each carefully chosen for the client's specific event. Cannon says, "My food has to be family quality—if I wouldn't serve it to my family, I certainly wouldn't serve it to a client."
When she first opened her business, Cannon's biggest challenge was finding kitchen space. Rental space in big kitchens was hard to come by, so Cannon started Brown Sugar out of her own kitchen. The business grew rapidly. Soon she was turning away customers, while her home was quickly being taken over by the business.
This is one of the areas in which the Entrepreneurial Center (EC) helped her. "Your business advisor was amazing," Cannon says. "He put me in touch with the perfect bank for me." Cannon got a loan to rent a professional kitchen in a converted mill in Manchester. She enlarged her business just as the economy began to go bad. Many corporate clients cancelled their holiday parties (a big part of the catering business), but Cannon hung on and used that period to do more marketing and networking so that when the economy began to improve, she'd be "the first on everyone's list."
Along with its classes and showing her how to put together a business plan, Cannon feels that the Entrepreneurial Center helped her with individual counseling and ongoing support. Even now, if she has an idea or a question, she can call EC and get feedback from a counselor. She has also taken advantage of the opportunities for networking that the center has provided. "How has EC helped me? Let me count the ways!" she quips.
Cannon's hard work and business experience continue to pay off. Brown Sugar Catering was selected to provide catering services to the University of Connecticut's Athletic Division—a big step up for Cannon and her business.
What does Cannon like best about running her own business? "The freedom," she says emphatically, "the chance to express myself creatively in so many ways."
"I'm passionate about what I do. I love what I do and I'm having fun!"