After writing for magazines and academic journals for eight years as a professional journalist, Mavis Linnemann-Clark decided to pursue her passion for cooking and attend culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago. She continued to freelance full time during the day and attended classes at night, all while honing her cooking skills by hosting dinner parties, sharing original recipes via blogging, and making jam the old-school way. “I fell down this rabbit hole of love for cooking,” she says. She’s since returned to her native Northern Kentucky; started a catering company called The Delish Dish; launched her namesake line of artisan jams, Made by Mavis Artisan Jams; and opened an incubator kitchen called Kickstart Kitchen in Covington.
In 2018, Linnemann-Clark and her team at The Delish Dish were recognized by the Small Business Administration as the Kentucky Woman-Owned Business of the Year. She was also recently named as Kentucky’s Small Businessperson of the Year. We caught up with Linnemann-Clarkabout her three businesses, her most recent award, and what she has in store for the future.
How does it feel being named Kentucky’s Small Businessperson of the Year?
It’s such an honor. There are so many amazing small businesses, especially small businesses with ladies. My mentor, Carlin Stamm, nominated me for this, so without him I wouldn’t have even filled out all the [paperwork] and applied for it. I’m really pumped to go to D.C. and accept this award and meet all this business owners and compete for the national award.
Tell me about your catering business The Delish Dish.
I started The Delish Dish out of my home eight years ago. It was just me. I’ve been able to grow it from working out of my home, and now I have a 5,000-square-foot kitchen. I have 12 full-time employees and 25 part-time employees who help with bartending and attendance. We also have a jam company and they sell our jam as well. It’s been a long journey, but to be able to grow it from just me to a full team who gets behind my vision and can help me execute these events to the highest level we can, is pretty amazing.
What kind of events does The Delish Dish cater?
We do a little bit of everything. We do 30 percent weddings; we do those all over the city. We do 30 percent corporate events, so lunches, happy hours, and corporate parties. Then 30 percent is social, so we do birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, anniversary parties, anything you would normally get together to celebrate.
Tell me about the incubator kitchen you oversee in Covington called Kickstart Kitchen.
I actually started my business when I moved out of my home [and into] an incubator kitchen in 2012. The girl who was running it decided to move kitchens and my comapny had gotten so large that I had the opportunity to take over the space. It was still too big for just me, and the incubator model had really benefited me, so I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t continue to offer that to smaller businesses who also need that help. I was able to take over the kitchen and redo it in a way that was conducive to me as well as bringing in tenants.
I’m excited because one of our tenants is Dave Willocks, and he left and [opened] his own restaurant, The Baker’s Table, in Newport, and another tenant, Ashley Rapp, has Oliver’s Desserts, which is a bakery on the east side. Both of them started here and got their own businesses going.
What made you fall in love with making jams?
I was living on my own in Chicago, and I asked my mom for a canning pot for Christmas one year. I’m a gardener, so I wanted to use my produce and figure out how to can it. I sat down that winter and became obsessed with canning. That summer, when all the produce came out, I made a bunch of different stuff: mustards, tomato sauce, pickles, olives, anything you can think of. But it was jam I fell in love with. It’s not as complicated, and the flavors are cleaner. You can start with whatever fruits and make something that’s a very distilled version of that. The jam was just a way to go back to old-school cooking roots.
What made you decide to launch Made by Mavis Artisan Jams in 2013?
I was just making jams for friends and family, doing it as a side gig as my Christmas gifts. I didn’t launch the jam line until a year after Delish Dish, because all my mentors were telling me I was doing too many things, which I always am.
Jam was a side business, and still is a side business. Catering is my main business, but [my jam business] is a great marketing tool. All of our first-time [The Delish Dish] clients get a jar of jam. We give them as wedding presents to our brides. It’s just a nice touch and very us.
What else sets your jam company apart from others?
What makes our jams different is that nothing we do is traditional. We don’t just make peach jam; we make a peach lavender jam. We have a peach bellini, where we use a bottle of champagne. We do a dark chocolate raspberry with ghirardelli chocolate. We really try to incorporate interesting pairings. I used to travel a lot and that inspired a lot of my flavors. We put pairings on all of our jars, so people have ideas what to use them with. With the dark chocolate raspberry, it’s good swirled into brownies or on top of ice cream, rather than just serving it with croissants.
How do you thrive as a small-business owner?
I had a lot of people say, No way is this going to work, and one of my aunt and uncles on my husband’s side started a catering business and it failed, so they were like, You’re never going to be able to do it.
I think it’s a combination of getting out into your community and meeting the right people. We really don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, so for us it’s been word of mouth from our clients, especially our wedding and corporate clients. For weddings, we work with The Knot, and we’ve won “Best of The Knot” for the past four years. We just got entered into the hall of fame for them. It’s because of our level of service. We meet with every client, so we have a hands-on touch and not a lot of people have that.
We’ve been able to grow 10 or 20 percent every year, which won’t always be the case, but we’ve able to do it because we’re good at what we do.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
I just had a baby three months ago, so that’s my big project for this year, learning how to be a mom. I have another project that’ll be an off-shoot of Delish Dish, that if all goes well, maybe next year I’ll be able to get it off the ground.