Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Oct. 24issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Shellie Morrison, president of Fayetteville-based The Event Group Catering, still loves being a caterer after more than two decades in business.
When she opened The Event Group in 1996, Morrison was focused on event planning and offered rental services. In 1998, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named her to the Forty Under 40 class. Two years later, her business focus changed to catering amid a limited need for event planners.
“I saw the need for catering in 2000,” she said. “That’s what we’ve been doing ever since.
“While I still do planning for my corporate clients if they want it, I no longer do wedding planning and things that I used to do a long time ago.”
Asked what makes her business unique, Morrison, 54, said it’s not only concerned with the food.
“We want to make sure all details of the event are seamless,” she said. “We find out about the timeline, the layout that we double-check, the rental list… Our goal is that there are no surprises when we arrive at the event.
“We do a lot on the front end. I say that we’re more of a logistics company than anything else because we’re constantly planning … It’s a logistics business.”
Her favorite events include when Mercy hospital opened and for nonprofit clients, such as Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas. Morrison said her mother was a single mother, and she has an endowed scholarship with the organization in her mother’s name. Morrison also supports Big Brothers Big Sisters of NWA and the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks through her business.
Another exciting opportunity was when the HBO series “True Detective” was filmed in Northwest Arkansas. “We were able to do the screening and the wrap party. We see a lot of celebrities… but that was fun to see them up close and personal.”
The weddings her business caters have an average of about 200 people. Recently, the company catered a boxed meal event for more than 3,000 people daily. Other large events have included a company picnic for 1,600 people and galas ranging from 400 to 500 people.
“We specialize in larger events,” she said. “We don’t do a lot of small events unless it’s for one of our repeat clients.” Those might have about 50 people.
Morrison’s client base is focused on corporate clients but also includes weddings. Repeat business includes nonprofit and university clients.
“We are friends with our clients,” she said. “I love when we have that relationship with people and when they trust us to do what we do best. And that’s to make them look good.”
When someone calls to book a holiday party or event, she said staff suggests the theme and food. “We want them to be a guest at their event. We come in, and we do it all.”
The COVID-19 pandemic cut corporate business, including Christmas parties and events. About 20 weddings were postponed, but some still took place.
“That kept us going,” she said. “We also did a ton of boxed meals for healthcare providers in the area.”
The company provided boxed meals for corporate clients, too. She joked that if she wanted a Subway franchise, she would’ve started one. “I felt like that’s what we were for a while, but it was fine. It kept us going. We were thankful for the business.”
The business has more than recovered from the pandemic. Morrison said October has been a record month and 2022 a record year. She declined to provide revenue numbers but attributed the growth to the booming region.
Morrison isn’t focused on business volume but profitability and has limited daily events to maintain quality. Still, the company could have three or four events or one large event in a day. Most are in Northwest Arkansas, but sometimes they’ve been in Missouri and Oklahoma. Events are within one hour of the area to maintain food quality.
The company has eight full-time and more than 20 part-time employees.
She and her husband, Joe, reside in Fayetteville and have a 19-year-old daughter. She enjoys reading and traveling.