Native Houstonian, Elizabeth Stone, President, Owner, and Executive Chef of Silver Stone Events, is someone known for whipping up the most delightful, memorable event experiences. Going back to the time when Elizabeth was born, her parents had a very delightful, memorable experience, as her mother was 45 and her father was 50 and they already had a 10 year old son and a 15 year old daughter!
As Elizabeth was growing up, her parents took her with them everywhere they went which included dining out in fine restaurants. At a very young age, Elizabeth developed a sophisticated palate and learned quickly about proper decorum in public places. In addition, Elizabeth enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with both of her parents whipping up their favorite dishes. Her mother’s cooking was influenced by her French heritage and her dad loved good, old American cuisine.
Elizabeth was a math and science whiz in school and also excelled in Spanish. After graduating from Lamar High School, Elizabeth attended and graduated from SMU and also spent a year abroad in Spain while at SMU. Elizabeth had a truly awesome experience and delighted in learning how to prepare the dishes of the Spanish region including tapas and paella.
After graduating with a degree in business and Spanish, Elizabeth went to work for her sister, a very talented interior designer. Two years later, after deciding to become a physician, Elizabeth attended University of Houston where she acquired the science classes needed as prerequisites for going to medical school.
During that time, a good friend of Elizabeth’s was planning a Christening for her baby. Elizabeth offered to provide the food for the event, and the day after, one of the guests called Elizabeth and asked if she catered. All that was going through her mind was, “If somebody wants to pay me to make chicken salad, I’m more than happy to do that!” So in 1987, that is how it all began!
Living at her mother’s home at the time, Elizabeth’s catering business began rather inauspiciously as she did a little here and a little there for friends. The catering requests grew and grew and by the time Elizabeth had applied to medical school, the catering business had really taken off. It was at this juncture that she knew she needed to make a decision. She kept asking herself, “Am I going to medical school or am I going to continue catering?” Unable to make up her mind, everything came to a sudden head during the Christmas season of 1992.
Elizabeth knew something had to be wrong when her mother came to her at seven in the morning and said, “Baby, we need to have a chat”. Her mother continued, “I get up in the morning and there are people in my kitchen and I go to bed and there are people in my kitchen. When I got up today, I see 15 cases of produce on top of my mother’s antique dining room table. I love you very much but you need to either go cater or go to medical school, but whatever you do, you need to not do it in my house!
So with a gentle yet stern voice, Elizabeth’s mother kicked her out of the nest. Elizabeth made the decision to postpone her acceptance to medical school and by the following spring, she had found a small house in Rice Village to work out of that had been previously used by another catering company.
Without culinary training, Elizabeth prepared what she knew from her parents’ experiences with entertaining and learned everything else by trial and error. Her mother and her grandmother grew up cooking with butter and cream in true Southern style and today she still continues to run her catering kitchen using real butter and real cream. The family motto is, “A little butter is good but a lot is much better!” Elizabeth developed and grew her company using family recipes which are still prepared today.
After outgrowing the little house in Rice Village in 2001, Elizabeth moved to a larger location a few blocks away. Within a period of six months from that time, one would have thought Elizabeth was appearing in her own disaster movie. She had just signed the lease when Tropical Storm Allison hit. Her entire new facility was flooded. Just as Elizabeth cleaned up from Allison and started the renovations, “9/11” happened, and shortly thereafter came the Enron crash!
Elizabeth had drained all of her cash building out the new facility and due to the recent incidences, her business sales dropped off by 40%. Over the next three years, Elizabeth “begged and borrowed” to keep herself and her company alive and her doors open. She became really behind paying her vendors and went to every one in person and said, “I can’t pay you what I owe you right now but I need to keep doing business. I promise that I will pay you back every single penny. If you let me pay C.O.D. on every new order, I will pay you an extra $50 each time until I have paid you in full.” It took Elizabeth six years but she paid back everyone she owed! She reflected, “It made me a stronger person. I have the same vendors today. I am loyal to the ones who worked with me and they have trust, faith, and respect for me because they know I paid every penny back even when so many people did not!”
Business eventually returned and sales began to soar again. Silver Stone moved to a new location on Waugh Drive where they presently are today. Shortly following that move, the 2008 economic crash occurred. People stopped spending their disposable income (especially on catering) and Elizabeth’s sales fell over 60%. A large portion of her loss was attributed to a client she had been working with for three years. It was a national bank that had been opening multiple locations across two states and her company handled all of their grand openings. Overnight, they shut off all marketing and opening operations leaving Elizabeth high and dry.
In the summer of 2009, Elizabeth was about two steps away from closing the doors. She hadn’t been able to pay her rent in months and was struggling to pay her employees. Fortunately, with the help of the Lord, everything changed. Elizabeth recalled, “The Lord blessed me that September. Just when I thought I could not take another step, I received a call from a client who needed to clear out their bank account for an event that was for the following year. They paid 100% upfront for an event that was to happen the next year. What a miracle!”
Silver Stone has grown significantly during the last three years. They obtained a contract with the Asia Society Texas Center in the Museum District to be the preferred caterer at the venue. In addition, they opened the Jade Stone Café there. Silver Stone also secured a contract with SCI (Service Corporation International) to provide catering services in their funeral homes to bereaved families. This diversification has allowed Elizabeth to more than double her sales in a very short period of time.
This phenomenal growth created a need for expansion. Recently, Silver Stone Events doubled their current space and added a beautiful client showroom. The growth has been primarily due to word of mouth and Elizabeth has been able to rely on referrals because of the exceptional, over-the-top service and quality in everything that the Silver Stone team does.
When Elizabeth first began catering, she started out with one employee, Judy Jackson, who was her mother’s housekeeper. Judy learned to cook from Elizabeth’s mother and knew all the recipes and how to prepare them in her head. She began helping Elizabeth one day a week which eventually led to five days a week. Affectionately referred to as “Ms. Judy”, she is still working at Silver Stone 27 years later. Elizabeth and her team consider Ms. Judy’s philosophy and vision the backbone of the company. Judy often remarks, “If you can not do it right, then do not do it”, a belief practiced by Elizabeth and her entire team.
Elizabeth shared, “My team is the greatest that I have ever had. I love to come to work and so enjoy those who I work with.” Currently, the company has 23 full time staff that include: general manager, 2 senior event planners, 2 junior event planners, production director, staffing director, food and beverage director, accounting director, 2 training directors, receptionist, chef, baker, 8 line workers, and a social media planner. With an average of 30 to 35 events a week, the responsibilities of each staff person are enormous. From loading trucks to ensuring that each event has the proper equipment and food as well as managing the wait staff pool of over 50 persons, every employee plays a very important part in the success of the company.
Over the years, Elizabeth has been committed to growing her company and her employees. In addition to always staying abreast of industry trends, one of Elizabeth’s biggest assets has been the hiring of consultants. She recalled, “While playing tennis in 1989, I met a wonderful man, Gerald Sill. He opened and managed the Warwick Hotel and was the founder, president, and chairman of Preferred Hotels Worldwide, an organization of 118 luxury hotels on four continents. With his heavy Hungarian accent, he told me, ‘Lizzy, you cannot afford to hire me but you cannot afford to not hire me because otherwise you won’t have a business in two years!’ So for 15 years, I met with Gerry once a week and I wouldn’t be here today without his guidance and mentoring.”
Elizabeth has always maintained the highest quality of food. The company’s success is based on Elizabeth’s vision of excellence and her belief that creating a positive client experience is the most important aspect of any event. “When asked to cater an event, our job is to make the client happy and create a wonderful, memorable experience for everyone,” stated Elizabeth.
She elaborated, “Think about eating a wonderful meal at a really great restaurant with lousy service and then think about eating a reasonable meal with incredible service. You will go back to that restaurant every time. Why? Because they made you feel special. Exceptional service will overcome everything. Mistakes happen but it is how you handle it that determines if the client will continue to use you or not. Our job is to take care of people with excellence in everything that we do from start to finish and to make them feel special.”
As a full service catering and special events company serving Houston and surrounding communities, Silver Stone Events takes pride in creating extraordinary, unique events and providing first class service and custom culinary menus. The events range from small, intimate dinner parties for 10 people to elegant, seated dinners for 1,000 people as well as extravagant galas and corporate events. Their largest accomplishment so far has been the catering of four simultaneous events in four different cities with over 1,000 guests in attendance.
Over the years, Silver Stone and Elizabeth have won many awards including being the runner up in the 2014 Chef of Chef Competition and a Gold Medal “IPPY” for the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards Contest for Elizabeth’s newly published book “An Invitation to Entertain.” So much more than a cookbook, it is about how to do in your home what Elizabeth has been doing for so long and how to take it and make it your own style. The book has provided new opportunities for Elizabeth including speaking on a national level and promoting her book. Elizabeth remarked, “I found I love to share my experiences with others and help them have the confidence to do it themselves while creating wonderful memories.”
Elaborating more about the book, Elizabeth expressed, “The most important thing about making people feel special is how you greet them at the door when they come in. I tell this story when I speak – When you were getting ready to have three or four couples over for dinner, you went to put the laundry in the washer and you left the meat in the oven too long. It burnt, and like most people, you would start panicking. You would run to the door and your greeting would be something like you saying, ‘Sit down. I just burned the meat and I will be with you in ten minutes!’ The guest is now frantic and panicking for you. The alternative and preferred greeting would be, ‘Hi. Come in. Let me get you a glass of wine. Give me just one minute; make yourselves comfortable.’ Then you can go to the back and send your husband to the store to get you another piece of meat. You are not going to say anything and no one is going to know the difference.”
Elizabeth continued, “Then, it’s an atmosphere that you create that is important. Things will go wrong in the kitchen but I always remember what Julia Child said, ‘Never apologize.’ When you greet your guests at the door and warmly welcome them, they automatically feel special the rest of the night. It is not about what you serve or what you serve it in that is important. It is about how you treat people that sets the tone and creates that special memory.” This is the motto that Elizabeth and her team adhere to. It’s all about finding a way to make others feel special and whipping up delightful, memorable experiences through food and outstanding service.