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Cooking up profits through Games

Culinary Capers co-founder urges Whistler businesses to get involved early

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By Vivian Moreau

Whistler businesses that want to turn a profit during the 2010 Winter Games need to start planning now, says the president of a catering company that looks to make $5 million-$10 million during the Games.

“Get involved early to try and meet people and find out what other people with similar businesses have done,” said Debra Lykkemark, president of Vancouver-based Culinary Capers at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Feb. 21.

Lykkemark said she gave her 20-year-old catering business a 2010 test run by landing the contract to provide food services for B.C. House at Torino’s 2006 Winter Games. Overcoming obstacles such as supplies not arriving on time, sub-letting kitchen space from American facilities and spotting opportunities on the run led to further contracts while her crew of seven was in Italy. But most importantly it was a learning experience on how to get ready for 2010.

Advising the 120 business people attending the luncheon, Lykkemark said it’s imperative to check out the 2010 commerce site and to sign up for the request for proposal (RFP) contact list.

When applying for an RFP the caterer, whose company had revenues of $6.5 million last year, advised Whistler businesses to fill out the complicated forms “to the letter.” She also advised businesses not gloss over potential difficulties their services might encounter.

“Do say we foresee these problems and this is how we plan in overcoming difficulties,” she said, “instead of saying ‘oh, it will be easy.’”

Lykkmark who started her business in 1986 with Whistler grocery store owner Sue Adams, said she is presently strategizing how to out-manoeuvre American caterers that are already negotiating with Vancouver commercial kitchens to sub-let kitchens during the Games. The woman who won Business in Vancouver’s 2005 Influential Woman in Business award, said she will head to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games with her company and hopes to provide food services for B.C. House and to do a lot of glad-handing while there with corporate sponsors in hopes of landing lucrative contracts for 2010.

Lykkmark recalled overcoming logistical nightmares in Torino with suppliers who didn’t show up until just hours before events and how she and staff divvied up shopping lists and hit the local public market. The open air market, known for its pick pockets, required Lykkmark to keep her eyes open and her cash stuffed down her shirt. But in the midst of the panic opportunity presented itself when a young woman fluent in Italian and English stepped forward to help staff with their purchases. “You speak Italian?” Lykkmark asked, “Are you busy?”

Lykkmark ended up hiring the woman and several of her exchange school friends to work as serving staff during the Games.

Lykkmark’s message on the importance of seizing opportunities made its mark on Whistler businesses.

“What I found interesting was her taking the initiative and getting ahead of the curve and finding ways to get involved and not just waiting for things to happen,” said businessman Glen Iles. “The squirrels are running in my head right now in terms of what I can do with my businesses in order to look for those opportunities.”

Westin Resort and Spa’s head of human resources had a similar conclusion.

“Because it’s a local story I think it will inspire lots of business owners that are attending this luncheon,” Karen Wilhelm said. “Just the wealth of information that she shared can benefit everybody around here.”

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