Spotlight on Women
Mary Kay Waters, President, Waters Fine Food & Catering
Photo by Jen & Bec
What is your background?
I got my degree in nutrition and then went to the Culinary Institute. I studied with the pastry chef at the White House for a year. That’s when I met my husband, who is from San Diego, and we eventually moved here.
How did you get your start in catering in San Diego?
I first worked for a restaurant in La Jolla and then started catering 25 years ago. We started with a small space on West Morena Boulevard and have continually expanded and taken over more space for our central kitchen. We now have three locations plus weddings, catering, and three retail locations. We are just now starting another division, which is online delivery. We will begin in one location, and if it takes off we will expand to other areas.
Who were your mentors?
Definitely my father. One summer he let me be the chef at a small hotel he owned. It was a great experience. He was pretty tough, and I had to prove myself to him. Then he hired a chef who had gone to culinary school. The chef helped me take a look at the school, and it changed my life.
What do you do to mentor others?
I have a young woman in the kitchen who wants to own her own business, and she is learning every phase of our business. We also bring kids in from schools to expose them to healthy foods. I have had students come back and tell me how valuable the experience was for them.
How many employees do you have?
Our payroll every two weeks is about 100. Of that, about 26 are full-time, and the others are part-time. Some of our employees have been with us for 15 to 22 years.
What has been your high and low in the business?
The low was starting business when my son was born, working 90 hours a week, going back to work three days after birth. I definitely would not do that again. I once prepared a dinner for chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. It was a bit intimidating—but my real highs are when a client praises what we have done for them.
What drives you?
I love food, and I am always looking for new things. I come in seven days a week. Sometimes I peel potatoes or make a cake or whatever has to be done. I started from the ground up so I can jump in anywhere, the business side or the creative side.
What don’t people know about you?
Over the years I have heard “I didn’t know there really was a Mary Kay Waters.” I am more comfortable in action than being out front. So I would love for people to know that I am an integral part of the business and truly lead the team.
How have you balanced your work with your family life?
My husband has always been very supportive and helpful with our two boys and with housekeeping. We do everything out of our central kitchen, so that helps with work demands.
How do you support the community?
We give to a lot of charities to help with their events. We encourage employees to participate and support charities as well. Joe, our pastry chef, does a lot with Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center.
What is the future of Waters?
Keeping up with the times and with competition.