After graduating from high school in 1990, Aaron Butler, owner of Creations Catering & Events and Park Place Inn & Cottages, followed in his brother's footsteps and joined the Navy. He spent four years serving our country before attending culinary school. Butler always enjoyed cooking and, toward the end of his two-year program, started thinking about combining his love for cooking with his growing desire to start a business.
"After culinary school, I worked for a few different restaurants and a catering company," he said. "I achieved Sous Chef and eventually Executive Chef status and held five top management positions. I also did some private chef work on the side. I did weddings and other events and really learned the business and gained a lot of knowledge and confidence along the way. I reached a point where I could no longer do certain things out of my house. As a result, I ended up in a shared kitchen before I eventually found my own space."
Around 2002, Butler leased his own space and officially "took the plunge". He quit his day job to focus on the business and dumped everything he had into it. Butler spent the next few years growing the business and expanding his services and clientele base. After his wife convinced him to check out the historic district of Sanford as a possible new home for the business, Butler saw the potential and identified the perfect space.
"Not long after moving the business to Sanford, I changed the name from Creations by Chef Aaron to Creations Catering & Events," Butler said. "I felt like in order to get bigger, I had to take my name out. From that point on, we really grew through word of mouth and by doing a great job. I was raised to work hard and that's exactly what I did."
In January 2019, the owner of the building where Butler was leasing indicated her desire to sell. The owner wasn't going to renew Butler's lease, which left him with a decision to make.
"I really didn't want to move again," he said. "It's not easy to find a commercial kitchen. Our landlord wanted to sell the whole property, which included three separate properties. She was using them as vacation rentals and I felt like I could handle what she had going on. After crunching the numbers and getting my wife comfortable with everything, we decided on a lease to own agreement."
From catering and events to now also managing three rental properties, Butler has his hands full. Nevertheless, he's optimistic and enjoys the new challenge.
"The lodging side of things is a little more personable," he said. "It honestly rejuvenated me a bit. I really enjoy making people happy and making their stays memorable. Running two businesses is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice, but I know it's going to pay off in the end."
Looking ahead, Butler has big visions for his recently acquired property. In addition to vacation rentals, he'd like to use the space to do more events, such as baby showers, weddings, pop-up bars and other events where he can provide food and beverages through his catering company. He's also focused on automation, wherever possible, and ultimately building the business to a level where he can sell it and retire.
What advice does Butler have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "When evaluating an opportunity, do as many number crunching exercises as possible," he said. "This is especially true in the food and hospitality industry. You need to know how much occupancy is required to produce a return and, with food, you need to stay on top of the prices. Also, think through how big you plan to get and how you'll adjust to accommodate that growth."