Episode 21: Scaling Mountains And Growing Businesses, With Mary Crafts

Mary Crafts has a 100% all-in zest for life. As the founder of Culinary Crafts, Utah’s largest off-premise catering company, and 20-time winner of Best Of State, Mary has created thousands of impressive events throughout the state for over 35 years. Mary is a masterful caterer and a resourceful businesswoman who has served thousands of clients, including many A-list celebrities (Oprah Winfrey and Sir Elton John, for example), two presidents of the United States, and hundreds of Fortune 500 companies. During the 1980s and 90s, Mary hosted a cooking show on KBYU TV that established her reputation as a food celebrity in Utah. Mary has been called a trendsetter in her industry and an ambassador for all things related to food and events.

Mary’s involvement in community non-profits, business networks, and education has put her in the spotlight as one of Utah’s most influential women. Recently Mary received The Hero Award from Silicon Slopes Magazine and the Pathfinder Award from the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce. She has also been named “One of Utah’s Coolest Entrepreneurs,” is a recipient of Utah Valley University’s Kirk Englehardt Ethics Award, and is one of Utah’s businesswomen who received the “30 Women to Watch” award.

Mary’s current endeavors include hosting her weekly podcast, “Crafting a Meaningful Life,” as well as offering her expertise as a keynote speaker, business and marketing consultant, and team builder. Mary is thrilled to share her hard-won life lessons with others as only she can, with her insatiable zest for life and heartfelt badass attitude. To stay in touch, tune in to her podcasts or visit her website at www.MaryCraftsInc.com.

What the podcast will teach you:

  • Why Mary’s current mission in life is to help people overcome their fears and achieve success through her podcast “Crafting A Meaningful Life”
  • Why Mary achieved a dramatic health and fitness journey at 50 years old, and why she decided to challenge herself and her fears by hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro at 65
  • Mary shares her experiences climbing the mountain and the steps she took to prepare herself for the physical and mental challenge of making it to the summit
  • What challenges and obstacles Mary faced as a business owner at around the $1 million in revenue mark
  • How Mary’s role evolved over time as she ran and grew her business and how she leaned into her strengths during that evolution
  • How Mary learned to take risks and bring in more employees despite her reservations that her company couldn’t afford it, and why delegation was the secret to her success
  • Why designing and implementing repeatable systems was a difficult but necessary step for Culinary Crafts
  • Why planning your business’s finances is a key step for growth, and why it is important to maintain control at all times
  • How Mary lost 40% of her business in just two months after the 2008 economic crash, and how she weathered the downturn through good credit and honest business dealing
  • Why integrity is the most powerful asset and important resource you have at your disposal as a business owner


I’m here with a very special guest. Her name is Mary Crafts. I don’t have enough time on this show to read all of her accomplishments and the things that she does. Let me give a little snippet. Mary is the Founder of Culinary Crafts, a very successful catering company based in Utah that has had numerous awards. I can’t count the number of awards, but she’s been recognized for Catering Excellence and Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year where she lives. Also, an Ethics Award and a Community Hero Award. You name it. Mary has done it and received acknowledgment for it.

I’m super excited about everything that you bring to this conversation. Most of all, because of our audience, Mary, I’m thrilled to have a successful business owner who knows what it’s like to grow through that seven-figure business stage, and we’ll get into that. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m sincerely honored to have you as our guest.

My pleasure, Brett. It’s a topic I love to talk about, so I was thrilled when your assistant called and said, “Do you have time?” “Absolutely. I’ll drop everything.”

It’s generous of you to take time with us. If you’re reading, you need to check this website out. It’s MaryCraftsInc.com. Mary, if you want them to go anywhere else to find you, let’s go ahead and say that here without delay. Tell us where else we can find you and how to connect.

You can certainly find me on social media under my name, Mary Crafts, both on Facebook and Instagram. I’m sorry. I don’t tweet. Maybe I will after the president stops tweeting so much. Follow most of the things I do on my social media. On the website, in particular, my big focus right now is my podcast.

The link to all episodes that are listed there on that website link as well as my speaking and things I speak on because that’s my focus right now that I have retired. I retired more than a year and a half ago. I started a new company, Mary Crafts Inc. That’s what I’m out and about doing. I’m sharing the love.

Go ahead and share the name of that podcast because it’s wonderful.

It’s a little take on my last name of Crafts, so it’s called Crafting A Meaningful Life. It’s the part that I’m about right now. I am no longer involved in the hospitality industry other than doing some business consulting. I feel that my mission at this point in life is to lift others to share with them my journey. It’s to help them release the fears that have them right by the jugular vein and find the badass inside of them that’s going to push them to that next level, whether that be business, personal, or physical. There’s something out there for them that’s next.

All people have the same fear: that we're just not enough. Click To Tweet

Unlike many successful entrepreneurs, you’re in that next phase where you’re now giving back and helping others take life by the horns and get after it. I love everything that I’ve seen and heard from your website. I encourage all of our readers to go check that out. Mary, I did a little teaser and said the one thing that caught my attention. I wanted to make sure that we got the rest of that in. I derail us, but I was super excited to see a little bit of your experience, not just hiking but conquering Mount Kilimanjaro.

Tell us a little bit about that. I had the pleasure of interviewing an endurance athlete, somebody who runs 100-mile and 200-mile races. They’re extreme physical tests. Here I am talking to another person that’s accomplished something incredible. Let’s talk about your experience at Kilimanjaro, and then I want to get into some of the lessons learned that we can apply in business.

Sometimes when people are entrepreneurs in business, they can focus on something, a single item, and excel at it and become super good at it. I started my catering company at the age of 30. I was twenty years old and already the largest in the state. I had already received International Caterer of the Year and twenty Best of State awards. What was next for me? At the age of 50, I had the choice of saying, “Let’s write this one out, or let’s see what’s next.” I knew what that was.

In my heart, I knew that at age 50, at 284 pounds, my life was going to be limited. I had other goals that needed attention so I wrote a list of what those were. On top of that list was to become fit, healthy, and well so that I could live a long life. I’m anticipating 105. I lost 130 pounds. It took me six years to do it and I began to get very fit. Right now, at my age, I still think I’m the strongest woman at the gym. Nobody can outlift me.

As I retired at age 65, I needed new reasons to put my feet on the ground. That became this giving back piece. As I looked at how I was going to do that, I realized I needed more knowledge myself. I put different goals out there in front of me to challenge me in so many different areas, and one of them was physical. My big fear, as all people have the same fear, is that we’re not enough. We’re going to fall short or fail.

Whatever it is, it all boils down to we’re not enough. That fear still stayed with me. I fought it every day. As I faced training for Kilimanjaro, I thought, “I can do this. I’m a strong woman. I can hike. I live in Utah for crying out loud. I hiked the mountains all the time. I’m going to do this.” I finally put my money down, I signed up, and I was going alone. I wasn’t going with anyone. That was a challenge in it itself.

When I arrived at the mountain, I had a little bit of fear but I thought, “This is my day and time to overcome it.” As I started up that mountain, I was cut off from my family, phone calls, social media, and there was no internet service at all. In my team, there were eight of us and they all climbed together. It’s tremendous, Denali, Everest, and Rainier. I was so inadequate and not ready.

Every fear I’d ever had, I met. There, on the mountain of Kilimanjaro, I had to decide, “Was I going to push through? Did I have the grit that it took to stick to my commitments, or was I going to fail? Was I going to go back home?” I looked those fears in the eyes and, for one last time, proved to myself. I was then and will always be enough.

Mary, that’s so inspiring. Not to keep people from reading a book that you will someday publish about that, I’m sure.

EEP 21 Mary | Growing Business

Growing Business: Another great lesson is delegating, that you are not God’s great gift to this planet, and that other people have talents and skills as well.


Yes. It will be published.

You made it to this summit. You got there. I saw a picture of it. It filled my heart with joy and excitement to see you accomplish that. You’d probably be the first to say, “Don’t live vicariously. Go make those moments yourself.”

The idea of sharing is to inspire others to find their summit and Kilimanjaro that is in front of them. Not so that they can sit and go, “Well done, Mary.”

There were eight people. Did everybody make it?

We all made it. For the seven of them, I told that night when I realized what a team they were and what experienced climbers they were. I was the oldest in the group by fifteen years. I told them the night before we started, “The one thing that will stress me more than anything is if I know you’re waiting for me. I want you to move ahead and go at your pace. When I get to camp each night, it will be at my pace and what I can do. I will push myself to be my best but that’s the way that it will be best for me.”

That’s how we ran the seven days. They would go ahead. We would start off together, but then within fifteen minutes, they were beyond me. I kept one of the African guides with me so I wasn’t completely alone. He didn’t speak much English, I feel like I hiked all the days in silence and these were days anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, except for the last day, which is fifteen hours. By the time I would get to camp every night, they would have all their stuff set up and their tents ready. I’d have to start. I would always be late for dinner and have to hit back right away to my tent.

I couldn’t stay and socialize because it’s so much to do by myself, like get my snacks ready, pack my pack for the next day, get my water containers ready, and decide what clothing for what the climate is going to be the next day. I didn’t have someone else to rely on, and I had to rely on myself. The night before we got to the summit, I had a horrible night in bed. I had urinated all over the long underwear I had to have on the next day because we were going to zero degrees and the frantic attempts to dry this out.

I’m crying, thinking, “How in the hell did I get here? I could be home with warm water and dry underwear.” It was crazy. Even after I crawled the last 10 feet to the summit, I held on to the post and sobbed because I didn’t have the strength in my legs to stand up anymore, knowing that I had another seven hours in front of me to get down. I did find out I was only fifteen minutes behind the other team. I made it to the summit before they left and we were able to take a photo together.

A real key, as entrepreneurs go on and grow their business, is to decide what hat is best to wear. Click To Tweet

It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done emotionally, mentally, and physically. When I first got down, I thought, “I’m so glad that’s behind me. I never have to do that again. That was horrible.” Each day, and even now, I have become more and more aware of what I learned on that mountain. Someone said to me, “Knowing how hard that was now, would you do it again just the same way?” I’ve said yes in a heartbeat. There was so much for me there, and I’ll never be the same.

Good for you. That’s such an inspiration. You mentioned retiring and handing off your business to your capable kids at 65, I read that on your website, and then you went and did this thing. I don’t know your age now but you said that it was not too long ago when you went and climbed.

That was my goal. I had said that I would summit within the next five years. I set that at the end of being 60 so I had until just before my 66th birthday. I had until the end of 65. I summitted it two weeks before my 66th birthday, and I did it.

We’re all the better off for hearing that story. Let’s rewind to several years because it’s not the end of the book because you still have another 40 years. One hundred five is what you’re projecting right now. You’re going to have a ton of impact.

This year, 2020, I’m climbing Annapurna in the Himalayas.

Why not? Let’s pretend Kilimanjaro was the bookend to your entrepreneurial career. It’s not but let’s pretend for a minute. I know you started in your own kitchen. Let’s call it humble or meager circumstances and you built a multimillion-dollar catering company. Let’s rewind to the place where you’ve passed the million-dollar mark because our readers are seven-figure business owners. They’re trying to figure out, “How do I go from $1 million to $3 million and $3 million to $10 million? how do I make that journey?”

You are an experienced seven-figure entrepreneur. You make it to that million-dollar mark and like many elite entrepreneurs, you’ve probably thought, “I did it. Here we are,” only to realize there are some new challenges as you keep growing. I would love to hear your version or memory of some of the challenges you encountered. It doesn’t have to be so precise that right when we crossed the million-dollar mark but early in that seven-figure growth journey, what were some of the challenges that you experienced as the business owner?

When the business is young and small, even though there’s the struggle, trying to grow the business, learn how to market it, and who’s going to wear all the hats, in the beginning, it is pretty easy. I wear all the hats. I’m the marketer, salesperson, chef, cleanup person, and server. I’m all of it. That part is pretty easy because it’s just you, and then you have to begin to discern what hat is the best for you to wear.

EEP 21 Mary | Growing Business

Growing Business: People have to think about money and financing, how they’re going to grow and how they want to grow, and what’s most important to them.


A real key, as entrepreneurs go on and grow their business, is to decide what happens best for them to wear. I thought that the chef’s hat was going to be best for me to wear. I love to cook. That’s why I started this company. I didn’t have any other way to support myself other than to go back to social work. That was an 8:00 to 5:00 job and that meant putting my two little babies in daycare. I did not want to do this, so I thought maybe I could cater or cook.

It’s wearing all the hats to start with. As the company began to grow, I thought, “I will stay the chef. I’ll find somebody else to drive the truck.” I realized quickly that my greatest passion and talent was not in the kitchen. It was out front. It was marketing this company, and it was selling. I ended up being a great salesperson. That, for me, was a key moment when you decide what hat it is you’re going to wear. Not that it always has to stay the same hat. You can flow through that.

Initially, I started and did lots of different things than did this part and then this half part. Even when I retired, I was doing a couple of million dollars in sales and was marketing like crazy. I was attending events to continue to promote the company. That’s where I shine. It was much easier to hire someone to work the chef’s knife in the back than to have the passion I had for this company and what we were about upfront.

I left the kitchen after I’d been in business for twelve years and hired those people that worked in the back. I was over to the company, and there were 25 chefs in the back. Those are easy to find compared to somebody who’s going to drive the bus out front. Having the right people on the bus in the right positions is important. I’m a big fan of Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great.

When you find someone that’s a good fit for you as an individual and who you are, you can find a seat on the bus for him. I let a lot of people slip through my hands in the beginning because I didn’t think I could afford them or I didn’t have a spot for them. I found in the end that if they were the right people for me, then bringing them on that the company would grow into them. You have to be willing to take those risks.

I did business counseling for a catering company in San Diego. They needed another salesperson but they were so afraid to take that step. They’re like, “What if we can’t pay her?” I was like, “You’re not going to ever be able to pay her if you don’t hire one to get you more business. You can only sell so much stuff yourself.” They did take that advice and hired another one, and their company is doing much better.

Deciding what pieces for you are critical. Another great lesson is delegating that you are not God’s great gift to this planet. Other people have talents and skills as well. I remember when we did the Olympics 2002 here in Utah. I had a lot of contracts. We were setting up seventeen events a day. I had this in my head, “I’m going to do this first event. It’s a morning breakfast and I will get it set up and rolling.”

I will then leave there, go to the next event, and make sure that they have everything they need, and then I’ll go to the next event. My staff was all in these different events already but I would be coming in to make sure everything was running well. I would be able to finish my seventeenth one by showing up at 8:00 that night to the last one. On the first day of the Olympics, I went to the first one as planned. By the time I got to the second one, it was over. I walked in just wide-eyed, “How did you do this? How did it go? What happened?”

There's probably nothing that will kill a business faster than too much debt. Click To Tweet

They looked at me like, “We had all the food. The chefs were here. The dishes that were ordered were here. We served it.” I was like, “How did it go?” “It went great.” The rest of the Olympics were fun. I realized I could pick and choose where I was showing up because I had trained my people so well. All I had to do was trust them. Trusting others and those you have trained is a huge part of growing past $1 million. The next piece that is huge in growing past $1 million is what I call standard operating procedures.

Unless your company has standard operating procedures, you can’t duplicate anything, and you have to show up and be in place at every single step. When we used to do staffing, I did the staffing because there weren’t any SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures in place. I had to load every truck because there wasn’t any SOP in place about how to load the truck. I had to be there for cleanup because there wasn’t any SOP about how we handle cleanup at clients’ venues or homes. It’s taking time. It’s an arduous and tedious process.

It’s painful for entrepreneurs to do this, isn’t it?

It’s painful because they’re the thinkers. They are not the, “Let’s get down to step-by-step processes of how you run a dishwasher.” That’s not them. Now we have so many tools to help. It’s easy to find a tool you can use to get those in place. Sometimes, there are existing online SOPs that address so many different things that are standard in every company. You don’t reinvent the wheel. Find those. You might want to use an app like Otter where you can verbally speak into it, and then it will transcribe it into a written document. Your assistant or secretary can take that and break it down. You don’t have to do every step yourself.

Back to your delegating point, get everybody on the team to document the things they’re doing.

Those are some key things that helped and managed growth, and your business will never be sellable if those SOPs are not in place.

It’s because all in the people if it’s not a tangible asset.

Once Mary retires, how do we make meatballs?

EEP 21 Mary | Growing Business

Growing Business: Your business will grow and flourish, and it starts from the top down. It doesn’t start from the bottom up.


Those are great lessons, Mary. As I think about the audience, we have your point about how you’ve got to figure out which hat you’re going to wear because at some point, it’s time to pass on hats to other people. You want to know the ones that you bring the most value to the company, and the delegation point is critical. People who know this show enough know that I reference a good friend of mine named Clate Mask periodically. I love this quote by Clate. He said, “Becoming a CEO, in other words, this journey from entrepreneur to CEO, is an exercise in relinquishing control.” I loved your Olympics example. That was fantastic.

I can’t agree with that more.

You’ve got to figure out how to let go. Those seventeen events forced you. There’s no way, humanly possible, for you to be at all of those. It forces you to let go, and sometimes business owners don’t have a forcing function like that but their business is being held back until they can learn that lesson. Thank you for sharing that, and then this last point about it’s got to be repeatable people. We’re building a business now. We’re not just selling and fulfilling.

The way that happens is through repeatability. If so and so leaves, then we’ve got to plug somebody else in. We can start from scratch. Those standard operating procedures are key. Thank you so much for sharing those insights. I’ve had a great time getting to know some of your accomplishments. These lessons are fantastic. Do you have any other points? If you think back, “Where else did I get stuck as the business owner when I was in that post-million-dollar range and trying to grow?”

A key piece along any of these lines is people have to think about money, financing, how you’re going to grow, how you want to grow, and what’s most important to you. What was most important to me was to be self-funded. That doesn’t work for everyone and doesn’t work for every company. Like me starting in catering, I needed $150. Why do I know that? It’s because that’s what I had.

I know the exact amount. That was all there in the checking account, and that’s where I started. I want to be self-funded, so we grew at a slow pace. If I had taken on partners or loans, we might be larger. I don’t know that for sure, but we might be. The thing I do know about debt is that there’s probably nothing that will kill a business faster than too much debt. As you take on partners or debt, you have to make sure that you are aware of, “How long does it take me to pay that back?”

I see restaurants all the time open up, and they say, “I have two months of operating capital before I have to make a profit.” Two months? Are you kidding? You’re going to fail. It takes more than two months to make a restaurant profitable. Most restaurants don’t become super profitable until they’ve been open five years, and by then, 85% of them are closed. It’s a tough business, but the only thing I do is make my own personal decisions about financing.

Remember, he who has the gold makes the rules. You have to be able to live with those rules and be comfortable with them. I see way too many entrepreneurs in their quest to grow, sell out their concept, who they are to accompany, and they lose control. The key figure there is 51%. Without that, you are not in control, and you don’t get to call the shots on what you do. If you’re not a money person at all, that might be okay, but if you do have a sense of how this company should run and your vision of it, don’t be so quick to give control away.

The most powerful asset you will ever have is your integrity. Without that, your business is going to be in trouble. Click To Tweet

Now my company is at the point where people are coming and begging us to take money from them. I will tell you this. During the 2008 and 2009 downturn and the recession, we lost 40% of our business within two months, cancellation after cancellation. My commitment was to keep all of my people employed. Because I didn’t have any debt, we survived that with flying colors. No one was coming to take away my vans or my building, and I didn’t owe people back, no food costs or anything else. We were able to weather that.

Catering companies around the country closed down because they had too much debt. They couldn’t weather an economic downturn. In fact, our credit was so good that people started coming to us asking, “Would you start buying from me because we know you’ll pay us.” “I’m going to give you a 35% discount on our prices if you’ll start buying for me because I know you’re going to pay our bill.” What kind of power does that gives you?

I want you to understand that the most important piece you will ever learn in business and the most powerful asset you will ever have is your integrity. Without that, eventually, your business is going to be in trouble. With that, your business will grow and flourish, and it starts from the top down. It doesn’t start from the bottom up. That’s my greatest advice for people.

That’s incredible, Mary. While we enjoy some face-to-face, our audience can’t see you, but they know how beautiful you are by what you said. I want them to understand how profound that was. I hope they get that on their own, but I want to reinforce it for them. I completely agree we have to be our word. I love that you brought up the capital piece. In fact, you’re the first guests that we’ve had that brought that up.

We talked about this with entrepreneurs as well. Your main role as a CEO is to set the vision, build a team that can go make it happen, and secure fuel for growth. The other version that most of us say is, “Don’t run out of money.” Those are your jobs as a CEO. You’re the first guest to bring that up, and I love that you did because most entrepreneurs don’t want to think about it. They want to ignore that piece. They’re getting by.

They don’t want to focus on securing fuel for growth or being able to weather the storm. They don’t want to think that way. They’re dealing with what’s coming at them. I love that you brought that up. Mary, it’s been a pleasure. You are a world of wisdom. Thank you for sharing some of it with us on our show. Say it one more time what people can do to connect with you if they want to hear more from you.

My website is MaryCraftsInc.com. There, you’ll see all my podcasts. I welcome you to subscribe and listen in. Also, to the things I love to speak on and to look forward to my book, Unbounded-From Sorrow to Summit.

Thanks again for being our guest. For those of you reading, I hope that you will review our show and rate it. We’re going to keep bringing you great guests like Mary. Thank you for reading.

Thanks so much. Bye, Brett.


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