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Brattleboro woman named young entrepreneur of the year

Gretchen hardyAs much as teenagers are told they can be whatever they want when they grow up, so few go on to live fulfill their dreams.

For one Brattleboro woman, she is exactly what she wanted to be when she was a teenager, the owner of a successful Vermont catering company.

"In high school we all had to write down where we wanted to be in 10 years. I wrote, I hope to own my own catering company by the time I was 28. And I ended up doing just that," said Gretchen Hardy, co-owner of Hardy Foard Catering in Brattleboro, Vt.

Hardy is named the 2017 Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Small Business Administration. The annual award is presented to business owners under 35 who have had success in sales, profits, increasing jobs, having innovative business methods and demonstrating entrepreneurial potential necessary for economic growth.

Always interested in cooking, Hardy decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York to turn her interest into her profession. From there she went out west working at different restaurants in Colorado for few years. However those restaurants weren't hers. She made the decision to move back East to open up a place of her own.

In October 2010 she started Hardy-Foard catering along with Bo Foard, a self-taught cook. The partnership was forged through Gretchen's brother and Foard's son, who were friends. He knew of Gretchen’s desire to start her own business, so before she left for Colorado, Foard told her if she ever returned east she should look him up because he too may be interested in starting one with her. Upon her return, that is exactly what she did.

Within a few months Hardy Foard found itself catering an inauguration party in January for former Governor Peter Shumlin at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center with more than 350 guests.

The catering service has been growing ever since. After that business took off so quickly by the next year the catering company started a food truck. There they served walk ups and did all the catering out of the truck. But that too was short lived because Hardy Foard outgrew the food truck due to catering demands.

Today the catering company and new restaurant, The Porch, are located in a former sandwich shop on Putney Road in Brattleboro.

“People thought I was crazy when I told them where we were moving to. Several businesses had occupied that space prior to us moving in and all closed their doors rather quickly. But we’ve had a lot of success here. We are able to do more events and more weddings, and we’ve grown a steady stream of regulars who eat here in the restaurant,” said Hardy.

During the spring and summer those regulars have to sometimes find another place to eat because Hardy Foard’s catering schedule gets so busy the restaurant has to close its doors on weekends. This past year the company catered 49 weddings in Vermont and New Hampshire in addition to a number of parties, events, memorials and business lunches.

Hardy Foard has bootstrapped this entire endeavor, not taking on any loans or debts. If Hardy Foard can't afford to do something they simply don't do it, Hardy says. In the last five years, Hardy Foard's sales have increased by at least 30 percent annually and much of the sales have gone back into the business.

When the business started it was only her and Foard. Now it employs up to 25 employees at the height of catering season and has three catering teams to accommodate different events held on the same day.

The company has a low level of attrition. Five staff members who were hired when the Porch opened are still working for Hardy today and are considered the core of the business. Hardy believes she would not be where she is today without her loyal staff members.

“Gretchen takes pride in hiring, training and retaining local Vermonters. She pays a livable wage and she does not discriminate. Gretchen has given opportunities to those who are in recovery, or on parole, or part-time working moms and young cooks,” said Melany Kahn, wife of Foard and mentor to Hardy. 

The business is also a family affair. Many friends and relatives have worked for the catering business including Hardy’s brothers and sisters. The latest family member to come on board is Nathan LaChance, Hardy’s husband.

“My husband Nate has joined us and helps out with everything from building projects to running to events when I forget something. He does it all with great endearing enthusiasm,” said Hardy.

While there are some challenges to being her own boss, Hardy says diligence is her greatest asset.

"There are certain parts to owning a business that are very hard. Hiring is hard, book keeping is hard, business in general is hard for me, but hard work and long hours have always been easy for me. I just don't mind coming in here each day, and it's pretty much every day," she said.

As for the future of Hardy Foard, she hopes one day to own her own event space so she can offer catering and a venue for weddings and various banquets.

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