Serge Krikorian

Founder of Vibrant Occasions Catering

Chef Serge Krikorian and his wife, Mary Krikorian, started their catering business in 2002 and have been in the family restaurant business since 1994. Having catered thousands of events over the years as Dinner’s Ready, they launched Vibrant Occasions Catering, a new name that more accurately depicts the level of food and service provided at weddings and social events. Krikorian was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States with his family as an adult entering college. He now hails from the quaint town of Benton, Arkansas. His southern hospitality paired with his penchant for developing unique international fusion-style recipes, especially sauces, has garnered his reputation as foodies’ fan favorite in his community and now on the Youtube space for his cooking show, Cooking with the Kriks. After years of dreaming about owning a mobile kitchen, in December 2020, Serge and Mary launched Our Mobile Kitchen with the intention of providing fresh, 5-star quality chef-prepared cuisine to patrons visiting where the mobile kitchen is parked or on site for catered weddings and social, private or corporate events.

Krikorian is an alumnus of Henderson State University where he studied business earning his Bachelor’s Degree and met his wife, Mary. He earned his MBA from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Serge became a restaurant entrepreneur when he purchased an old, run-down pizza parlor he and Mary revived called Sergio’s Pizza. After a few years, they knew the restaurant business was not for them. Mary booked their first official catering gig, much to Serge’s surprise. They began receiving more and more requests for catering luncheons and events. The catering business took over after six months and they never looked back. They have three sons who often work in the business around their academic and career schedules, making their enterprise a family-built business.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

I start my day going to every department and to say good morning and have a quick chat with almost all team members. I like to see if anyone needs anything personally or work-related from me. I then go to my office and look at my daily and weekly to do lists and plan my day. I have a huddle with the culinary team, discussing the previous day’s events along with praises for jobs well done. We also discuss any feedback we receive from our clients. This is where my typical day ends, which is generally one hour into it. I spend the rest of the day with my team planning, motivating, helping with any tasks from my culinary team, to my catering team, to my sales team, to my marketing team. I love what I do and our work family which makes my day go by so quickly.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I trust my team. When I have an idea, I present it to my team and they bring it to fruition. I consider myself the idea person but I am not great at execution. I tend to get easily distracted with new ideas. Thankfully, my team understands me and they have my back to execute my ideas.

What’s one trend that excites you?

When we first started catering over 20 years ago, the only foods our clients asked for were comfort foods, Italian foods, and Tex-Mex foods. I’m very excited about the culinary changes in the United States. Our clients are now more open and excited to try cuisines from different continents. Fusion cuisine is becoming more popular as well. Fusion and international cooking is what I thrive on. Our Clients now love our new, elevated, innovative creations, from Mediterranean, to Asian, to South American. Multiple courses from different nations that magically work together. We continually push the culinary envelope in our area, and when we see the smiles and the nodes and the thank yous because we are different, we feel that this mission was accomplished. Time to push again.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

I have a Personal Leadership Manifesto that says:

Growth and Love

Grow your love, life and self
Love is family, home, work, community
Stay vulnerable, authentic and genuine
Listen and hear
Lead with your heart
Inspire awesomeness
Respond with courage
Have a positive influence on everyone around you
Make it vibrant “and fun” everyday
It’s not work when you love what you do and who you are with

The background photos behind my Personal Manifesto also have a personal meaning to me. I generally read my Manifesto every morning before coming to work to remind myself of the leader I aspire to be. I reread it when I am not focused. It grounds me, helps me get focused, pushes me through, and inspires me to be productive and handle the task at hand.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Business is not black or white, it’s all shades of gray. Also, I wish I had known about Heart Leadership and servant leadership putting employees first. Core Values are not framed because those words really sound good, Core Values and Company Culture are not about having a few parties and enjoying a great break room. Core Values are principles shared by many of your team. Our Core Values (Vibrant Values) are regularly reevaluated by our leadership team, who invest hours teaching them to the entire team. I would tell my younger self to invest in Company Culture and it would pay dividends. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I really wish I knew that and learned early on as a youth. Find the right employees whose personal values are aligned with yours and invest in them. When they are happy and enjoy work, you will love work. Work is not work when you love what you do and who love who you work with.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.

I consider myself to be a reasonable person and when I put forth an idea, I am open to other people’s thoughts on my idea. I listen to and respect the input of others and, as a general rule, I either concede that their ideas are better than mine or they concede that my ideas are better. I don’t dig in my heels and demand that people agree with me.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

A few years ago, I started walking and listening to leadership and inspirational books four times a week, generally really early in the morning. It’s only me and my dog, Bear, walking around our subdivision and saying hello to a few friendly neighbors who got up and decided to do the same. Walking allows me to concentrate on listening to the books even for only fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, allowing me to continually grow my leadership skills and knowledge.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

I generally perform at a much higher level when I’m overwhelmed. I have amazing culinary and catering teams who do really well getting things ready even when we have 15-20 events in a 3 day period. I’m usually there in support and tasting food but sometimes when things go wrong, my thought process goes into high gear and I can lead our team from a near impossible task into a successful one. I thrive in those situations.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

Invest in your people and your “company culture.” Invest in teaching, training, and educating your team. That is our secret to our success. When we say our team is our biggest strength and our biggest asset, it is not a cliche. We have put together many small systems that reinforce this. It started with a slogan, “Make it Vibrant Everyday” (MIVE). When we see team members doing something that goes above and beyond they receive what we call “MIVE Money.” Our team can use this money to purchase items in our swag store, from sodas and snacks to shirts, all the way up to half a day’s paid time off. At our weekly Culture Club luncheons, we have what we call Kindness Komments, kind words that our staff has written about their co-workers. All of the Kindness Komments are read out loud, recognizing what a team member did to deserve a Kindness Komment and what core value that action represents. Our team also enjoys team-building events on a very regular basis.

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

We started in the restaurant business with a pizza restaurant and we took our delivery and pick-up company to the top one percent in the nation for independent pizza restaurants. We opened a second pizza restaurant and it thrived as well. We thought we were invincible and built a very nice, dine-in Italian restaurant and we failed spectacularly. We lost almost everything we owned in a very short time. Lessons learned, I knew from the third month the business model would not work based on the time and location, but my pride would not allow me to say I failed. Had I shut it down, I would have saved so much and pivoted back to delivery and other business ventures. So many lessons learned…you can’t be good at everything. When we closed the big restaurant, we gained our life back and, more importantly, our family life. My wife and I were able to spend time with our kids working on homework and watching their baseball games. We learned that we cannot be good at everything and that you have to find what you are good at and do it well.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Invest in your team culture and heart leadership. Culture is not about core values on a wall, it’s about having a heavily-engaged team who cares about each other. We don’t tell our team members to leave their personal feelings at the door and come to work. We are there for them, even for them personally. It doesn’t just make it better at work, our company is in the food service industry and we employ 32 full and part-time employees in our facility and we have another 40+ part-time employees who help us at events. Since covid, we have only lost three team members, two who went to different careers, and one who needed to leave for the health of our company. Our team loves what they do and therefore they recruit their friends and families who have our same shared values. The result is very low turnover and a very high rate of attendance and very few no shows. Invest in your people!

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Google Docs and Google Sheets. My to-do list is on a Google Doc and it is my roadmap of what I can do when I’m not busy. All our internal financial reporting is on Google Sheets. While I don’t look at everything all the time, my staff and I can easily share information back and forth using these resources.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

I can take it down to two books or, really, to two authors. The first book I listened to was Mark Miller’s, Heart of Leadership. Mark Miller gives you such a wealth of knowledge using such simple language. I use what he teaches when talking to my team members and they not only understand but also generally embrace the ideas. Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly, is also one of my favorites. I told you earlier that I listen when I’m walking in the morning. I find myself listening, rewinding, and listening again. I’m still a student of vulnerability, but she has helped me come a long way.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?

As I said above, I really like Mark Miller’s, Heart of Leadership, and his new book, The Gift of Influence. Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly, is also a great book.

What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?

I really enjoy Yellowstone with Kevin Costner as well as its prequels, 1883 and 1923. I have been a Kevin Costner fan since Dances with Wolves and I really like the storyline of a multigenerational family trying to protect their family business.

Key learnings:

  • Invest in your staff. They are your most valuable asset.
  • Create a company culture that promotes interaction and relationships in and among the staff. It makes your staff happier and the workplace a better place to be.
  • Continue your learning process. There are always new ideas and thought processes that can help you continue to grow your business

Photo Credit: Lori Sparkman Photography