Mesa caterer overcomes illness to succeed in business - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa caterer overcomes illness to succeed in business

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Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 3:45 pm

Watching Sue Carlisle serve breakfast to training attendees at Infusionsoft in Chandler, one would think she worked there on a daily basis given the way she greets people by name and seems to know their food preferences by heart. But she is a caterer, founder of Straight to the Plate Catering, and for the last seven years she has been bringing food to companies and events all over Arizona.

Only a few years before, Carlisle was dying. She suffered from an oddly-localized case of an infection called Mucormycosis, a skin and bone-eating fungus that kills quickly and is virtually unstoppable. Her chances of contracting the infection and also beating it were nearly impossible odds. The infection took a considerable portion of her cheek and pallet, robbing her of the senses of taste and smell.

When the infection didn’t spread as it normally would, doctors were able to treat her — an enlightening experience that paved the way for other treatment techniques for patients with similar conditions worldwide. Now she has a prosthetic pallet and she can taste again, although she still cannot smell anything.

“I was surrounded by great people who didn’t let me know I was dying,” said Carlisle.

Previously, she had operated a business called Entrees Made Easy, but the economy and sickness put the brakes on that venture. After recovering from the infection, Carlisle took two serving dishes she had left over from before and started the process all over again, this time with an eye towards catering.

Today, Straight to the Plate Catering serves corporate clients as well as family events and specializes in weddings. Carlisle said one day in February of 2013 she and her staff served 1,200 people. She works hard to balance a capability for serving large numbers against her policy of never booking more than two weddings per day, to assure that each event receives the attention that it deserves. Rather than a “reception” she calls it the “first meal as a family,” and said it personalizes the event in a more meaningful way.

“Weddings touch me,” she said. “When you are invited to someone’s party, you have one shot.”

Carlisle says the secret is in the foundation for her business. Rather than serve standard foods like most caterers, she took a four-ingredient cookbook and developed 25 of her own recipes, which she tries out on friends in confidential tastings.

“I’ve never smelled my own bacon,” Carlisle said.

She has someone in the kitchen at all times to make sure dairy products and meats are still good.

Carlisle said that her company has catered nearly 100 events just at Infusionsoft in the last year. At a plane-decommissioning ceremony at the Phoenix-Goodyear Airport last year, Straight to the Plate Catering served some 250 people more than 30 dishes with a staff of only 15.

Nicole Shoots, from the event department of InfusionSoft, said Carlisle has been a pleasure to work with. Straight to the Plate has catered an estimated 100 events at Infusionsoft in the last year.

“They have been amazing to work with. We like to use local when we can. When we first reached out to Sue, she just incredibly excited,” said Shoots. “They help make our events even more delightful. They’re just an extension of our team.”

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