A husband-and-wife duo has expanded their local catering company, A Thyme Savor, by purchasing the space that once housed a 22-year-old restaurant and catering firm, Bon Appetit. The new restaurant, Savor Southern Kitchen, hopes to expand off of the catering company’s success.
Jeff and Danielle Cousler, owners and creators of A Thyme Savor, first met at a George S. May International sales training conference. Jeff’s background was in telecommunications, having gone to East Carolina University to earn a business degree, and Danielle’s was in the restaurant business. Jeff Cousler said that they “hit it off” and did the long distance relationship thing for some time. He then asked her to move with him down to Wilmington in 1998, as he was living in Greenville at the time.
When they moved to Wilmington, they rented a house and Danielle quickly got in touch with her restaurant roots. Her parents owned a restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts, and she worked as a server when they first moved to the Cape Fear region. She was then promoted to catering director at Michael’s Seafood Restaurant.
“She raised their catering sales by 300 percent over three years,” Jeff Cousler said. “With Danielle, she started doing a personal chef business on the side where she would cook for various families; we had maybe a dozen clients.”
When Danielle’s mother became ill and died, the couple realized that they wanted to be doing something more with their time. So they began setting up what would become A Thyme Savor.
“We were able to secure some equipment at an auction sale,” Jeff Cousler said. From there, they had a trial-and-error period, with both “good and bad” experiences. Ultimately, Jeff Cousler, it taught them “negotiating on our terms correctly” and advocating for their own business.
In their current location in Potter’s Square in Monkey Junction, they have been able to grow their catering business. They have been in this location for “eight or nine years” and have seen their revenue rise from $200,000 per year to $1 million.
And the Couslers are continuing to think of ways that they can increase business, which has included opening dine-in restaurants on top of their catering work.
Jeff Cousler said that before Savor Southern Kitchen, they tried their hand at a marketplace with 15-plus dine-in seats. But since the catering business has always been their most profitable endeavor, calling it their “bread and butter,” they closed that marketplace to focus on catering.
“The catering is what has made the company successful, and so I guess about three years into it, we decided to do away with the diner,” Jeff Cousler said. “What we were finding is that we needed more prep space for catering, so it is more valuable to our catering business to have that as opposed to a market.”
Now with more space and a flourishing catering company, they have decided to try again as restaurateurs. And when it comes to their business, they have always put “good key players” in the kitchen.
“Our executive chef, Brad Hagler, he’s been with us for almost five years now,” Jeff Cousler said, “and Liz Heiner is our catering director. She’s been with us six years now, and these two are really stand-out employees that can run the business without us being there.”
For Savor Southern Kitchen, the couple purchased the property that once belonged to Gene and Claudia Costa. Initially, the plan was to lease the property, but that was later replaced with a plan to purchase.
“So we knew Gene and Claudia for several years, and their business [Bon Appetit] was very similar to ours in the aspect of its size, what we did, the quality of the food and just the overall concept of how we present ourselves and present the food,” Jeff Cousler said.
The Couslers purchased the Bon Appetit building when Savor Southern Kitchen is now, two other buidlings and the land.
Danielle Cousler was the one who wanted to do Savor Southern Kitchen. They were excited to be able to keep some of the staff on and understood when some left to find other work. For some employees, waiting a month to start work again was just not feasible.
“It took me about 30 days to go in and redecorate and move forward, paint countertops and everything to do with the restaurant part of it,” Jeff Cousler said. “[The] kitchen really didn’t need much.”
Savor Southern Kitchen opened April 15. Its menu features a variety, mainly focusing on Southern dishes. Some of the most popular dishes have been the chicken and waffles and the shrimp and grits.
As for the catering business, it is still providing the bulk of business for the Couslers. The catering makes the majority of its profits from weddings. Jeff Cousler said they were able to cater 1,200 weddings over the past seven years.
And with the new restaurant, he added, they only plan to grow more. Jeff Cousler projects that their business will make about $1.6 million this year, with the goal to reach the $2 million mark in the next five years.
A Thyme Savor also hopes to expand on the business space they have now, with Jeff Cousler saying that they would like to find more prep space and office space for their growing company.