Back in my catering days, I was fortunate to have many wonderful repeat customers, and some of my clients were well-known celebrities. When I was hired...
Back in my catering days, I was fortunate to have many wonderful repeat customers, and some of my clients were well-known celebrities.
When I was hired to cater a dinner for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, I almost had to pinch myself.
Not long before this booking, I had taken a driving tour of Morocco and sampled the most incredible stews, called tagines. Bursting with flavors both sweet and savory, the tagines were served over pale yellow mounds of steaming couscous. I was served a pigeon pie, called b’steeya, the savory contents encased in the flakiest pastry. I thought this cuisine would make extraordinary party fare.
When the Newmans called for a consultation, I described the huge platters and colorful dishes of Morocco. They hired me to create a buffet featuring many of the dishes I had sampled, including eight b’steeya.
Just a few hours before the party, I put the prepared b’steeya into the preheated oven. During baking, they looked fine, and then I made the fatal error of getting distracted and leaving the kitchen.
When I removed the b’steeya from the oven, I was horrified to see that each pie had a very badly burned crust on that portion of the pie that had been closest to the oven wall.
The pies, one of three main courses, were central to the buffet. My mind was full of horrifying visions. My reputation as a caterer was at stake.
The pies were time-consuming to prepare, and it would be impossible to re-create them. I took a deep breath and made an assessment.
I saw that although the pies were no longer perfect, the vast majority of each was undamaged. I picked up a serrated knife, cut each pie into wedges, discarded the damaged portions, gathered the perfect pieces, sprinkled them with powdered sugar and cinnamon, arranged them on huge brass trays, took them to the party, and served them.
I acted as though nothing were amiss, and the party was a huge success. I never breathed a word of this to the Newmans or to anyone else, for that matter. I did what had to be done.
I always smile at the memory of that day. After all, if every party, every idea, every business venture succeeded without unexpected setbacks and the occasional threat of disaster, the world would be a rather boring place.
Getting over these unexpected hurdles may not be exactly enjoyable, but ultimately I believe that such challenges and the solutions we find give us more confidence. They teach us that, with common sense and determination, we can turn what looks like a disaster into a triumph.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would draw on the basic lessons of this Moroccan party to help me endure something far more critical.
From early 2002 through 2005, I was involved in a protracted and exhausting legal battle. I was encouraged by my board of directors and attorneys to resign as CEO and chairwoman of the company I had started, the company that still bears my name.
This was despite the fact that the legal issues were in no way related to my activities as a corporate officer. Ultimately, I was sentenced to a five-month term and another five months under home confinement.
During the long months of investigation and the trial and while waiting for the sentencing to occur, I awoke each day hoping that I was only having a really bad dream.
I had spent my career and built my company’s reputation working hard to bring Good Things to as many people as possible. And yet a personal stock trade was threatening to destroy everything.
Right before the press broke the story that the government was investigating me, the prospects for my company were extremely bright. Then so much changed.
Media coverage became increasingly negative, horrible rumors spread and the stock of my valued company plummeted. But one thing remained constant from Day One: I received enormous numbers of letters and e-mails — supportive, positive messages from my viewers, readers, listeners and customers. Over the course of the legal investigation and trial, I was exhausted, barely sleeping and worried constantly about the future of my company and my employees. My executives were facing intense pressure to disassociate the company from me.
At my lowest point, just before conviction, I was pondering something that today seems utterly ridiculous. “Maybe I should change my name,” I actually thought. “Maybe I can protect my company and my wonderful employees by distancing myself from the brand. If I become Martha Kostyra again, maybe then people can separate this personal matter from the value and worth of my company.”
The verdict, when it was finally read aloud, was sad and discouraging for me, as was the judge’s sentence. Just as with my b’steeya mishap, it was time for me to fully evaluate the situation, cut the pie into wedges, gather the good parts and move on.
My lawyers were adamant that we would appeal, and I agreed. However, there was no telling how long an appeal would take. It could very well drag on, and in the end, I might go to prison anyway. In order to save my company from irreparable harm, I knew it was time to slice my situation into wedges.
I realized that it would be in everyone’s best interests for me to complete my prison term and home confinement, even as my lawyers aggressively pursued my appeal. I had built a great company, but that company had been battered — and yet I firmly believed it could weather this terrible storm.
The company’s good, solid core was intact — an enormous library of valuable information, a powerful brand identity, an outstanding and creative staff, and millions of loyal fans.
Those realizations gave me strength and courage to make the preparations that I hoped would put the crippling, toxic uncertainty far behind all of us.
I have come to realize that there is no entrepreneur, anywhere, whose journey is without setbacks and crossroads. No matter how high you set your standards, no matter how intense your devotion to quality, no matter how detailed your business plan, stuff — I choose to use the more polite “S” word here — will happen.
Great employees will quit; competitors will appear out of nowhere; critics will disparage you unfairly; fire will rage through your warehouse. Or perhaps your confidence will simply waver when too many little problems mount up together.
Be prepared for these occasional dark nights and remain steadfast. However bleak things may at first appear, if you are a good person doing things for the right reason, there is always something to grasp onto to help you carry on or start over.