Stephen Mason has loved cooking for as long as he could remember. In 2014, he channeled his passion and his experience from Modesto Junior College’s culinary arts program and from working at a local steakhouse to create his own business, Chef Mason Catering. The business launched in 2014, and nine years later, the hard work has paid off as they have won the second annual Stanislaus Equity Partners' Micro Business Hub pitch contest.
The Micro Business Hub pitch contest is described as Stanislaus County’s spin on the hit television show “Shark Tank.” Small businesses from around the county enroll in a six-month cohort in partnership with Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center, where they must complete business plans, identify audiences, and learn the ins and outs of managing finances. Once participants complete the cohort, they have an opportunity to share their vision with the community through creative sketches and presentations in hopes of getting extra support from the organization and their partners.
This year, 20 small business from around the county entered the cohort with only five completing it and advancing to the pitch competition, which was held Aug. 24 at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock. In Mason’s pitch, alongside his wife, Jasmine, he did what he did best – cook.
“We wanted to be able to showcase what we do, so we had our charcuterie planed out, but we obviously cook too, so I just decided to do it last minute as way to calm myself since it’s what I love to do. And for the judges and the audience to see what was being made (shrimp scampi with jumbo prawns), to smell the aroma in the air and to try my food afterwards, it was just an added bonus. I think they were truly able to see what my business is about. There’s something special about that shared experience.”
While the shrimp scampi was a hit, other popular menu items include chicken marsala. It also happens to be Jasmine’s favorite dish prepared by her husband. Meanwhile, Mason loves to prepare the slow-roasted tri-tip prepared medium rare. The meat is sliced in front of customers and served alongside a southwest salad, complimented with his own chimichurri sauce.
“It's always nice when you see other people enjoying your food,” Mason said. “When you see someone else enjoying your food, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Chef Mason Catering serves throughout Stanislaus County, and they felt as if getting on stage at the Carnegie Arts Center last month helped spread the word immensely. Winning the competition, he said, is going to help the businesses grow even more, as they received a cash prize and will continue to receive access to technical support from the Stanislaus Equity Partners’ small business services.
“Winning allows us to continue to grow and to be able to give back to our community, and to be able to share these memories with our community,” Mason said. “Honestly, I wanted everybody to win. Whether we won or not, I was happy because I had the six months of the cohort where everybody grew together… We just happened to have the privilege to win, but ultimately, I feel like we all won.”
“I was actually a little bit emotional [when we won] because the other participants put on such good pitches too. You feel so passionate for each other,” Jasmine added. ‘We are super happy and super grateful because it was it was definitely unexpected.”
Maria Hernandez, small business services manager at Stanislaus Equity Partners, shared similar sentiments.
“I'm so proud of them and how they were able to learn all the skills needed to be successful operating their small businesses,” she said. “Chef Mason, I think they were amazing. The way they presented and cooked, it was an experience. They showed us that that’s what they want to bring when they cater to events.”
Anthony Sims, City of Turlock economic development director, helped bring the pitch competition to the Carnegie Arts Center.
“For me with economic development, one of the main focus points is supporting small businesses and entrepreneurism,” Sims explained. “Over 90% of the businesses in the country are small businesses… It's substantial to the U.S., so I'm really supportive and thankful that you these businesses went through this process.”
He could see future competitions being held at the venue, while also bringing the event to other cities throughout Stanislaus County.
“I’m really happy with how it all turned out this year,” he continued. “It was a great venue and a great setup. It’s just so elegant how Carnegie is set up, and I love how we’ve had the chance to rotate. Last year, the pitch competition was in Modesto, this year was in Turlock. But there are other cities we can take this too. The competition is still open to businesses anywhere in the county, but it’s hard for people in some places to drive on over to participate. We’ll see where we head next year since this was another successful competition.”
To learn more about Chef Mason Catering, head to @ChefMason28 on Instagram.