Elyse’s Catering, a Tumwater business that has grown from a home-based operation in 1981 to a stand-alone business with more than 20 employees, took home a Small Business of the Year award Tuesday.
The award was one of several announced Tuesday by the Tumwater Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual awards luncheon at River’s Edge Restaurant. The Large Business of the Year was the Port of Olympia.
Longtime Elyse’s owner Elyse Harrington and production manager Judi Davis Sommerfeld were on hand to accept the award.
Elyse’s Catering has been at 3238 Capitol Blvd. SE since 1998, Harrington said, but the business got its start in 1981 as Elyse’s East Coast Cheesecakes. Harrington made desserts for 18 area restaurants from her home.
In those days, restaurants didn’t do as much catering, so they turned to her, she said, and the business grew. Eventually, she needed her own storefront.
Harrington was unable to secure a business loan until she met Dan Yerrington, she said.
Yerrington is the president and chief executive of South Sound Bank, but in the mid-1980s he worked as a loan officer at South Sound National Bank, a bank later swallowed up in a series of bank mergers.
“She did such a good job,” Yerrington recalled about the catering business.
Over the years Harrington has run other restaurants in the area, including the Urban Onion in Olympia, which she ran for 16 years, she said. Elyse’s Catering, which caters social events, weddings, memorials, grand openings, office parties and meetings, also supplies food to the new Hands on Children’s Museum and manages the Schmidt House.
“We accept any challenge and we never say no,” Harrington said Tuesday about her approach to business.
Elyse’s Catering also is known for its hors d’oeuvres and chocolate mousse cake, she said.
Other award winners Tuesday: Sommerfeld was the Volunteer of the Year; former chamber board President Dave Bills was honorary board member; and former chamber board President Vicky Churchill took home the Star Award.
Port of Olympia commissioner Jeff Davis accepted the large-business award on behalf of the port. Although the port probably is best known for its marine terminal on Budd Inlet, it also operates Olympia Regional Airport and New Market Industrial Campus, both in Tumwater.