As the keynote speaker for the Macon chamber's Small Business Awards luncheon Thursday, Macon native Vera Stewart never mentioned what it was like to own her business in Augusta.
Stewart, who is president and CEO of VeryVera, which offers gourmet homemade cakes and gourmet food online and catering services, focused on her relative short time in Macon. She also has a weekly TV cooking show on NBC in Augusta.
Stewart gave an interesting, entertaining and inspiring talk about how the people who influenced her while growing up in Macon not only shaped her life and her business acumen, but also how those qualities would help any business person.
Many of Stewarts mentors were her special teachers who, individually, taught her different character traits such as to be determined, personable, strong, creative and passionate, and she has carried those qualities into her career, she said.
Stewart, whose maiden name is Wingfield, went to the former Winship Elementary School and was in the first graduating class at Central High School in 1971. She majored in home economics at the University of Georgia.
As a teenager, Stewarts first job was as a switchboard operator for the former Belk Matthews department store in downtown Macon. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to learn from Bill Matthews.
I watched him like a hawk, Stewart said. Every day he spoke to each person who worked there.
She worked as a teacher for several years but began a catering business, Vera & Co., in 1984 in her kitchen when she started her family and decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
By 1993, she launched VeryVera, a mail-order subsidiary of Vera & Co. Two years later, an article in Southern Living magazine featured her mail-order cakes and her business took off. In 1996, VeryVera.com was the first online business website in Augusta. In 2002, she opened VeryVera Cafe in Augusta.
In 2010, she competed with the Food Networks Bobby Flay in a carrot cake challenge -- and she won. Her carrot cake was served as dessert for the luncheon. Her cakes and casseroles are available at more than 25 stores in the Southeast.
Stewart said along the way shes tried to be a good coach and got a laugh when she said, maybe I should apply at the University of Georgia.
She said she is a strong leader at her company.
I expect the best, avoid excuses around me and I will not tolerate whining, she said. You either love me or hate me. ... I am grateful for the A-personalities in my life that pushed me ... and they taught me early on to not take no for an answer unless no is the answer you are looking for.
She encouraged attendees to sort through solutions within 24 hours after having a bad day; if they are not creative, hire someone who is; be willing to admit failure and to show emotion, kiss and make up with their businesses and constantly reinforce key employees.
The gathering was an opportunity to recognize small businesses in the area.
Winners selected from three categories were:
Professional services: Sell & Melton law firm
Restaurants: Francars Buffalo Wings
Specialized services: GMS Advertising & Productions Inc.
Other nominees in the profession services category were: Servpro of Macon, Lester Miller Attorneys and Virtual Imagery. The other restaurant nominees were Harpins restaurant and Kudzu Catering. Other nominees for the specialized services category were Choice Premiums and GA School Supply.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.