“We both have been in the industry for over 20 years—April [Austin] as pastry chef at CJ Callaway’s, and myself with my business, Chef Jeni & Company,” said Jeni Thomas.
After Callaway’s closed, Austin decided to open her own bakery business. She was on the search for her brick and mortar when she says she realized the potential of partnering up with Thomas and her space.
“April and her realtor approached me with the idea of sharing my commercial kitchen and dining room,” said Thomas. “We didn’t really plan on collaborating and sharing a venue, but once we met we saw how well it would work.”
Austin said, “It was fate and a lot of good luck that I found her.”
“Even though we had never met before, we had heard of each other and immediately bonded on our small town S.D. roots, being only a month apart in age, and our love for working in the food industry.” – Jeni
The space on Southeastern Avenue is a kitchen and a dining space where patrons can have private tasting or throw an event, like bridal showers, champagne brunches, corporate events, and more. Both companies use fresh ingredients, and Chef April is known for unique dessert designs, while Chef Jeni’s team is known for creative and customized menus.
Fun Facts About Jeni
+ I worked as a catering server and prep cook to help pay my way through Augustana (University).
+ When I started my business I knew how to cook five things.
“We have incorporated family recipes into our wedding menus many times,” said Thomas. “Examples have been Grandma Varro’s Sicilian Sunday Gravy with spicy sausage and linguine for a family style entrée and Sebastian’s Grandpa’s Bao Char Siu as a signature appetizer. One of our couples had an Italian Millefoglie Cake on their engagement trip, so April and I collaborated to recreate it and assembled it at the wedding for all of the guests to watch.”
While the entrepreneurs own two separate businesses under one roof, they say they enjoy working together on the day to day and for problem solving.
Fun Facts About April
+ Growing up I played restaurant instead of house. I would make my parents order steaks instead of hamburgers.
+ I made my first Thanksgiving dinner all by myself when I was 11, with the exception of the gravy – grandma helped me with that!
“We’re able to help each other with business challenges, new ideas and creative inspiration, and just having a friend in the kitchen,” said Thomas. “In our businesses, anything can happen—an employee can’t come in because of a sick child, a storm hits, the delivery truck is late, a guest informs you of an allergy at the last second. Since we’re both experienced, we can hop in and help each other make the deadline so the client never has to worry or even know what happens behind the scenes.”
She continued, “We could tell you some crazy stories!”
Some of the stories “behind the pipe and drape curtains” have included creating temporary kitchens in tents in open fields, dealing with detoured roads, last-minute time adjustments, and inclement weather.
“No two events are ever the same, and we love it! We must be insane, but we love it,” laughed Thomas.
Because both small companies are ranked as some of the best in the business, the duo say they’re selective with how many events they take on each year.
“We aren’t a huge company doing hundreds of events a month,” said Thomas. “We’re happy to focus on fewer events and make one customer happy at a time with spectacular food and attentive service staff.”
Much like they enjoy getting to know their clients, Thomas and Austin say they’re happy to get to know and have one another.
“We’re almost the same person. We have a lot of the same things in common,” said Austin.
Thomas added, “In a way we feel like the universe brought us both together at the right time.”