In 2011, Amber Phillips’s catering company, Sage Events, donated a dinner to a charity auction. The meal included organic soup shooters (think shot glasses of soup), which Phillips photographed and put on Instagram. Little did she know, those photos would completely change her business.
After posting the photo, Phillips got a call from a woman she had gone to high school with in Naples. The former classmate is now a physician in Fort Myers, as well as an Ironman triathlete. “She asked me if I did gluten-free cooking, because she had an allergy. At the time, I didn’t even know what gluten was,” Phillips says. “So, I spent several months researching gluten and what I could use in its place.”
Others were drawn to the healthy foods that Phillips was posting on social media as well. She became the go-to person for people with dietary restrictions in Naples, especially gluten and dairy. “As my company gained exposure, we started to create custom diets for an increasing number of allergens,” Phillips says.
Around the same time, Phillips’s clients started tagging pictures of her food on Facebook. Then more and more of her friends hired her. “That’s when things really took off,” Phillips says. At this point, she was a private chef with a small catering company. “I was at a crossroads and made the decision to grow Sage,” Phillips says. “I quit my full-time career to grow my business.”
After her initial client with the gluten allergy, Phillips started to notice people with specific food requirements everywhere—and realized that their dietary needs weren’t always being met. “I didn’t realize how food restrictions and allergies were affecting so many people,” Phillips says. “People sometimes think that they can’t eat anything, and we make sure that they can. It’s so rewarding.”
Yet Phillips goes beyond a few allergen-friendly meals. Her team creates new options for every day of the week. While some catering companies have a five-week menu on repeat, Sage Events creates new offerings every week. That includes gluten-free, paleo and vegan menus.
No matter what option customers choose, Phillips makes sure they get the best ingredients. Sage Events uses only organic chicken and grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and produce from local farms. “When you buy from us you are buying local—and not just from my local company, but from other local companies,” Phillips says.
Sage Events’s main focus is still catering and meal delivery for people with specialty diets. How- ever, Phillips is also working on a program that will let customers send a meal to a friend who is recovering from surgery, having a baby, going through a divorce or otherwise unable to cook healthfully for themselves. Sage can even cook for people who are going through chemo and radiation therapy, and make sure their meals are full of the right nutrients for optimal health. “We’re really excited about that,” Phillips says.