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Women in Business: Q&A With Harriette Rose Katz, Founder and President of Gourmet Advisory Services and the Chosen Few

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Harriette Rose Katz, Founder and President of Gourmet Advisory Services, has been one of the country's leading wedding and event planners for 36 years. Founded in 1978 as a solo endeavor, and the only one of its kind, over the past three decades Harriette's Gourmet Advisory Services has grown into a significant, award-winning business with senior partners, a full-time staff, and non-stop extraordinary events. Celebrated not only as a trendsetter but also as one of the most respected event designers in the country today, Harriette has an impeccable reputation for creating signature events that translate into unforgettable memories.

Passionate about the event industry as a whole, her dedication to promoting excellence, cultivating artistry, and maintaining the highest standards of professionalism inspired Harriette to create The Chosen Few, an elite society for New York event professionals. As the original professional event planner who has since inspired thousands to follow in her well-heeled footsteps, Harriette is much more than an entertaining and party planning legend. She's a food and beverage expert with the credentials to prove it. For almost 20 years, Harriette served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the New York chapter of the Confrerie de la Chaine Des Rotisseurs, one of the world's most prestigious food and wine organizations, and was a recipient of its coveted Gold Star of Excellence.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
This is a weird thing, but I was born in an era where young women were brought up to go to high school, graduate college, then go to work until they got married. Then that was it, you were mother and wife. I worked for a long time. I was older when I got married for the first time at 25 years old. It sounds young now but at that time it was like getting married at 40 years old today. By that time I had established myself in my industry, the interior design industry. Then I got married and I quit working when I was four months pregnant. And I loved it, it was like a vacation being pregnant and not working! But then I had a baby and my husband passed away when she was eight months old. But even in those eight months I knew I didn't want to be a housewife.

Shortly after my husband died, I got a phone call. I was offered a position at an interior design firm where I later worked for seven years. Then after seven years, I started managing a furniture show and started throwing parties for them. Actually the company become more well known for their parties than for the furniture! Then one day they were bought by a big company and I decided to leave. My new boss told me one day that we had to be open on Yom Kippur. I saw the writing on the wall. I didn't want to go through my life knowing I should've done something different at that moment. So my husband and I built Gourmet Advisory. He was a nutritionist and cardiologist, but also very food and wine oriented, so it worked. We worked on it for a year and my husband said to me, "you're at the dawn of a new industry." From there, I never looked back.

A few years later my second husband passed away, and I was alone again and scared to death of how I was going to make a living. But you know what? I worked by butt off and I never stopped working. And it turned out to be a good thing. I always mentor people. I try to guide them as much as I can because I know how it works in this industry.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Gourmet Advisory Services?
In 1988 (I started in 1978), I saw the writing on the wall again that this was going to be a tough business environment. The economy wasn't doing as well. So I started another company called Liaison Unlimited. It was a referral fee from vendor rather than from the client. We started that back then because we knew at least one company would be alive if the other was struggling. I remember having one client in the 80s. We were planning a bar mitzvah for his son and he called me from his golf club to tell me five of his friends have just lost everything they owned. He wanted a nice party, but it couldn't look ostentatious. We made it work and everyone was happy despite the time.

In terms of the challenges I faced, it was important to learn how to handle a dying economy and how to change things so that everybody got what they wanted for less money. Not to mention that, you know, I was a single woman with a child in business. It was not easy. There's still that old boys society, not as much today as it was 35 years ago, but still it exists.

When you walk into a room and a client is happy, and people are on the dance floor, that is the highlight. I've done some major events in my life, but I want every event to be perfect. We strive for that. It may kill me eventually but we strive for that. The challenges are always there because I'm a woman, I'm Jewish, I have a child, but we get through it. We've had some of the most glorious, beautiful events in history. Those are all highlights for me.

Tell us about The Chosen Few and how you think it will change the events industry.
I think it will motivate people to strive to be better. It's because now there's criteria to make them better. A lot of these vendors are hoping to get on my list next year. And we're going to be rigorous because anyone we haven't worked with has to be vetted.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
It's hard. It is not easy. If you don't think you want to work hard and long hours, don't do it. You have to be totally committed and surround yourself with really good people who you trust.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That's hard because my work is my life!

For me, it's easy to balance. I work with my family and play with the family. For most people, maybe not because they don't have the relationship of "boss and employees" that I have. It's an unusual and shocking relationship. People ask me, 'how do you work with your family?' And I say back, 'how could I not? They're the best!' We see each other all the time, and they're fabulous. It's true, how lucky am I?

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think there's still some discrimination against women. I found when I first started in business 36 years ago there was discrimination against women in business. There was also discrimination against Jews. But we've come a long way from that. For most women now, it's maintaining a family and home life while heading to the top. That's a huge issue. That's why it's great when these big companies provide daycare and things like that. How many times did I have my grandchildren or my niece's children here? All the time. That's what we had to do.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Well, I mentor a lot of people. I love doing it. So many people call me and say, 'I want to be in the party planning business.' And clients will say, 'I have a niece who wants to the be in the business,' and they send them over. And I try to pave the way for them in various appointments at hotels, and it makes me feel good that I'm teaching them.

Dana, who was our last hire, came to me, she was my client's daughter's best friend and her aunt was one of my clients. And I had hesitancy because I didn't want my clients to know anything about my home life or business life, but what happened is that I said I would interview her and lead her down the right path. Then I saw her and I thought she was fabulous. I sent her to The Plaza but that night I thought about it and decided I would hire her. But I'll tell you, for me mentoring is one of the best experiences because it makes me feel accomplished. I'm helping create the industry.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have always admired women who not only are at the top of what they do, but are also nice. Especially because there are so many are real problems. I don't know her personally, but I understand that Arianna Huffington is a doll. She has certainly made it to the top and is an exemplary woman. I also admire Hillary Clinton.

What do you want The Chosen Few to accomplish in the next year?
I have personally worked with each and every one of the companies and individuals selected to join The Chosen Few and believe they are a true asset to the event industry in New York City. With the stellar reputation of Gourmet Advisory and the hundreds of events we have created over the past 35 years, we are in a unique position to highlight the finest vendors in the field. The Chosen Few is my Michelin Guide for the New York City area event industry and I hope it will become a coveted and recognizable honor within the industry for years to come.