Chef executive

Getting started

To think it was just 23 years ago that Christopher thought she might want to be a caterer.

It was 1980, and Christopher’s youngest daughter was ready to start school for the first time. That left Christopher, a former high school home economics teacher and adult education instructor at the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, with more time on her hands.

She wanted to work again, but it couldn’t be just any job. It had to involve something she enjoyed, but be flexible enough that she could still take care of her daughters. She loved cooking and entertaining, so she thought starting a catering business might be a good solution. If it were only so simple.

"One of the things I didn’t have much of was capital," Christopher recalls from her office in The Pampered Chef’s new 780,000-square-foot headquarters in Addison. "Plus, when people need caterers is pretty much the time I wanted to have off — weekends, holidays, things like that."

Christopher noticed, however, that when she entertained friends and family they would admire and ask about the kitchen and cooking tools she used to prepare and serve food.

"These tools seemed to be very simple and basic to me, but they were things that other people seemed not to have," Christopher says. "With that, I got the idea and thought, ‘Maybe there’s a business here.’"

With a $3,000 low-interest loan taken out on an insurance policy, Christopher sought out a line of kitchen tools and devices focusing more on quality than quantity. The easy part was choosing what to sell; the hard part was choosing how to sell it. Retail was too expensive and too time-consuming, and printing mail order catalogs required more capital than Christopher had.

"What I did know a little bit about, not much, was in-home selling through party plans," she says. "The only thing I knew was that I had been a customer a time or two, so I had a little bit of an idea how the party plan system worked. That really was the basic knowledge we were armed with as I started the business."