Love of Culinary Arts Leads Hartsfield to Catering

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

Wade Hartsfield’s career plan to become a nurse took a detour when he took a part-time job with a catering company to help pay for nursing school.


He had left his first career as the director of parks and recreation in his hometown – Covington, Tenn. – to begin his second career as a nurse.

Hartsfield says catering felt like a natural fit because of his love for food and the culinary arts. As he learned about the industry, he decided catering was a better fit for him than nursing.

“It certainly is more fun,” he said. “It was an easy transition from working for a city government to catering, which is also a service industry.”

With a little experience under his belt, Hartsfield launched boutique catering company Wade and Co. Catering in 2006.

The company specializes in creating personalized menus for brides, corporate professionals and nonprofit agencies. The requests range from the quirky to the very unique – to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, Wade and Co. made sorbet using liquid nitrogen to freeze the desserts.

“This is really what makes my job fun,” he said. “All of our menus are developed specifically for the client based on the type of food they want. We can do a seated dinner in a cotton field if that’s what the client wants.”

“This is really what makes my job fun. All of our menus are developed specifically for the client based on the type of food they want. We can do a seated dinner in a cotton field if that’s what the client wants.”

– Wade Hartsfield

Hartsfield, who describes himself as the creative force behind Wade and Co. Catering, says he loves experimenting with old classics. He recently helped a client create a new twist on a Bananas Foster – a dessert traditionally made with bananas, vanilla ice cream and topped with a sauce made from butter, cinnamon, rum and brown sugar. They added rum donuts to the mix – and served the dish as it is traditionally served as a flambé.

He says most of his clients like to incorporate a food item that has special meaning to their organization or to their lives.

“It’s a lot of fun and brings a very personal touch to the event,” Hartsfield said. “We want to deliver their expectations, which means really listening to what they want and what they would like to see.”

In 2011, Hartsfield had the opportunity to purchase Tower Center Memphis, an event space that sits on the 33rd floor of the Clark Tower in East Memphis. The space has panoramic views of the city and can be rented for both social and corporate events.

“It was really a great opportunity when the market was down,” he said. “The Tower Center comes with a lot of rich history.”

The space was once occupied by the private Summit Club, an exclusive Memphis dining club that closed in June 2010. Hartsfield says the space has been very popular for weddings.

“Our social events have increased their overall budgets,” he said. “Weddings almost seem recession-proof. … We’ve seen a return to larger wedding receptions.”

Hartsfield declined to give specific figures, but he estimates revenue has increased about 10 percent annually the past three years for both Wade and Co. Catering and his Tower Center Memphis businesses.

Both companies employ seven full-time salaried employees, more than 50 part-time employees and rely on a call list of about 125 on-call workers.

As the economy again shows signs of life, Hartsfield says he’s also seen increased demand from corporate clients.

“If you look around and see the number of catering companies that are opening, they are a good indication of the need in the community and the need to sustain demand,” he said. “We’ve really seen growth in this industry.”

Although Hartsfield loves cooking, when he’s not overseeing an event, he prefers to relax by letting someone else do the cooking.

“We have so many good restaurants in Memphis,” he said. “I really like eating out.”