Brattleboro Woman Named Young Entrepreneur of the Year
by Danny Monahan
Small Business Administration
As much as teenagers are told they can be
whatever they want when they grow up, so few
go on to fulfil their dreams.
For one Brattleboro woman, she is exactly what she
wanted to be when she was a teenager, the owner of a
successful Vermont catering company.
“In high school we all had to write down where we
wanted to be in 10 years. I wrote, I hope to own my
own catering company by the time I was 28. And I
ended up doing just that,” said Gretchen Hardy, coowner
of Hardy Foard Catering in Brattleboro, Vt.
Hardy is named the 2017 Vermont Young Entrepreneur
of the Year by the Small Business Administration. The
annual award is presented to business owners under
35 who have had success in sales, profits, increasing
jobs, having innovative business methods and
demonstrating entrepreneurial potential necessary for
Always interested in cooking, Hardy decided to attend
the Culinary Institute of America in New York to turn
her interest into her profession. From there she went
out west working at different restaurants in Colorado
for a few years. However those restaurants weren’t
hers. She made the decision to move back East to open
up a place of her own.
In October 2010 she started HardyFoard catering along
with Bo Foard, a self-taught cook. The partnership was
forged through Gretchen’s brother and Foard’s son,
who were friends. He knew of Gretchen’s desire to
start her own business, so before she left for Colorado,
Foard told her if she ever returned east she should
look him up because he too may be interested in
starting one with her. Upon her return, that is exactly
what she did.
Within a few months Hardy Foard found itself
catering an inauguration party in January for former
Governor Peter Shumlin at the Brattleboro Museum
and Art Center with more than 350 guests.
The catering service has been growing ever since.
After that, business took off so quickly by the next
year the catering company started a food truck.
There they served walk ups and did all the catering
out of the truck. But that too was short lived because
Hardy Foard outgrew the food truck due to catering
Today the catering company and new restaurant,
The Porch, are located in a former sandwich shop on
Putney Road in Brattleboro.
“People thought I was crazy when I told them where we
were moving to. Several businesses had occupied that
space prior to us moving in and all closed their doors
rather quickly. But we’ve had a lot of success here. We
are able to do more events and more weddings, and
we’ve grown a steady stream of regulars who eat here
in the restaurant,” said Hardy.
During the spring and summer those regulars have
to sometimes find another place to eat because Hardy
Foard’s catering schedule gets so busy the restaurant
has to close its doors on weekends. This past year the
company catered 49 weddings in Vermont and New
Hampshire in addition to a number of parties, events,
memorials and business lunches.
Hardy Foard has bootstrapped this entire endeavour,
not taking on any loans or debts. If Hardy Foard can’t
afford to do something they simply don’t do it, Hardy
says. In the last five years, Hardy Foard’s sales have
increased by at least 30 percent annually and much of
the sales have gone back into the business.
When the business started it was only her and Foard.
Now it employs up to 25 employees at the height
of catering season and has three catering teams to
accommodate different events held on the same day.
The company has a low level of attrition. Five staff
members who were hired when the Porch opened are
still working for Hardy today and are considered the
core of the business. Hardy believes she would not be
where she is today without her loyal staff members.
“Gretchen takes pride in hiring, training and retaining
local Vermonters. She pays a liveable wage and she does
not discriminate. Gretchen has given opportunities to
those who are in recovery, or on parole, or part-time
working moms and young cooks,” said Melany Kahn,
wife of Foard and mentor to Hardy.
The business is also a family affair. Many friends
and relatives have worked for the catering business
including Hardy’s brothers and sisters. The latest
family member to come on board is Nathan LaChance,
Hardy’s husband. “My husband Nate has joined us and
helps out with everything from building projects to
running to events when I forget something. He does it
all with great endearing enthusiasm,” said Hardy.
While there are some challenges to being her own
boss, Hardy says diligence is her greatest asset. “There
are certain parts to owning a business that are very
hard. Hiring is hard, bookkeeping is hard, business
in general is hard for me, but hard work and long
hours have always been easy for me. I just don’t mind
coming in here each day, and it’s pretty much every
day,” she said.
As for the future of Hardy Foard, she hopes one day to
own her own event space so she can offer catering and
a venue for weddings and various banquets.