Nathalie Cadet-James knows how to throw a party. The proof is in her resume as party planner to the rich (luxury brands including Christian Dior and Gucci), the famous (presidential candidates) and the well-heeled (Anybody who can afford to throw a bash in the South of France, Rwanda and other far-flung places needs to have cash flow).
It was at one of those events, in Italy, when she was seated with a group of people she didn't know, that she was struck by the sense of community that formed at her table. "I realized there's an importance in connecting in person. There's so much technology now," she says, that people can forget to have human experiences.
From that sprang the idea of sharing her party-planning expertise with a broader audience in a more affordable format. Her new company, LuxeFete, delivers a dinner party in a box, complete with china, flatware, napkin rings, goblets, linens, candlesticks, floral arrangement, music playlist, personalized place cards, conversation-starter suggestions, wine-pairing recommendations and menu with recipes, and decor of the host's choice of six offered storylines.
With LuxeFete, a dinner party for eight with private chef, butler, gourmet food, table settings and decor costs $1,500; a basic DIY version with themed table settings and decor without food costs $550. Other options are available as well. Prices are more than renting generic table settings alone but less than hiring a caterer. The value has already resulted in 10 sales since the concept launched earlier this year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The concept and Cadet-James' passion won over the judges, who named LuxeFete as the first-place winner in the 2018 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge's Community Track. It also ranked first in People's Pick voting in the Community Track. (Redify, a plan in the FIU Track, received the most votes overall.)
Her plan also solved a problem besetting many service providers centered on the skills of a single person. While Cadet-James continues to plan events for individual clients, LuxeFete enables her to leverage her skills across multiple markets and scale her business. That's a bonus from a lifestyle perspective — she is married and has two children, ages 8 and 10 — and in the long run, could lead to higher revenues.
Other key elements: Because of her connections, Cadet-James is able to source products without having to invest in warehousing and products in the cities where she plans to operate. Revenues come not only from the rentals but also from referral fees for professionals who provide additional services. Her team includes other well-sourced pros in culinary and catering. The concept reflects Miami's unique identity. Her plan targeted the trend of high-income earners in different age groups and keyed into the strengthening trend of valuing experiences over goods.
"What people are craving now is that experience of connecting," says Cadet-James. But for those who haven't had the experience of entertaining at home, the idea can be daunting. "We allow anyone to be able to create that experience."
Though she was born in Canada, she moved to the U.S. at age 2 and thinks of herself as a Haitian-American. She moved to Miami as a young child and has lived here for 38 years. She started her career as a lawyer but found herself frustrated and bored.
"I literally said to myself, 'I'm not doing this anymore.'" Among her friends, "I was the person people called to put people together. I found people were deeply impacted in a space where they felt celebrated." A decade ago and pregnant with the first of her two children, Cadet-James took what she calls a "leap of faith," leaving her job and setting up a website as an international event planner.
Her first client — the bride of a professional hockey player — found Cadet-James online and called her. Cadet-James explained her vision for the wedding, and the job was hers. She was breast-feeding her four-week-old baby on the day of the event.
"People fall in love with you first as much as they do your experience," she says. The judges agreed. One, a venture investor, noted "I invest in the people as much as I do the idea." Ultimately, every startup has to adjust and pivot; those with smart, passionate leaders are the ones that adapt and thrive.
Cadet-James has a broader mission: to make an impact in her parents' home country of Haiti. Each dinner host receives a palm-sized heart-shaped stone crafted by Haitian artisans, part of a plan to connect them with a broader market. A portion of each booking supports the effort, says Cadet-James. The stones are called, fittingly, "a piece of Nathalie's heart."