CEDAR FALLS – Jessica Foster learned to cook with her mother and grandmother standing at her elbow. Under their watchful eyes, she mastered making her Italian family’s recipe for homemade pasta sauce and dozens of other dishes. She learned how to plan menus and put delicious dishes on the table with split-second timing.
“Home-cooked meals and sitting down to dinner was important in our home. The food mattered. I didn’t know what a Hot Pocket was, or heard of ramen noodles until I was in college,” Foster said, smiling.
Her cooking experience has come in handy now that Foster is owner and chef at Moment in Thyme. She and her husband, Gary, purchased the catering service from Len Swiatly upon his retirement.
It was her dream come true.
“We got acquainted with Len when we hired him to cater at our wedding. He was thinking about retiring, although he hadn’t set a date. This was our opportunity. Cooking is my passion,” she said.
Her husband urged her to “go for it. She loves to cook and plan menus — anything with food. I wanted her to pursue her dream,” he said.
Swiatly decided to retire at the end of 2017. The Fosters signed an agreement to purchase Moment in Thyme, and Jessica Foster spent several months learning the catering business and logistics under Swiatly’s tutelage.
Jessica and Gary Foster made the announcement at their Sept. 16 wedding — over chicken Marsala and stuffed shells.
Swiatly started Moment in Thyme in 2003, trading a job in the lithographic industry and managing a wine shop for a chef’s apron. The business caters multi-course meals and appetizers at corporate and special events, private parties, weddings, open houses, graduations, luncheons and more. It has earned the Courier’s Best of the Best honors for seven consecutive years, including 2017.
Until last year, he hand-stuffed about 2,700 pounds of olives annually for the Stuffed Olive in downtown Cedar Falls and donated 20 to 24 five-course dinners for eight for annual charity fundraisers. The retired caterer, who turns 70 this year, will work on four weddings he’d booked before selling the business.
“I won’t miss the paperwork, but I certainly will miss my customers. I’ve come to know some of them so well, striking up friendships outside of catering. I’ll also miss the cooking classes. That’s where you get to meet a lot of people and grow your business because they go out and talk about what you’re doing,” he said.
Swiatly was impressed with Foster. “I got the right vibe from her. She reminds me of where I was when I started in the food business, loving to cook, loving good food. She’s energetic and very organized … with a small catering business, you have to stay on top of everything on a day-to-day basis.”
Foster graduated from University of Northern Iowa and worked for eight years as an operations analyst for several corporations. “Chopping vegetables, cooking, serving meals and washing dishes — those were my stress relievers. I’d toyed with the idea of opening my own business. I wanted the freedom to be my own boss, so I didn’t want to miss this chance,” she explained.Clients are already raving about one of her specialties, marinated mushrooms. She plans to keep many of Swiatly’s customer favorites on the menu, as well as offer cooking classes.
“I feel like it’s in the best hands. I will be thorough and pay attention to detail, just as Len has done for so many years,” she added.