Emily Cavalier has what most people would consider to be a dream job. As founder and hostess of New York City’s Midnight Brunch supper club, Cavalier gets to choose fun themes for her after-hours meet-ups, try out unique recipes, sample creative cocktails, and connect with people all over the city.
And Cavalier, a longtime food fanatic with a love for ethnic cuisine and cocktails, admits that having a job she’s passionate about is amazing. But, it’s also not always easy. A little over a year since her first event, she’s hustling every day in hopes of making Midnight Brunch a viable career path. So far, her hard work has paid off—major companies, including Google Places, are signing up to sponsor her brunches, and in-the-know New Yorkers are applying for the chance to attend.
We caught up with Cavalier to hear about her choice to quit a steady job to follow her dreams, the importance of being open to unexpected opportunities, and the realities of being your own boss.
After you graduated, you were working as a journalist in New Hampshire. How did you get from there to founding Midnight Brunch in New York?
I knew the entire time I was working in journalism that I had an interest in food and beverage, and I would have loved to have been a food writer or a restaurant reviewer. In 2006, I made the decision to quit my job in journalism. I thought when I moved to New York I’d stay in the media somehow, but I knew whatever I did, I wanted to start working in food. That was half of the point of living here!
As it turned out, I ended up working for a company that produces high-end executive conferences. The company was a startup itself, and I had helped build the business and was working a lot of hours. About three and a half years into it, I made the decision that if I was going to work that hard, I wanted to work that hard for myself and finally figure out how to make a life in food and beverage.
How did you first come up with the idea of Midnight Brunch?
I gave notice at my job in 2010, and probably towards the end of 2010, I started joking around with my friends about how we all work so much, we’re all so busy, I never get to have you guys over—I should throw a party for you guys in the middle of the night and we’ll call it midnight brunch. So the idea of midnight brunch really started because I never had time to entertain!
And what was your first step to turn Midnight Brunch from an idea into reality?
It kind of started out as a joke, but the more I talked about it, the more I started throwing out things I would make if I ever did it. And my friends actually wanted me to do it, and they kept pushing me. Finally, in January 2011, I started looking around for a space. And when I found a space through a mutual friend, I was like, “Okay, this is it, I guess I’m having the first one!”
I posted the information about it on my website, and I had a mailing list for the blog, but I mainly just let my friends and the people following me on Twitter know I was having this event. The first one sold out in 20 minutes! So it was just kind of a moment for me—it started out as something I thought I was doing just because I wanted to entertain, but it wound up being a way that I could incorporate everything I’d been doing for the last four years in my professional life with my passion for food and beverage and my interest in social media.
Had you ever envisioned yourself as an entrepreneur before?
No, not at all! When I gave my notice at my job, my intention was to focus on building Midnight Brunch as an editorial platform, start focusing on video, and start focusing more on creating ethnic food walking tours. I’m still working on some of that stuff, and it may play out and may end up being a part of my business. But at the beginning, I thought I was going to become a certified tour guide and then I was going to spend the rest of my time writing.
I had no idea when I had the first Midnight Brunch that it would be something that would generate revenue or that other businesses would be interested in participating. I thought it was a fun side project that, if I was lucky, I’d be able to do every couple of months. But after I did that first one, businesses started coming to me and asking about sponsorship and how they could get involved, and that was kind of my first clue that it could be something more.
What advice do you have for others who are looking to turn their passions into a career?
You have to be able to be flexible and kind of go with it! I wasn’t planning on this turning into anything, but once I saw the opportunity, I kind of dove in with both feet, and I’m just figuring out how to make it work.
I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that a lot of people have a lot of ideas that they’d like to turn into businesses—but if your ideas don’t turn into actual money, then you’re not able to turn it into a business. You have to be able to generate revenue first and foremost. A lot of people have conceptual ideas and conceptual dreams, and you just have to be able to distinguish between what is a hobby and what is a passion and what you can actually turn into a business.
So what are the best and worst parts of being your own boss?
Being able to set your own schedule and wake up and go to sleep thinking about your business because you love it so much is, to me, the most valuable thing. Being able to work on something that I’m passionate about and being able to connect people through it—that is probably the best part. The hardest part is making a commitment to being uncertain for the rest of your life—when you start a business, there’s no certainty!