The gig: Mary Micucci, 63, is the owner of Along Came Mary Events, one of Hollywood's leading catering and special events businesses. Often called the "caterer to the stars," Micucci has handled more than 400 movie premieres, from "Titanic" in 1997 to "The Hangover Part III" earlier this month, as well as numerous Grammy, Emmy and Academy Awards parties. She has also catered events for numerous celebrities, including Barbra Streisand's wedding to actor James Brolin in 1998.
The food business wasn't an obvious career path for Micucci, a former flight attendant who also worked as a cocktail waitress while she was a student at Cal State L.A., where she got her degree in psychology and communications. Months after graduating in 1975, she founded the company, initially as an all-women bartending and waitress service at a time when women were discouraged from working behind the bar.
"L.A. was exploding,'' she said. "It was in the middle of the women's movement. There was a whole food revolution here in L.A. and wonderful restaurants were starting to open."
When a friend suggested that she provide food as well as drinks for a wealthy client's party, Micucci was uncertain. "I said, 'Are you kidding?' I come from a great line of Italian American chefs, but I'm not a cook." So Micucci turned to her brother, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, for help. He gave her a three-week crash course on how to cook and run a kitchen. Micucci, however, soon realized it was best to hire her own cooks so she could run the business. Her current chef has been with her for 20 years.
Thanks to Popeye: Her first big Hollywood job was catering Paramount Pictures' premiere party for the 1980 movie "Popeye." The party was for 1,000 people in a parking lot next to the former Grauman's Chinese Theatre. "I walked into the tent and I started to cry because I thought, 'How am I going to pull that off?' " The event, which included a buffet with spinach pies and other dishes themed to the movie, was a success and soon led to other studio jobs. Micucci expanded her services to not only cater food, but also include lighting, decor and entertainment.
Best advice: "You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with," Micucci said. "That really has held through the years. I'm very devoted and loyal to my vendors. I don't bid out my jobs to a billion people. I know who I like and that's who I use. We all care for and respect each other."
Most ambitious event: In February, Micucci and her team had to prepare meals and entertainment for about 5,000 Grammy Awards guests at the Los Angeles Convention Center. They had less than two weeks to prepare for the Bollywood-themed event, which included Indian dancers and dishes.
Family is king: Micucci grew up in an Italian American family in Queens, N.Y., where her father ran a butcher shop and left her with a keen appreciation of quality food. She still remembers the "delicious steaks" he cooked on Saturdays. "I came from a family that loved movies, musicals and the most amazing food in the world. It was embedded in me. Even though I was never a cook I was always passionate about food. "
Weathering the Great Recession: Like many entertainment service companies, Along Came Mary was hurt by the recession, which caused studios to drastically cut back their spending on lavish events and movie premieres. The migration of production outside of California also has reduced the number of premiere parties, more of which have moved to such cities as New York and London. Although Micucci doesn't expect a return to the "glory days," when studios would fork out $750,000 or more to throw premiere parties, orders have picked up. "Business has bounced back,'' she said. "We're doing really good this year. This business has been very good to me. It's turned this company into a legacy, which I'm very proud of."
Micucci is know for her charity work, donating unserved food to numerous charitable groups, such as Upward Bound House and Union Rescue Mission, that provide services to homeless families and children. "We have a responsibility to our community and since we're in the food business, we have to share what we have with our community," she said.
Getting personal: Micucci said she's too "crazy busy" to have a hobby, but one of her favorite pastimes is collecting vintage silverware, glasses and antiques that adorn her house in Hancock Park. "I love my home,'' she says. "It has that back-East feel to it."