In early 2000s France, Aurélie Spirito had a successful buffet styling company with a business partner. But when Spirito’s husband got a job offer in Minnesota, the couple jumped into the new adventure and landed in Eden Prairie in 2007.
“I wasn’t speaking any English,” Spirito says. “So [getting] work was difficult, so I just volunteered and learned English just by living here, watching TV, things like that.” When she was comfortable enough, Spirito decided to restart her business, Lila Buffet Styling, from scratch in 2008.
The business is more than putting together a buffet—it’s piecing together menu items from different vendors and creating décor to match for a custom party experience. “Some people call me a catering concierge,” Spirito says.
The original business began in France as a wine-tasting business. Spirito and her business partner coordinated wine tastings for companies’ office parties. “We had people come in with the wine, and we were just planning everything,” she says. The business quickly evolved. “We realized that when people drink wine, they want to eat something,” she says. Appetizers were added from area restaurants, and as the parties grew, so did the menus, which were pieced together from local bakeries and chefs to fit the clients’ needs. Spirito and her partner enjoyed creating beautiful tablescapes and added it to the services. “It just kind of developed by itself,” she says.
Once in Eden Prairie, “I had no vendors, not much for décor … and I had to get accustomed to what American people like to eat,” Spirito says. As she continued to learn English, Spirito didn’t feel comfortable cold-calling people to create a client base, so she did as Americans do—she went to networking meet-ups and joined the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, and relationships grew. “They were so nice to me and so welcoming,” she says. “It was nice because that’s how I met people for my business but also how I made friends.”
Today, Lila Buffet Styling coordinates corporate events, birthdays, housewarming parties, baby showers, weddings and more, always in the buffet style. For each event, Spirito meets with her client to find out what kind of party is envisioned: Finger food? Specific cuisine? Classy or casual? Budget parameters? “Then I custom design a menu just for them. I compile everything from different vendors,” she says. Spirito also creates custom décor for the party, whether it’s a glamourous wedding or corporate event.
Spirito’s vendors are restaurants and private chefs mostly from the Southwest Metro area, but she does reach out to the rest of the Twin Cities, especially when looking for a specific dish for a client. But as new bakeries and restaurants open in the area, “I go talk to them and tell them what I do to develop new vendors,” she says. That’s even easier now that she’s hired an event manager, Melissa Sanchez, from Chaska. “We have the same taste, and I completely trust her,” Spirito says.
Spirito’s learning curve has eased, and the culture shock of America has worn off. “It was very weird for me at the beginning,” she says, as an example describing party guests who would hit up the buffet table the moment they arrived. In France, “They mingle, have a glass of wine; they wait. They don’t dine until everybody is there,” Spirito says.
Despite early challenges, Spirito has built a business she loves. From creating beautiful centerpieces to seeing her clients’ faces when they arrive to the party.
“I like making people smile,” she says. “It is so rewarding to make people happy.”
Go-to Tips for Stress-free Parties
Planning a party is all about making guests feel welcome while avoiding falling into a spiral of stress. Spirito provides helpful hints to pave the way for a successful event for everyone.
For a crowd-pleaser, party platters are a go-to, she says. “It’s easy to do ahead of time,” Spirito says. It’s simple, too, to give these platters a festive touch. “For the holidays, use a lot of wood—it’s very trendy now,” she says. A birch-styled cheese board filled with fancy cheese and cured meats is simple. “And for presentation, add some nice herbs like rosemary, and some dried fruits,” she recommends. “Also try to do things with in-season food. I like to use figs and pomegranate.”
Spirito recommends using endive spears, filling them with plain goat cheese and topping with herbs, seasonings, pomegranate arils or jam. Even top crackers, or cucumber and zucchini slices with chicken salad.
“For décor, always go with warm color and incorporate natural elements,” Spirito says. Pine branches and eucalyptus are great on a buffet table, “And always, always a lot of candles” or lighting. “It gives them lighting and ambience—a warm feeling,” she says.
December gets busy. Between parties and kids’ recitals and family gatherings, the calendar gets booked. There’s nothing that says you have to get your “Friendsmas” in before the new year. “If you are stressed out, if you don’t know what day to choose, just pick January, and everyone will love you,” she says.