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There is something about whipping up a tasty concoction, watching guests sink their teeth into that first bite and hearing the silence before the collective chorus of approval that is music to Angela Linton-Canfield’s ears.
“It’s that sound that makes us do what we do,” said Angela, whose fascination with food started as a latchkey kid, reading recipes and later trying to replicate what she had at high-end restaurants. “Being able to make amazing food and creating an experience for people to share feeds our soul. Those are the moments when we know we’ve done our job right.”
Since 2009, Angela, 53, has made up one half of Life’s A Feast, a catering service venture she co-founded with her partner in business and in life, Carolyn Linton-Canfield, 56.
The couple met in the mid 1990s, working with one another at a downtown Chicago restaurant called Mango.
“I was one of the original servers,” said Angela, originally from Nebraska. “Probably nine or 10 months later, Carolyn, who was born and raised in Chicago, came in to interview for a position at another one of the owner’s restaurants, but she was offered a job as a bartender at Mango.”
Carolyn, who also had a passion steeped in the food industry that emerged at an early age, began her career as a busser.
“I worked at a lot of high-end restaurants,” she said. “I went from being a busser to working in the pastry pantry and bartending. I left the industry for awhile and went to college. When I came back into the industry, I was a server and managed the food prepping at a restaurant in Comiskey Park, then managed and trained staff at restaurants in Chicago and San Francisco.”
Angela, who was a mom of twins and was in the process of leaving her marriage to a man when she and Carolyn met, said the two just hit it off — something evident to those around them as well.
“The service industry in Chicago is tightly knit,” Angela said. “We had a mutual friend who said to us one night, ‘You know, you two would make a great couple.’”
During a busy evening at Mango, the two jokingly decided to play “The Dating Game,” asking one another questions that measured their compatibility.
“Every time one of us ran up the stairs and passed one another, we’d ask, ‘Road trips or airplanes?’ ‘Cats or dogs?’ Pretty soon, it became evident to both of us that it wasn’t a game and that maybe there was something about this. That was the very beginning of it. And 26 years later …”
The couple eventually relocated to Oakland, Calif., where they began catering and “private chefing” for high-end clients.
“It wasn’t something I initially wanted to do,” Carolyn said. “But Angela is very
pro-active. And we make a great pair. The skills we both bring in compliment one another in the business.”
But when the stock market took a sharp turn in 2008 and the business followed suit, they knew they were ready for a change of scenery.
“Within a three-block radius, there were probably 14 homes that were boarded up around us,” Angela said. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘It’s time to go.’ A friend of ours was from Dubuque and had recently moved back with her husband who was ill and entering hospice. She suggested (Dubuque) to us, and we honestly had a good laugh.”
But upon further research, Angela and Carolyn began taking a second look.
“It just seemed to meet everything we were looking for,” Angela said.
The couple moved to the area in December 2008, got the business license for Life’s A Feast in April 2009 and landed the company’s first catering job in June of that same year.
They married at 11:11 a.m. Nov. 11, 2011.
“Binary numbers,” Carolyn said. “The two of us feel very interconnected.”
Today, they call a quiet country nook in Savanna, Ill., home — along with their pets — but entertain catering requests and bookings throughout the tri-states, including an effort for the Dubuque Regional Airport called All On Board.
“We do a lot of work in Dubuque, Galena (Ill.), Elizabeth (Ill.) and Platteville (Wis.),” Angela said.
They also have scaled back their focus somewhat, putting their energy on more intimate catering events.
“If people come with a request for an event for 130 people, that’s our sweet spot,” Angela said. “Those 750 or more events are not really what we like to do anymore. It’s more challenging to staff those larger events today. But for us, it’s really about making an event fantastic for the client and taking pride in what we deliver.”
That starts with an emphasis on fresh, local produce and preparing it on site.
“We also steer clear of buffets,” Angela said. “They’re a Midwest staple, but they’re really only great for the first 10 or so people. Nothing beats family style, having a fresh plate of food brought to your table and being forced to have a conversation. ‘Please pass the potatoes or the vegetables.’”
The two take on different roles that intertwine from time to time within the scope of the business.
Angela does the cooking and works with clients to create customized menus, in addition to the Life A Feast’s suggested menus.
“I am 100% self-taught,” Angela said. “Very early on, cooking became a passion of mine. I taught myself how to make risotto and Mediterranean stew. I pushed myself to try new things and to expose myself to everything I could in the kitchen. But I was never formally trained. For a very long time, I didn’t think I was worthy of the title ‘chef.’ But a friend of mine, who is a chef, asked, ‘Are you cooking the food? Are you responsible for everything at the end of the day? Then, you’re a chef.’”
Carolyn focuses her energy on
front-of-house efforts, helping plate food, working with hosts and hostesses, waitstaff and bartenders to greet guests, manage food and drinks, and ensure clients have a pleasant dining experience.
She also fires up the grill when the need arises.
It has been a recipe for success, the couple said.
“We have a great banter and rapport with one another,” Carolyn said. “We’re two strong women, so we can stumble over each other’s feet from time to time, and that can cause a little friction. But we have them same philosophy when it comes to the business and the food. And we’re both of the belief of leaving everything at the door when we come in to do a job.”
Angela agreed, adding that when the two aren’t busy creating memorable food experiences for others, they enjoy treating themselves to a night out for a great dinner, as well as road trips and self-care at home. They also never underestime the power of a
“There are challenges that come with working with your spouse because you’re around each other all the time,” Angela said. “It’s not easy, but we’re both positioned well to do what we do best. And we make a good team. I don’t regret any second of it and wouldn’t change any part of us working together. We’ve built something we love together. And after all these years, we’ve still got it in us.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.