Billings catering business rebounds through change

Posted at 6:04 AM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 15:11:17-04

BILLINGS - Customers line up outside of Abby’s Catering Company at 909 4th St. W. in downtown Billings two nights a week.

Not Abby Hinthorne’s usual clientele, she recently made a switch, and now prepares meals to order.

“It’s just not what we did, but we knew we had to do something just to stay afloat and keep our doors open,” Hinthorne said.

After 17 years, the small business was forced to go from catering events for hundreds to selling family meals.

“The first week, we were kind of in a fog, when all of the calls started coming in, and weddings postponed into next year. And it was actually a friend of mine that sent me a message and said we would love to help you out and buy some dinners. And we were like, well, let’s give it a shot,” Hinthorne said.

It was a shot worth taking.

“By the second week we were up to 30 to 40 family dinners. So that serves six. So that’s 180 to 200 individual servings. So then we were like, Ok, maybe we can make a go of this, and, it just kind of boomed!” Hinthorne said with a laugh.

Like so many other small business owners, Hinthorne is facing the one thing all business owners are up against right now.

“Well obviously, they are going to face change,” said Karen Miller, director of BillingsWorks.

Miller believes if anyone can take change head-on, it’s business owners.

“If you really think about it, that’s one thing they’re really good at, if they’re successful, is being able to adapt. But this change is different because we’re not choosing it. It’s being put upon us, which, is a very different experience in change,” Miller said.

Whether a business sinks or floats in this sea of change, in part, depends on response.

“One of the only things that provides opportunity is change. That’s where we get innovation, right? That’s when we understand that we can do things differently, and often times, some of those changes are more efficient, more effective,” Miller said.

This is Miller’s Rebound Rundown for small businesses facing change:

- Go over your business model and decide if it needs to change to better match the needs of your customers.

- Look for articles and webinars that offer the perspective of an expert business owner.

- Connect with other business owners to see if you can offer suggestions and solve each others problems.

For Hinthorne, letting her business fail wasn’t an option.

“We couldn’t. This is our livelihood. My husband and I, this is what we do. We don’t have a second income coming in, and so, you know, we have bills like everybody else.”

For now, Hinthorne will keep prepping meals with the help of her daughter Kendahl and husband Tom, waiting to hire back her workers, and dealing with change, as it comes.

“We’re just waiting to see what the phases look like, and we’ll just continue doing this.”

Miller recommends business owners check out a mini-webinar series done by the Billings Chamber of Commerce on their website,

Big Sky Economic Development also offers a Zoom Biz Drop-In that lets business owners check in with the experts.

To connect with Hinthorne to purchase a family meal, she posts weekly menus in the Facebook group Abby’s Catering Company.