NACE & ILEA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Karen Stefani
One could say Karen was destined to be at the helm of her own catering company. Inspired Catering was the perfect creation which evolved through many years of hard work tempered with family balance and values.
Born into an Italian family already in the food & beverage industry, Karen’s father and uncle’s business, Fantozzi & Trucco Distributors, was a Chicago staple. Karen went to work at an early age helping out with everything from working restaurant shows, to traveling with her parents throughout Italy to see the vineyards and learn the intricacies of the fine wines which were carried and sold through their distribution company.
In her late teens, Karen was introduced by mutual family friends to travel agent, Phil Stefani. The dye was cast and the two married in 1979 and went on to have a family with daughter Gina and son, Anthony. Together with a love of food and wine the couple went into the restaurant business, opening Stefani’s in 1980, establishing the Stefani brand with standout venues throughout Chicagoland.
While raising Gina & Anthony and supporting Phil’s restaurant expansion, Karen set out to put her savvy business skills to work opening Avanti, a clothing store in River Forest and eventually moving to Edgebrook. Fittingly, Avanti means ‘forward’ in Italian and that’s just the direct in which Karen kept moving.
After 10 years in the clothing industry, Karen was eager to reestablish her success in the food & beverage industry and forged into catering, eventually purchasing Phil Stefani’s Signature Events with daughter Gina. They underwent a fresh rebranding and transformed into Inspired Catering and Events by Karen and Gina Stefani.
Karen is most proud of the company’s WBE Certification which is a valued and prestigious distinction to achieve. As a Women Business Enterprise, Chicago’s certification ensures the quality and success of a business which is majority owned & operated by women or minorities.
At Inspired, Karen’s prime focus are fundraising events. Karen’s passion is evident through The Stefani’s Children’s Charities with initiatives which are very close to her heart. Her commitment to the needs of children in our community is something very special for Karen and she takes an active role in seeing the fruits of the charity’s efforts come to fruition through yearly successful fundraising efforts.
With Karen overseeing the day to day operations at Inspired, she works hand in hand with Executive Chef, Elizabeth Tokarczyk to develop menus and create a vast array of offerings representing all the world’s cuisines.
As for Karen’s career goals, in her words, “The most important thing to me is the personalized attention from start to finish and the quality of food and service through the duration of the event. I will never be the largest catering company but I want to be the best when it comes to our clients. They are the key and we want to make their dreams come true.”