Carla Childs does not consider herself a traditional entrepreneur. To hear her tell the story, her path to having her own business was “unconventional.” Now the 46-year-old mother of six has one of the area’s fastest growing catering businesses, Carbondale-based Naomi Ariel Catering and Event Planning.

“It all started a few years ago when I helped with a friend’s wedding ... and it went from there,” she says. “I don’t have the story of always planning on being a caterer, but I really liked the idea of having something that was mine and with a gift of hospitality that I didn’t even realize at first that I had, it was a natural fit.

“I specialize in home-style cooking and we are really big into hospitality and service,” she says, adding that the company’s services often include decorating as well as providing table linens and more.

Childs says she has catered events ranging from tailgate parties to large banquets and fundraisers, and she is always happy to help with planning the details. Her calendar fills up quickly, and Naomi Ariel Catering has grown to where she is able to cater simultaneous events, each with hundreds of attendees.

“When I first started it was just me, I didn’t have a team. Now, to have a growing business and to have employees, it’s really exciting,” she says.

The company also recently began leasing a storefront in downtown Carbondale, giving Childs a place to store equipment and supplies as well as providing a place to meet prospective clients. There is also a small meeting space available for parties, baby showers and other special events.

While the space does not include a commercial kitchen, Childs contracts with her church to make use of its facility for food preparation, where she also oversees planning events for the congregation. She says the arrangement, like her experiences, is a bit unconventional.

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She says her entrepreneurial journey not only has been different than most, it also has been full of ups and downs.

“Somethings I’ve learned the hard way,” she admits, adding that not everything has been easy. She says one venture almost forced her out of business, but that was an experience from which she has learned, grown and recovered.

“It was slow starting, I didn’t do loans and things, so if I didn’t have the money, I wasn’t able to do things,” she explains. “I didn’t wake up one morning with a business plan and tell myself what I was going to be doing in two years."

However, she says persistence and good advice from other entrepreneurs has been key to her success and growth. She says from the beginning, she sought out others who had started businesses to serve as mentors. In fact, she says working with a life coach not only helped her both in business and personally, but also has inspired her to also become a certified life coach herself.

Childs, who works as a foster care case manager for Caritas Family Solutions, says she hopes to continue to grow Naomi Ariel to the point where it can become her full-time job and where she can expand both her team and her offerings. For now, however, she says she is enjoying every minute.

“I am having so much fun,” she says. “I love everything about this and I’m still learning. I’m so glad that I didn’t give up when things were hard. This has become more than I could have ever imagined when I started.”

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