It is a well-deserved favoritism. Jackson Hicks routinely orchestrates
enormous events requiring catering feats of death-defying caliber. His
waiters will fly through the air with the greatest of ease. His chefs
will do cartwheels through hoops of fire, and his assistants will lay
their heads in the jaws of roaring lions; all the while Hicks appears
in the center ring… thoroughly calm, flawlessly dressed and absolutely
charming. The magic of it lies in the fact that when the tents come down,
the Ringmaster and his troupe of star performers will have made the greatest
show on Earth look effortless.
In fact Jackson Hicks' work in the area of catering is so highly regarded
that it has brought him media kudos and celebrity affection. Like his
beautiful table arrangements and food presentation, Hicks himself is sometimes
displayed - an odd status for the caterer - to foster confidence in the
quality of the event.
And how exactly has Jackson and Company achieved such recognition and
preference in a field cluttered with nearly 400 city-wide competitors?
"Obsess over excellence," the soft-spoken Hicks says. "Perfection
is only marginally acceptable." An observer can't help but notice
the disparity between Hicks' quiet, gentle delivery of these words, and
the emotional volume of them. The fact of the matter is that "obsess"
is exactly what Hicks does and exactly what makes him great at it. It
is love's obsession.
In The Center Ring
Hicks may indeed be the Ringmaster but he is quick to point out the importance
of an extraordinary troupe of performers. This show is no one-man-band.
Like the circus, there are often major events happening simultaneously
in several rings. Jackson and Company can easily produce a dinner for
500, a reception for 2,000 and a gala debut for 1,000, and all at the
same time. These feats of daring are made possible by a superb and highly
professional team. (Someone once called Hicks the "Ziegfeld of Catering,"
and if that translates to spotting star talent, it was accurate.)
Jackson and Company's quest for perfection starts at the time of Hicks'
first meeting with a client. The occasion might be a corporate launching
of a new product, the introduction of a new vice-president, a bride's
reception, or breakfast in bed for two, but the objective remains the
"When we first meet, I listen closely to what our clients want; not
just what they say, but what they mean," explains Hicks. "I
listen to what their goals are. In the process I am watching body language;
I am trying to read between the lines. Then I consider what the most imaginative
way to achieve their objectives may be. It's an enormously complicated
process, like that of the conductor of an orchestra. I become responsible
for creating beauty and unity from many and diverse elements. It requires
Creativity may be the benchmark of Hicks' style but detail orientation
is the bedrock of his reputation. "God is in the details," he
says daily. This man leaves absolutely nothing up to chance. Hicks' detail
consciousness is evident in the squeaky-clean appearance of his highly
trained and silently ubiquitous waiters. It appears in his elegantly draped
table cloths and surreal table settings. It appears in his perfectly sized,
impeccably garnished hors d' ouevres, (allowing for consumption without
the risk of a break in conversation or a "nasty" between the
teeth). And perhaps most importantly, Hicks' detail orientation appears
in seeing to the needs of the client and wants of his or her guests.
"When the event is important and the client can't afford to make
a mistake, they turn to us. No matter what amount they may be spending
they know they will get value for their dollar. They know that the quality
of a company's entertaining speaks volumes, and they trust us to project
their reputation," Hicks explains.
"Their success is our success."
This trust is a matter Hicks takes seriously. "Trust is very fragile
- once it is damaged it is very hard to rebuild," he says with an
intensity in his voice. " We can certainly relate this to our personal
relationships. We have all trusted someone who let us down. Well, it's
the same in a business relationship. Jackson and Company wants clients
for life," he concludes.
Star Is Born
Jackson Hicks was born in Oklahoma in 1946 and fondly remembers helping
his mother coordinate his own third birthday party. "I suppose it
was my first event," he laughs.
Throughout his youth, both Hicks' parents were very supportive of his
blossoming interest in entertaining. His father, Edward, taught him fiscal
responsibility and business discipline. "My father always emphasized
the importance of being a good steward of other people's resources. He
could not have imagined letting someone who trusted him down ."
His mother, Christine, had another manner of influence. "She taught
me about restraint and elegance. She has impeccable taste," he smiles.
In 1981, after much encouragement from friends, Hicks decided to follow
his heart. He took what marginal savings he possessed and started Jackson
"I saw that the catering business in Houston had tremendous potential.
At that time the business of catering was not always very business-like.
For example, contracts were rare, they would wing it and sometimes when
the bill arrived there would be great surprises. Or during the event the
client would discover there were no mixes or ice. Business doesn't operate
like that in the real world.
"I also knew that the South is very gracious; people in Houston truly
like to entertain. I thought, 'I love giving parties so much. Why not
make something I so thoroughly enjoy, my profession?" It was a monumental
day for Houston.
The Greatest Show on Earth,
or Anywhere Else
Today, Jackson and Company employs over 350 people and maintains a 5,000-square-foot
kitchen in the heart of the Museum District with a 4,000-square-foot office
building next door. In the month of December, 1992, Jackson and Company
handled almost 100 events ranging in size form 20 to 1,200 guest. This
brought the total to nearly 300 events for the year and 1993 is already
beginning to look like an exciting one. The company will articulately
handle all aspects of an event or party: invitations, food, beverages,
service, entertainment, facilities, decorations, security, even something
Hicks calls "spouse activities." There are virtually no limits
on Jackson and Company's willingness to serve.
Always challenged by exceeding expectations, Hicks has now made taking
his show on the road an important aspect of his business. At any given
moment a Jackson and Company event may be found in a private home in Galveston,
a corporate office in downtown Dallas, launching a new building in San
Antonio, or the State Capitol Building in Austin. Although home grown
and Houston proud, Jackson and Company has even developed a remarkable
reputation internationally. From the Queen's private secretary at Buckingham
Palace to Social Secretary at the White House, Hicks and ensemble are
recognized for exceptional service.
Many of Hicks' local corporate clients will employ his services on a consulting
basis in cities from the East coast to the West. Under this arrangement,
Hicks will orchestrate all aspects of the event through already existing
services and facilities in the particular city. Hicks' consulting has
proven invaluable to clients who are interested in taking no chances in
A recent addition to the list of Hicks' challenges has been JAGS, a restaurant
located in the Decorative Center on Woodway at Sage. JAGS serves only
lunches five days a week and functions as an event space in the evenings.
During the day, business people dine on Hicks famous fare in the perfect
atmosphere for business - quiet and discreet, with tables far enough apart
to provide privacy. At night the beautiful, theatrical space can take
on many characters and perform many functions: from cocktail receptions
for 75 to full sit-down dinners for 500. JAGS' neutral colors and dynamic
design allow for all kinds of creative applications making it the perfect
addition to the Hicks palette of entertaining possibilities.
And The Best
is Yet to Come
Hicks prides himself on his discretion. He is hesitant to discuss his
clients, (Just how well does he know George and Barbara Bush, anyway?),
and subsequently, some of his events. However, many are so public that
anonymity would be virtually impossible. The State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth
II and the 1990 Economic Summit were two such events. In both cases he
wined and dined our eminent world guests from start to finish, from A
to Z. Another such event was Houston's Wortham Center Opening Gala.
"We felt an enormous responsibility for our city to launch Wortham
Center correctly," Hicks says definitively. "We knew that many
conductors, opera singers and choreographers would want to work here if
they were sufficiently impressed with the wonderful theater.
The guests arrived in the Grand Foyer for champagne with minimum of clutter.
Then they went into the theater for an hour and fifteen minutes. When
the guests returned, we had reset the foyer with seating for 1,600 and
with all the food, all the bars, the dance floors, the orchestra stage
and all the flowers."
Hicks took on the responsibility for every aspect of this opening. "Everything
in the house - from the stage forward," says Robert Cizik, host for
the Wortham Center Opening Gala and CEO of Cooper Industries, "absolutely
everything: all the amenities right down to the perfume and cologne in
the restrooms." Is it any wonder why those who know Hicks work call
him a magician?
With all this celebrity elbow -rubbing and world-class event organizing,
which one of his parties does Hicks consider the most satisfying? "The
last one we did," Hicks smiles. Well then, which event was the most
important? "The event we are working on right now," he smiles
again And he is not joking. Nothing about Hicks' approach to business
is static; he is constantly moving in pursuit of perfection.
"The perfect party is remarkable and remembered for its attention
to detail: a party where the hosts are free from concern, so that they
may enjoy their guests; a party where every detail, from the invitations
to the good-byes make each guest feel pampered and delighted to have been
included," Hicks pauses for a moment to reflect.
"A great party has a magic moment when the energy level changes,
it transcends the sum of the parts and takes on a life of its own. That
moment is as elusive as Dulcinea but I've always been a bit of a Don Quixote,"
he again smiles.
Who among us is going to tell Jackson Hicks he is in pursuit of the impossible
dream … when the results are so exquisite?