Feeding frenzy

Caterers big and small customize food for their clients during the holiday season

by Joe Stumpe

Crazy doesn't even begin to explain it. That's how Ben Arnold, owner of Corporate Caterers, describes the pace of the catering business during the month of December. Or more precisely, the period between the first Friday in December and the last Saturday before Christmas. We will do the equivalent of 60 days of sales, Arnold said.

Interestingly, New Years Eve is not big for caterers. Most people celebrating it go out to eat, Arnold said, and the months of January and February are his slowest of the year.

But in December, it's on and in a big way. Last year he averaged 23 events a day, with the single busiest day bringing 37 of them. He doubles the size of his kitchen staff and adds more servers and delivery drivers as well (along with rental trucks to supplement his own fleet of nine trucks).

One significant change has been a drop in the number of large corporate events offset, however, by an increase in smaller private parties.

As for what people want, Arnold said, It's all over the board, from hors doeuvres to full dinners. I have 280 items on the menu and I bet 210 will be ordered during those weeks. Arnold has been in the catering business 13 years. Corporate Caterers ranks as the city's largest operation of its type.

Not surprisingly, there have been a few close calls over the years. Two years ago, for instance, a woman hired Corporate Caterers to supply the food for a big Saturday night party. The only problem was, the party actually turned out to be on Friday. They called us about two hours before (the party)Arnold said. I literally had two hours to get the food there and the only people who knew about it was the (client) and my staff.

Arnold expects to put in a string of 18-hour daysIt's harvest time, he said. You gotta do it. Come January, February and March there's plenty of time to sleep.

At the other end of the catering scale in terms of size and experience are . Tasha and Bill Schrant, who opened Chino's Parrilla Catering with Schrant's father, Steve Chino Herrera, in August. But they're no less excited about the holiday's catering prospects. My dad and I, we love cooking, Tasha Schrant said. I've learned a lot from my father. I just wanted to get into what we love doing as a family. Tasha added, My husband is also a really good cook.Schrant said the three had prepared food for many get-togethers of family and friends, and inevitably someone would suggest they open a restaurant or bottle and sell their salsa.

Chino's Parrilla is built around the idea of preparing the food on site, with party goers looking on if they wish. the Schrants bring an 8-foot-long stainless steel grill they prepare the food on, with customers choosing from ancho chile-marinated carnitas, fiesta lime chicken, fresh grilled shrimp and more. Unique side dishes include chorizo-infused refried beans, sopa fideo (rice pasta), the aforementioned savory salsa and a host of fresh toppings such as cheese, lettuce, cilantro and onion.

We cook the meat fresh in front of you, Tasha said. We kind of put on a little show. If customers wish, the food can be prepared beforehand, and dropped off in professional chaffing dishes. Either way, Chino's offers a delicious, new catering option for any holiday gathering.

Although Chino's Parrilla is small in comparison with Corporate Caterers, the Schrants have set up a website (grillwhileyouchill.com) and Facebook page to try to get the word out. if you hire us, Schrant said, we grill, while you chill.

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