Festival Vending or Fingernail Extraction. (Don’t worry the “et tu brute” will come later.)

IMG_2404

I’m asked all the time; “Why don’t you sell your food at festivals?” “I know this festival that would be perfect for what you do. I go there every year and I have never seen anybody selling food as good as yours.” First off not to sound like I am a “know-it-all” but this isn’t my first rodeo scooter, I’ve been thrown off that bull enough times to know when to quit. At the same time I’ve rode that bull past the 8 second mark and walked away with the bounty, but it still comes with a price to be paid.

So to be historically correct I officially gave up festival vending on Friday night of September 9, 2011 when a promoter called me and said the event for the very next day was being cancelled because of rain… even though there was a rain date and total cancellation was never talked about.

Ok so let’s break this down and see if we can find the exact moment where this train left the tracks.

About 10 years prior (possibly longer) I was called upon to cook a pig at this local event that was hosted by a local volunteer fire department to celebrate the Harvest season. I had bigger fish to fry (so to speak) so I sent my then girlfriend Sue and her helper Lou to go cook a pig and sell sandwiches while I went to do this (so called) huge fireworks event for a township police department about 30 miles away. Police department/promoter said “guaranteed over 100,000 people at this event. Yeah… One hundred thousand people, and I checked the event directory and it confirmed for that event 100,000+ people for one day event. Oh man… I will sell more food than I can cook, I’ll be rich. Why would I even go cook for these farmers and their Harvest fest?

IMG_2406

September 9, 2008 )from left) John, Sue, Jen & Brett

But something inside me said; you grew up as a kid on a farm and I love farmers, I love the country way of life and it is my community after all, I didn’t live there at the time, however I had worked around that area for many years and knew a lot of the people in the area. (Don’t worry the “et tu brute” will come later.)

So here I sit trying to sell BBQ at an event that has 19 other vendors selling some form of BBQ… and where the hell is the 100k people? All I see is a bunch of deadbeat ne’er–do–wells staggering around mixed with a working class crowd and ain’t nobody spending money on food. Meanwhile Sue calls me and says she sold all her food in two hours and her festival still has several hours to go. She can’t leave she is blocked in. I can’t leave and I’m stuck with all this food. And where the fuck is the 100k people? Ok it is a fireworks festival, maybe as the day progresses the crowd will build.

IMG_2417

John pulling pork 9/9/08

About one hour before the fireworks are due to go off a tsunami of people wash over the festival area making their way to the waterfront of a lake to get a spot to view the fireworks. I did sell some food, but not what you’d think. And I guess if you took in to account the size of the lake and all the people attending in the outlying area, it most likely added up to 100K people. Boy did I get duped on that one. Yes my friend that is called “living and learning” and eating French fries for breakfast lunch and dinner for the next year. Of course the $300 I paid for the vending spot sat real well with the police department. And the money I paid out in help, the truck I rented and… I don’t even want to think about it anymore than that.

So when the police department called the next year I didn’t even argue I said nix nix and take me off your list and lose my number we’re done.

As for the little Harvest festival; well for the next several years I did that festival every year. Now this part is important. I was told the event would always be the first Saturday after Labor Day and that the rain date would always be the next day, on Sunday. I was never told that a total cancellation was an option. I was to give 20% of my till to the fire department at the end of the night and I faithfully & honestly did exactly that every year. It was a verbal gentlemen’s agreement and we left it at that. So as time passed by there were good years and some slow years. Why I can even remember utilizing the rain date option, although the crowd was smaller I could still at least break even. The slow years, like most owners of a business I would make very little or nothing. My helpers made money I paid them by the hour, the department got their 20% and so goes the story.

Now I will admit there were good years where I made a decent little cha-ching… But I (as in me) worked like hell all week preparing. Smoking and shredding pork, slicing smoked brisket and some years we sold smoked ribs. Running to & fro buying all the stuff I needed, I had good tents & signage, I wanted everything to look as good as I could make it look on the budget I had to work with, and that meant lowering the profit. I would not do all this extra work  for other events, but I did it for this event because why? It was for the good of it all, the community, the people and just because that is how I work.

In 2009 we were washed out. We had a week of hard rain leading up to the festival. My basement flooded, I lost a lot of equipment in my recording studio, I lost a lot of high dollar stuff in my workshop and my relationship with my longtime girlfriend was ending all at the same time. But I was still prepared to be at the festival with my BBQ and roast a pig. I had to roast the pig because it just wouldn’t be a festival if there wasn’t a pig cookin’. The festival utilized the rain date option and we went with Sunday that year. The crowd was a little light but still a lot of people came out to eat, drink and be merry as they say.

Peacefull valley

2007 (from left) Shawn, Sue, Pat & Me (Pigdude)

2011: So in 2011 I was newly married to Munn and the cooking season was progressing pretty well. 2009 & 2010 were really bad years for my business. I relocated and that hurt me, plus it was a lot of hard work. Because of the poor economy I had reduced from three cooking crews down to just me and one assistant, imagine losing 2/3 of your profit & lifestyle. I actually wanted to pack it in and call it quits. But Munn was having a blast learning all about my crazy business. She was having fun so I was having fun. She loves people and she rekindled the fun I used to have when I went out to cook for the masses (as I would always say). I had been telling her about this little festival that I do every year, how much fun it would be and how much fun the people have. Munn is from Thailand and this was her first year here and she was so looking forward to seeing and cooking for a festival in the USA.

As the week came the weather was looking grim to say the least. It rained for several days leading up to the event. I was waiting to hear the “word” was it going to be Saturday or Sunday. I heard nothing. It was Friday night about 9:00pm, I had just finished shredding/pulling all the pork, I had also finished the slicing of the brisket, and I had over 200 lbs of fries in the freezer. Munn & I were done for the night, wiped of all energy I offered to buy her a coffee at the local Wawa store on the way back to the rented room we were staying in. Yeah like I said “times were tough that year.” So as I approach the Wawa store I get a call from the fire department saying (and I quote) “yeah that festival we do every year… well this year we’re not going to do it.” I’m thinking he means we will do it on Sunday and not Saturday. “No we’re just going to cancel it.” So needless to say I was devastated beyond words, the conversation was brief and I hung up the phone. I pulled into the parking lot of the store and I called the man back. Now that second conversation was… shall we say “heated” to say the least. I also told him to lose my number and never ever call me again, just forget who I am. Munn & I sat there drinking coffee and you never seen two deflated souls as we were that night. The loss of money alone was enough to make a good soul just give up.

IMG_2418

Ahh… Fries, who doesn’t love fries.

I mostly blame the weather and that is the real reason I stopped doing the festivals. And I have to say that while I hold no ill feelings (personally) towards the man who gave me the bad news that night, I do fault the fire department for not giving me a heads up that a “full cancellation of the event” was an option. I also have to fault myself for being gullible enough to not have a written and signed agreement. Fuck me once shame on you, fuck me twice ain’t ever gonna happen.

2017: So now their festival has been reduced to what it should have been all along. It is a Beef & Beer event and I don’t believe there are going to be fireworks. So what was once a so called Harvest Fest is now just stand, eat and drink. And truly there is nothing wrong with that, after all that is what it was all along. There are just a handful (if that) of farmers in the area… well except for the new age plowboys that ride around in there big 4×4 trucks that they tune to sound like a tractor (I think it makes their penis feel bigger). They got the cookie cutter country music playin’ and they’re about as akin to a real farmer as the new age biker is to a real Hells Angel or Pegan. So with no real farmer population, there is no harvest and why not just go with the formula that has worked for hundreds of years.

And what is that formula you may ask? Ok so if you want to make any party, event, fundraiser whatever a real success…

  1. Beer and lots of it.
  2. And if it is good food all the better.
  3. And if it is live music all the better.

That’s it that is all you need. Some may say to add sexy women, but I still would go with beer, food and live music.

So this was just a small slice of the food vending history of Have Pig Will Travel, but it was these events that led up to me saying “never again, no more food vending.” While I do believe in God, Jesus and the devil, I also believe Festival promoters are the devils offspring, some place on their body is the number 666… it has to be. In all my live I have never met a more low-down dishonest, self-serving, and greedy group of people.

Well I guess I could say it was fun while it lasted… nah I’m not going to say that.

Have a great day everybody and thanks for reading.

 

 

Advertisements

A Very Special Father’s Day (She wanted steamed clams… lots of steamed clams)

untitled-2523

Dick & Marge Yard

A Very Special Father’s Day

It truly was a sight to behold and on more than one level. To call it “a family cook-out” would be an understatement to say the least. The story that is about to unfold is one filled with many ingredients; love, humbleness, family and American dream are just a few that come to mind as I write this.

I’m 52 years and I have known of the Yard’s all my life. Marge & Dick Yard are school bus drivers in my community. I am a school bus driver in my community and I came to know Marge & Dick as friends when I started driving bus 18 years ago. Both have long since retired but continue to drive as substitutes nearly every week if not every day. I kind of personally feel that they really don’t have to work so much, but it gives them something to do… And they’re dedicated to what they do. After all they are the ones who are there all the time while the full time drivers are constantly out. They’re both really cool people… they’re what I call “good people.”

untitled-2526

Dick approached me a few weeks ago and took me by surprise when he asked if I could cook some food for a small family get-together he was having on Father’s Day. I just never thought he would ask me something like that. He went on to say it was his 85th birthday and his twin sister was coming to visit and he needed catered food so no one would have to cook. Whoa! Hold on here just a minute… 85th birthday, twin sister… I had no idea Dick had a twin sister. I knew he had a sister, but I never knew they were twins. And how could he be turning 85 years old when… was he just 67 years old like few years ago when I started driving bus. Oh… yeah that’s right I’ve been driving for 18 years, gosh how time flies. So as he continues to talk I’m trying to get my head around how important this event is going to be. A man who is fortunate enough to have an 85th birthday on Father’s Day and have all his family, wife, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and twin sister all there at the same time. That right there is more than amazing and how blessed one truly could be. And in good health I might add. Wow! And he is just talking like it’s no big deal. Like I said “humble.”

untitled-2610-Edit-2

Richard (Dick) Yard Happy 85th Birthday My Friend

After giving him some basic info, like all good husbands he said “I will talk to Marge about it.” So yes it turned into a full on pig roast. But Marge wasn’t so much worried about the roasted pig as she was the clams. She wanted steamed clams… lots of steamed clams. So of course I did just that, I ordered lots and lots of steamed clams… and butter, don’t forget the butter. Of course there was all the other good side dishes that make any American style family BBQ complete like corn on the cob (with lots of butter), my red skin country potato salad, baked beans with smoked sausage and apples, hamburgers & hot dogs and more.

untitled-2530

Munn Smith with her infamous smile.

My wife was excited too, she has heard me talk about a lot of the people I work with over the years and she always wondered when she would get to meet the Yard’s (if ever). Munn was really looking forward to this, being a Thai lady who comes from a very close family and from a village lifestyle where older people are very much respected she loves to see families come together. And as I have stated many times “it is events like this that are the collateral fun of my crazy little catering business.” We get to see all kinds of memories being made right in front of are eye while we work. Kind of “hokie” I know, but true all the same.

So the location of the party was at the oldest son’s house. Just a very beautiful private country setting, actually almost story book like for this special Father’s Day. No not a big palatial upper crust mansion, but rather a beautiful home that was built by a self-employed hard working man who himself is living the American dream.

So the stage is set but… what does Mother Nature have to say about it? The weather was gorgeous so let’s party. Oh but wait… Munn forgot to pack the BBQ sauce. So after Tiny and I made a quick trip back, now all was good.

untitled-2520

Twins Dick and his sister Marge on their 85th Birthday

Of course the pig was awesome and just set the mood for the day. To me the pig is just food to eat. However at the same time the roasted pig is what denotes the day as something very special. The smell of the hardwood smoke and pork fat rendering as the day progresses just puts a smell in the air and when guests approach the whole scene it is like casting a magical spell that says “today is very special” and it was special. While Dick and his sister were celebrating twin birthdays Marge was celebrating too. She walked up to me at one point and said “out of the 50 or so people in attendance, only three were not her family. Marge had all her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and husband together in one place and all having fun. And that right there is an American dream and a blessed thing. Munn & I were so happy to be there to see it and to cook for them.

Happy birthday Dick and many more my good friend.

untitled-2542

We Need an Ambulance (imagine dipping your toes in lava.) Part 1

_MG_2058“Yeah it was all fun & games till the ambulance showed up.” Sounds funny and as I look back on it now most times it was funny… well yeah most times, but not all.

So in 20 years of going out and cooking on location you know it is bound to happen sooner or later that you will be at an event where someone gets sick or hurt or some way needs medical assistance. Let me list a few here.

Old people falling down

Drunk people falling down

Old drunk people falling down

Young drunk people falling down

Bee stings

Dog bites

Food allergies

Old people falling down

BB gun accidents

Dehydration

Heart attack

Baby dropped on head

Girlfriend dropped on head

Old people falling down

Kid hit by car on bike

Kid hit by another kid

And the list goes on… oh and did I mention old people falling down. I was at a party years ago where there were three different incidents of old people falling down. Each time the State Trooper arrived before the EMTs. Finally the host asked him if he could just stay and join the party (no joke). The Trooper said he could not stay but he wanted all elderly to leave the party. LOL he was joking. In all of the incidents I have listed above no one was seriously injured except one and I’ll touch on that one later.

So really the one piece of advice to take away from this is “watch out for elderly guests” at your party. In my experience it was always one of two things. It was either the hot weather or uneven ground/sidewalks ect…

There for a while in the early 2K years we would take bets on the way to the job “will we see an ambulance at the party today.” It seemed to happen so often, at one point we were at three weeks running.

Another that comes to mind was the time the groom passed out at the end of the wedding reception and it is not what you think. Sure the groom passed out and on his way down strikes his head on a huge boulder in the yard. So everybody thinks he had too much to drink and we put him in the “drunk people falling down” category. But he was not a drinker, didn’t smoke, do drugs… nothing, he was just dehydrated and run down from all the work leading up to his wedding. I felt so bad for him because he truly was a really cool young man. He came to, and refused to get in the ambulance. Then passed out again and the Trooper said “get him on that stretcher and out of here ASAP.” Only problem for me was… the groom was paying the bill and now he left in an ambulance. Yeah fun times.

Did I ever need an ambulance? The answer is kind of mixed. No I never left the job in an ambulance although sometimes a “straight jacket” would have been nice. One time I did dump boiling turkey juice down my leg and into my leak proof Gore-Tex shoe, where it cooked my foot just like the turkey. If you’re wondering how bad it hurt… Something like that kind hurt. I tried to pretend it did not happen and went on with what I was doing, until my girlfriend (who was standing there in amazement) asked; “doesn’t that hurt?” At that point I went to my truck for the first aid kit and tended to it. I finished the job, but that’s all I’ll say because any further description would turn your stomach. I will say I still have both of my feet although one tastes better than the other.

So that concludes part one, in part two I’ll talk about the time I cooked food that nobody would eat and a baby and old man both get dropped on their head at the same time. (You can’t make this stuff up folks.)

The Road to Philly

Whenever any customer calls on us we’re happy, but when L. F. Driscoll calls on us I get real excited. I get excited because it mean going to Philadelphia and while I’m not really a big city kind of guy I really love Philly. Philly is easy to navigate and the overall attitude is good. NYC is a jungle, truly a jungle, whereas Philly is just city life without all the “jungle.”

So Driscoll called on me the first time back in November of 2010 while they were working on the now prestigious new art museum that house the Albert Barnes art collection. If you are not familiar with The Barnes Foundation I urge you to check it out. It is a great story of a man who had phenomenal success before and during the Great Depression. You do not have to be into art collecting to appreciate the story. So yes we did such a great job for Driscoll that two months later The Barnes Foundation called us back to the same location because they wanted to show love to the Driscoll workers and on January 20, 2011 in the middle of a horrible winter we performed an on-site pig roast at the Barnes construction site. We had a major snow storm the day before and the day after the event. But somehow by the grace of God it did not snow while I was there.

Then later in 2012 Driscoll called for me to cater a lunch for 200 people at the phase 1 project they had going at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Actually they were working under the museum and I catered the event without flaw in a huge vaulted hallway. This just drives home the fact that when I say “I have cooked just about everywhere you could imagine and then some.” Doing these kinds of catering jobs do not come without logistical challenges. The biggest challenge is getting the food there and setup on time. The workers are on a lunch break and not just hanging around. They need to eat and go back to work.

On Thursday May 25th I repeated the job at the Art Museum, Driscoll is back for phase 2 and they also had a safety meeting/lunch and they called on Have Pig Will Travel. Same location only this time we were just inside of the door at the rear of the museum. Watch the video to see the high lights of the day. It rained and the big challenge as always was the traffic.

Fire? (Not having any energy and not wanting any energy because that would mean work, )

Aquino Party 014

So it had been a long day. I was returning from a catering job in the city (New York City) the year 1999. I had been cooking in Long Island City and headed up the Major Deegan to the George Washington Bridge and back to Jersey… dirty Jersey. At this time I was still using the wooden side trailer that I had started out with in the beginning. I had a beautiful yellow sign on the back and when I would travel the highways it drew lots of attention and people would pass me in the fast lane honking and fist pumping. All the while, there I am driving, brain fried and dreaming of a hot shower and a bed. I have been up since 3:00am, cooking in an industrial area I had to put up with bums begging food, people trying to steal my trailer and the normal stuff like the heat of the day. I had roasted a pig and cooked 300 pieces of chicken on an open grill in a blacktop parking lot. So when people passed me and were fist pumping I really just wanted to shoot them. But today it was different, a lot of people were honking their horns and I just paid no mind. Sue was laughing and waving back at them.

As I headed west on route 80 and then onto route 287 south traffic started to ease up a bit and I was getting thirsty. I knew I had a few Snapples in the cooler that was in the back of the truck. My trusty Ford F-250, I loved that truck. So south of Morristown where the highway has a wide shoulder around the Harter Road exit I pulled over to get my Snapple. When I stopped I seen smoke coming from the pig roaster and this is normal because the coals are still burning when we leave the job. But the smoked smelled like burnt paint and the smoke very quickly gave way to flames as I noticed the floor of the trailer was on fire. Not having any energy and not wanting any energy because that would mean work, I nonchalantly said to my girlfriend Sue “the trailer is on fire.” Truly I was not worried because having been in the city I had two very large CO2 fire extinguishers, one smaller CO2 and I even had a 5lb dry chemical that was in the truck all the time. I had three large sheets of plywood lying flat under the roaster. You see when cooking in NYC the health dept. would not let me cook on the bare ground I had to put wood down.

I guess while traveling back up the Major Deegan and hitting these humongous pot holes the lid of the roaster popped open and a few hot coals fell on to the wood, then 60 mph down route 80 and… well now I have a fire. So I wrangled the big fire extinguisher, pulled the pin and started to put out the fire… and I did. Well I did until the next big rig went by and the gust of wind relit the fire. So I put it out again and then another truck went by. Now my fire extinguisher is empty. But not to worry I have more. And I used them all and still another truck would go by and it would relight. Oh wait a minute I have the dry-chem. It didn’t do the job and the fire relit. Oh… wait a minute I have a Halon extinguisher that will work on anything. Anything except a wood fire being fanned by passing trucks. The fire was under the pig roaster and hard to get too. Although the flames were getting higher I had to get the equipment of the trailer. I jumped into the trailer and started throwing everything to the shoulder of the road, and then I dragged the huge chicken grill out of the trailer and onto the shoulder of the highway. Then came the pig roaster and now the fire was really to the point that I pretty much knew I was losing my trailer.

So I had one last try… it was all or nothing. But then I see flashing lights as a trooper approaches quickly. I grab the cooler and throw all the water and ice and Snapple onto the main part of the fire. Then I scramble and grab all the bottles of Snapple and start opening them and dumping them on the fire as it finally dies. The trooper stands there just looking at me. After a long awkward silence he says “I guess you’re the guy we’re all looking for, we’ve been chasing you since Lodi.” They had received reports of a trailer fire and were looking for a big truck and trailer when in fact it was my truck & trailer. Then he called and cancelled the 5 fire departments that were in route. I told him there really wasn’t as much damage as I originally thought because what burned was mostly the plywood and only a small amount of the trailer floor (about a one foot circle). Then to my surprise he went to his car and removed his gun belt and upper uniform. He came back in a white t shirt and no hat and helped me load all the equipment back to my trailer. It only took the two of us about 15 minutes however as luck would have it the sun came out and was blazing, we were both drenched in sweat. He looks at the empty Snapple bottles and says “that would sure taste good about now.”

So after everything was loaded I was still expecting a citation for something… maybe improper load or creating a traffic hazard, something. He went to his car and returned in uniform and asked my name and where I was coming from and going to, he looked at my plate number on the truck and trailer and asked if everything was ok. I said “sure, but aren’t you going to cite me?” He smiled and said “your day has been bad enough, I hope it gets better.” And with that he walked back to his car and waited while I pulled away.

Of course this day went down in infamy as just another part of the now 20 year history of my crazy little catering business. I never knew the name of the trooper who helped me that day, but I sure was thankful. It was not the first time I had seen a New Jersey State Trooper do something like this, I had seen something very similar a few years earlier when a pile of lumber fell in the highway and the trooper joined in and helped remove the lumber so the traffic could flow again. However that driver did receive a ticket for improper load.

Hey, I have many stories from my 20 years of traveling and catering and meeting people. Thanks for reading and come back again.

Good Food & Memories (…I don’t do anything special.)

Good food and memories is pretty much what Have Pig Will Travel is all about. I never intended for it to be that way, but that’s the way it turned out. It really doesn’t matter whether it is a yearly customer or a one-time customer, either way the comments are the same. Many times I have met either a customer or guest from a party I catered over ten years ago and they’ll break into a story about “how memorable that day was.” They will talk about the festivities and at some point they will mention something about the roasted pig or ribs or something… They may talk about “the crispy skin” or the smell of the pig cooking that day and they get more excited as they talk about it.

I have had customers I cooked for years ago call me and say “thank god you’re still in business, because we’re planning our anniversary party this year and we want the same exact food we had at the wedding.” My reply “really?” And then they will go on to tell me how much people have talked about “the food” that was at our wedding, “you really were a big hit.”

Of course comments and stories like this touch my heart because in looking back on the road I have come down with this business I see a little bit different picture than I did the day I was cooking and working at their parties. Sure I know it is a wedding or mile stone birthday, but at the time I’m more consumed and concerned with things like meeting the serving time, the weather or stressed out because I had mechanical problems getting to the job and I’m worried about getting my rig back home. All the while I’m in the middle of “happy, happy, joy, joy” people having a party. But now in hindsight I see it differently. I see life long memories being created before my very eyes.

I have yearly customers and I have others who only call me when they’re having a special event. I had a customer who only called on me when each of his three children was graduating college. I have had people call me when the moved into a new house and years later when they moved away from that house. I used to have a yearly customer who rented a bed & breakfast every year for 25 family members. I have companies that call me every year for their annual picnic and they never get bored. In fact it is a huge coming together for all the employees and it helps boost company moral.

Here’s the best part… I don’t do anything special; I just do what I always do. We cook good fresh food and serve it on time. We don’t put on a special show, although for many it is something different. But seriously we just cook good ole down home food, we are not the fanciest, we just do what we do.

I have cooked for every kind of party I can think of and through taking pictures and video I remember a lot of them. Some of the most touching are;

“Cancer Free” party. A man threw a surprise party for his wife who was one year cancer free.

I catered an event in New York that I though was a normal party, but there were two fire helmets on the table with two pictures of an uncle & nephew who were lost on 9/11.

I catered a party for a small group of friends who made it out of the towers on 9/11.

I catered a mortgage burning party for two average working people.

Many welcome home parties for soldiers.

I catered a party for a young man who was having a party for his father to enjoy all his family and friends one last time because he was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.

I have catered a “Welcome to America” party for a family who brought members from South Africa.

These are just a few of the over one thousand events we have cooked at and were part of their wonderful memories.

One party I know I will not do any more and I will sadly miss, is the job I have done at the Elmwood Park VFW. They would bring the old vets out from the VA home and Commander Willie would let the party take place at his post. Commander Willie past away a few months back and the party is cancelled. Sure will miss seeing all those old dudes come out and listen to the old tunes and take they’re trip down memory lane as they have some good food and enjoy being with friends.

Good food & Memories.

 

Look At Him Just Sitting There Making All That Money. ( Can you lift 150+ lbs dead body?)

20140621-_MG_4042

“There he sits doing nothing and he’s making money” or so it looks. I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of times that I have had guys come up to me and say “dude you’ve got the best job in the world” because they see me sitting in a chair doing nothing. All the while the pig is cooking away. Now most times this is a party guest who is arriving about an hour before the pig comes off the fire, but it could be a customer too.

Yeah there I sit doing nothing while the money just pours over me right… I guess he should have seen the look on my face when the alarm went off at 4:30am and the look on my face when I walked out the door at 5:00am to start loading the trailers for the two parties I have to cater for that day… and what’s this stuff pouring down from the sky, why there no way it could be rain because the weatherman said “no rain.” Or the look on my face when I send crew #1 off to their job and I’m ready to leave for my event and my assistant doesn’t show up or call and I go do the job alone. Yeah that look on my face just tells anyone “life is so good.” Let’s see I guess I should have called the customer and say “duh sorry I can come to cater your party today, it is raining and just don’t feel like working today.” First off, that would never happen because my brain isn’t wired that way, I wouldn’t think of it and failure is not an option. In 20 years I have never ever once cancelled a job I was hired to do.

So that sitting and relaxing that the customer or guests see me or my crew doing while the pig is cooking is just a little break from the action. Now I know most people are smart enough to figure that all out, but not all. This crazy little business actually takes a lot of little skills and you have to put them all together. Can you talk on the phone with people in a proper manner? Can you cut firewood? Can you fix trailer brakes? Can you deal with the health department, IRS, state fire inspectors, insurance agents, event promoters, and wedding planners ect…? Can you calm a panicking customer because it is raining? Can you lift 150+ lbs dead body? Can you fix a walk-in refrigerator? Can you come up with your own recipes? Can you fix a chainsaw? Can you laugh at a joke you have heard over 10,000 times and it wasn’t funny the first time? Can you prepare your own taxes? Do you know how to use QuickBooks? Can you properly type and send an email? Can you drive a truck & trailer through midtown Manhattan? Can you fix a flat tire without taking the wheel of the vehicle? Can you put out a fire? Can you run your own website? Can you properly use social media? Can you take good photos with something other than an iPhone? Can you cook? Can you cook a pig?

These are just a few of the skills that you must be able to do to run this business unless you want to pay someone else to do it. So yes I need a break sometimes and I’ll sit down lol.

I knew going into this whole gig “I’m not coming out a millionaire.” I just needed to pay the bills because I was laid off from a job. Then it grew into something… I don’t know what, but it grew into something and 1000 pigs later I can’t stop it. We have a long list of regular and returning customers and most all weekends have been filled for years. My thoughts were always “if you’re going to do something and get paid for it you have to do it right.” Otherwise you look like a jerk.

 

Roll With the Punches

20141011-_MG_7037untitled-Edit

I love you honey… but

The day of the party frustration, I think it happens to everybody at some point. For me and my crew we always arrive at the customer’s house hours before the party starts. If we are roasting a pig on-site we arrive about 6 hours prior to the serving time. So it is normal for us to pull up to a customer’s house around 9:00am on a Saturday morning and this is about the time the tension is starting to build, especially if it is a younger couple. They are new at life and most likely new at entertaining and throwing a party. Like most they have bitten off more than they can chew and they have a lot to do and a short time to do it.

Logically there are two reasons why you can fall behind the 8 ball when it comes to getting all your ducks lined up in a row for this party that is going to happen. One is in reality most normal people are not used to doing all this crazy work. We have our routines and going on a scavenger hunt all week trying to gather all the “stuff” you need to make this gig happen, while at the same time juggling the day to day grind can certainly leave the most enthusiastic person with a “cup runneth over.”  I think most people under estimate time and how long it will take to clean the backyard, the house or decorate (if needed), these are just a few examples.

The second reason is good ole procrastination or simply put “bull shit.” And it might not be you that is the artist here; it could be the spouse that is throwing the BS. Either way it all leads up to frustration and at some point the pressure will blow off in one form or another. It could be the keg gets tapped very early or the wine tasted so good I think I’ll have another… and the guests are still two hours out.

Yeah this is what I see. Remember I have been standing is a backyard cooking a pig and catering for the past twenty years. It might as well be the same backyard because after a few years they all look the same. And the people are the same, if it is a young couple I can all most predict every time how it will play out. Same with an older couple although the outcome is most times not as dramatic. Older couples have the life experience to know “you need to role with the punches.” They also know it is life… you can’t always get what you want.

So back to the younger couple, because the pressure is building and that is more fun to watch lol. She is stressing because it is baby’s first birthday and she wants everything to be storybook perfect. I understand it and I get it, it is a big day for her to entertain and celebrate. But he’s out there with his buddies trying to put up a canopy and nothing is going right. Remember what I said about “stepping out of routine”… who the hell puts up canopies enough to know how to do it efficiently? Well I do, but that don’t count lol. Seriously though we find ourselves in these little dilemmas that we never thought would happen. So the next thing you know she’s looking at him like he’s just out in the backyard having fun with his buddies and he’s not listening when she says you were supposed to pick the cake up from the bakery 20 minutes ago and they’ll be closing soon. Yeah that keg is getting tapped real quickly.

So my advice is always try… notice I say “try” to allow enough time for the unexpected because it will happen. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, getting  friends and family to help is of course an obvious given. But friends and family can be a big fail because… well they’re friends and family.

But here is something that I have seen that can usually work like a charm. Friends and family do not always put forth their best effort because when you start barking orders at them, well now you sound like their boss and they though it was going to be a party. So I have seen this done several times and really it is nothing new. A host will find someone they are familiar with to help. Not a friend or a family member, but more of an acquaintance I guess you could say. They help you when you’re having a party and you in-turn do the same back for them. I have seen this in action and it seemed to work wonderfully.

I was working a party and I see a lady helping the home owners set up the party; she also had her teen daughter there. But it looked a little odd and something was out of place because it is usually a friend or family member and this lady knew very little about the house or the garage. She was working hard and fast so I thought she must be the hired help. However she knew homeowner’s sister and she seemed to get along with the dog very well. Later on she was serving food and cleaning so I asked her directly if she was the wait staff. She laughed and said “yes & no.” She was a friend from church and she actually worked with the homeowner’s sister. She said she was working for free because they (party host) will do the same for her when she has her son’s graduation party. She explained they had been doing this for years and they also looked after each other’s pets when they travel. She said we’re not really close friends, but we know each other from church. At another party I seen the same thing and the man had a few guys he worked with, who he called “work buddies” but they rarely saw each other outside of work. But they agreed to help clean the backyard for a party and he would return the favor.

Parties are a lot of work, plan it out, find help you can trust and most of all roll with the punches.

How Much Food vs Too Much Food

20140607-IMG_0331

Ringoes Area Pig Roast

How much food do I order? This of course is most likely the most frustrating question that faces the host of any party. You could of course rely on whoever you are ordering the food from and while this seems like the safest bet it could also be the most costly. All you want is to have a party or maybe you need this party. Some parties are actually a “needed” thing such as a birthday or a graduation. In any event you are on a budget unless you’re a Kardashian (oooh don’t get me started). So with budget in mind you need to come up with this magical and almost mythical answer as to “how much food is the right amount?” I have the answer; There is no “right answer” or is there.

Ok so let’s get serious here and break it all down. You have a budget, you need food, you need enough food, however you don’t want tons of leftovers. Most caterers are going to sell you more than you need this is a given. And most people will go into panic mode two days out from the event and start running over the food order in their head and stressing they won’t have enough. There are calculators and elaborate software programs that can be used to decipher this equation. But let me tell you as a young caterer who knew nothing about planning a party much less how much food should be served, I soon came up with an idea. How big is the human stomach? I know this sounds idiotic and Martha Stewart would digress. But seriously… look at the typical holiday dinner and think about how much food is left over and how stuffed you are when you leave the table. I’ll use my own experience with the typical Thanksgiving dinner. All this food is bought and hours, if not days are spent preparing and cooking only to have pounds upon pounds of left overs. In fact two years in a row the sweet potato dish was not even touched.

I guess what I am trying to say and get the reader to understand is a “human being can only put so much food down their pie hole in a given amount of time. Sure uncle Mort will pound down four of those pulled pork sandwiches and most likely never touch the Caesar salad, while cousin Lara with her 110 lbs figure will surely pass over the pork and nibble a piece of chicken breast. When we are ordering food for a party, whether or not we are cooking it ourselves or getting it prepared by a caterer, at the time of ordering we never really tend to think of it in this way. We are more concerned with “OMG will I have enough food.”

I ask you this; think of your favorite place to eat dinner and think about what your favorite meal at that place would consist of. Picture it in your mind. I’ll tell you one of my faves and we’ll walk through it together. When I am out on the road traveling and I want a good sit down meal at a somewhat fair price I will eat at Cracker Barrel. I will order “Chicken Fried Chicken.” The meal is as follows; I’ll eat one biscuit with butter, there will be two pieces of boneless chicken breast with gravy, I usually get rice or steak fries (not both) a veggie and the mac & cheese (it’s a small serving). I drink one or two glasses of unsweetened tea and that’s it I’m done. No appetizer unless you want to consider the biscuit, and no desert. After all that I am full and satisfied and I am a big guy. I walk out feeling very full, but not stuffed. If I were eating that meal at home there would be no biscuit and most likely one piece of the chicken.

Mol-0733

Smoked Chicken

So I think by now you are starting to see my angle on this question of how much vs too much. Some people will eat like a pig and others pick like birds. If you are serving all of the same kind of person, let’s say fifty hungry construction workers well sure they are going to eat more than fifty people from the church. I would suggest looking at your guest list and determining things like is it a “normal crowd” or a specialty crowd (like fifty hungry men). If it is a normal mix of people you order a normal amount of food. The guide lines are the standard “full size” catering pan will general hold 25 to 30 servings of food depending of course what kind of food it is. I can fit 26-28 piece of chicken in a full size pan. That is assorted pieces of drumsticks, thighs and breasts are cut into smaller piece (no wings). However that same size pan will hold more than thirty servings of baked beans. But for the most part 25 to 30 servings per full size pan is the standard.

I suggest two meats as the main dishes and four side dishes with one being a green salad. But with choosing the four different side dishes you are going for diversity and not quantity, so there is no need to have enough of any one side dish to serve the whole crowd. In the realm of BBQ having rolls for about 50% of the head count because the other 50% will not eat them.

_MG_7097

Other things that factor into how hungry people are at a party is how long you make them wait to eat after they arrive. So it is a backyard party and you’ve told guests to arrive at 4:00pm with a serving time of 5:00pm. You should know, nobody is arriving at 4:00pm, most will arrive at 4:30 and the rest will arrive at 4:55 or later, remember I have been doing this for 20 years so trust me nobody is arriving at 4 o’clock, unless of course it is a surprise party or a wedding and that can force people to be there at a proper time. Either way waiting too long makes people hungry, a few minutes is not going to hurt. However asking guests to arrive at a certain time and making them wait more than one hour will certainly reduce your guest list for the next party. Appetizers of course should handle this problem, so don’t think you can leave guests hanging too long. I know some people reading this may find it hard to believe, but I have seen people of so called “reasonable intelligence” make guests wait two hours for the main serving with just chips and cheese to hold them over. This of course will affect your amount of food you have ordered and could cause a problem. One and half hours with appetizers is pretty much the limit.