Sunday, October 31, 2010


Catering has been a side job of ours ever since we moved to our new location nearly five years ago. I originally offered Jim to set up his own business out of our kitchen but he did not want the headache of the responsibility for it. He was happy to just work it from his position. So, we started doing various jobs.

It also allowed us one more venue to give back to the community by assisting organizations with an 'at cost' cater job. Over the years, we have assisted quite a variety without a hitch. But that came to an end on Tuesday and I now must reevaluate my position a bit.

We did a cater for a local youth organization at Shevlin Park. We were asked to provide a meal that would be similar to what they would serve at the county fair. Jim cooked up the following: BBQ beef sandwiches, baked beans, corn on the cob, and salad. Ice tea, lemonade, coffee, and tea were provided along with three large cakes, Jimmy's famous Chocolate Chocolate, Lemon, and a very nice Chocolate Raspberry. Jimmy spent quite a few donated hours preparing and getting others to help out such as linen from Airmark who does ours. Paper plates were decided upon to keep the cost down and supposedly to also keep with the theme. The thought process was over the past few years, they have always done fancy dinners that were expensive for their donors and with the economy as it is, they decided to make everything more affordable.

Jim became a bit stressed just before the event when he could not get a hold of the coordinators to answer his last minute questions but on the day of the event, he was ready and prepared all of the items, loaded up two cars and our trailer and we arrived two hours before the event and began to set up.

The first glitch was that they had brought plates and silverware so our paper plates and plastic silver were put to the side. Jim told of his concern. They were not our plates and they were probably cold thus cooling off the food. Originally, one of the women there wanted us to relinquish one of the ovens but Jim refused as we needed to keep our food at the proper temperature. They decided they would soak their plates in hot water and figured their silverware to be OK. I had to run back to the shop to get some items forgotten or needed and arrived back just before the food was served.

It was my understanding that we were to bring the food and they would do the serving and the clean up. We soon discovered we would need to get involved in both. That did not bother me or Jim as we wanted to help out. I did, however, look for the customary 'thank you' of which I had the words ready to direct it to Jim who had put so many hours of his own into the event. When this did not happen, I admit that I was a bit miffed but we did our job, cleaned up, and then held over the crew back at the shop (of which I did not add to the bill) to help out with the unloading and final clean up.

I discussed the two areas of frustration with Jimmy the next morning and decided to critique the event with the coordinator when I got a call saying that a someone had called the youth organization and complained that a few people had gotten sick in the middle of the night. Now, first off that is a bit soon for food poisoning, but the initial complaint hit me hard and I felt my blood pressure go up and my own stomach started to churn. I sat back, closed my eyes, and relaxed out of the obvious panic attack that was ensuing. I quickly assessed the situation, none of my crew was sick, nor was Jim or I, or anyone that I knew from the youth organization. If it was a food born thing, we all should have been affected since the food was all the same.

I wondered if it was the richness of the food since I remembered dipping corn on the cob in heated butter and knew that the pulled pot roast was a very rich blend. Then someone brought the plates and silver to my attention. Normally if we provide something like that, we insure they are sanitized before use. They merely soaked them in hot water and did nothing to the silver.

I critiqued this with the youth organization's coordinator on Friday morning and he told me that the complaints were a non-issue and a very isolated one. So, I handed him his bill and we both left happy.

I was getting ready for my doctors appointment that afternoon, when I received the call from the health department. Someone had called them, refused to give their name (stating they were just a concerned citizen), and claimed that many people had become deathly sick after eating Jake's food on Tuesday night at at catered event. I discussed as much as I could with him and gave him Jim's cell phone in case he wanted to talk to Jim. The investigator was our normal officer and he knew pretty much how we prepare but asked the standard questions that he needed to. He said that it was purely a complaint at this stage and that no one had gone to a doctor and found anything that pointed to food poisoning. I told him of my frustration to the point of being pointed to however and whomever called him would undoubtedly be telling all of her friends. He told me not to worry about it and that if he needed to, he would be in contact on Monday. I assumed that a contact Monday would come from either more complaints or some sort of verification that something had been contracted. We discussed the plates and silverware and although he told me that we were not responsible for them, he did voice his concern over the fact that he also could not control that aspect of some events.

While I can't let this stop me from helping out where I can, I do need to re look at how we do those events. For one thing, we can not allow the other party or any other party to bring in items that might compromise us or allow fingers to be pointed in our direction when things like this happen. I know Jim was on top of things that day. I know the hots were hot and the colds were cold. I just wish that 'concerned citizen' would have called me and we could have gone over some of that without her just 'calling in the police' and I wish she would have at least given them her name. I would love to discuss this with her but.....

Away from this point, as I stated I was getting ready for a doctor appointment. It was my quarterly skin cancer assessment. I had some pre-cancer burned off of my face and four biopsies taken; three on my left shoulder and one on my left ankle. Margo, my saint doctor who has found the melanoma before it dropped down, said that we will remain positive and that she will see me in three months. But, she also told me that the normal woman who does the biopsies is on vacation so it might take a bit longer than normal so don't worry if I don't hear from her next week with an all clear.

So now I wait. Other than my ankle being a bit swollen and sore and my pride being a bit hurt from that 'concerned' citizen, I am doing OK. Business is doing well, the Ducks are winning, my family is all healthy and close by, and so life is good. Speaking of business, Sundays are usually the most busy day of the week so I best get back to sleep and get some rest.


SkippyMom said...

I know it doesn't mean much - but tell Jim we think he is great and a big thank you to y'all from VA.

Do these folks have any idea what you do year round, let alone Thanksgiving? I am sure when word gets out - and it will, unfortunately - you will have many more defenders then detractors. No worries.

I am sure everything will be fine. Hang in there.

keeneye said...

Whoa. Too crazy.

We did a 3-part catering about a month ago, where we brought breakfast, then came back and cleared and served lunch, then came back and cleared and then served dinner.

During the transition from breakfast to lunch, a man attending the function brought up his own condiments in a bowl, loosely covered with saran wrap.

I asked him to keep it on his own table for his own use, and he became upset. I explained that we have to take responsibility for the handling and prep of all food items on the buffet line. He took it as if I were insulting him.

It's not "just food" as he said to me. It's our job to keep our customers satisfied and safe with our products.

Your scenario has me re-evaluating our catering bids. I hate to be the person conforming to the song "Signs signs, everywhere there's signs" but adding a disclaimer to the bottom of our contract might help the client to know how seriously we take our job.

Under no circumstances will we allow outside food or utensils for the safety of our customers.