My second life: Starting a catering company (part two)

Breaking down a dream

Tensions were high and the air was blue….. “I have more knowledge about barbecuing in my little finger than you will ever accumulate in your whole life!” shouted the brother-in-law as he stood shaking his finger in my ex (his younger brother’s) face.

Aahhh …family.

Seems we didn’t learn the first go-round with him when we moved back from Alberta to go into partnership with him in a semi-truck repair business. (Whatever made us think we could partner in this food business?….geeze)

Well, this catering adventure was taking a decidedly different route and parting ways with a partner can sometimes be difficult. Especially if that  partner has the equipment that we just about destroyed on our last  job (a bbq that rotated a whole hog…surface wounds only thank god, nothing fatal )thumbs_country-style-bbq-18[1]

Brother-in-law also got greedy and wanted to cut me out anyway, so no loss. I really want to caution against going into business with partners. Especially family. I’m sure there are exceptions? Nah, just don’t do it!

We decided to go it alone because I could ‘feel’ the potential (having made some serious money on the few bookings we shared as partners) I knew we had what it takes to do this (my god I can’t believe how naïve we were back then).

Now I have to say here that my then-husband being a welder by trade and myself being a hairstylist, owning three salons in my first life, didn’t prepare us in any way, shape, or form for what lay ahead!images[4]

But as all dreamers will attest to, that was just a minor detail. I mean like how hard can it be? Everyone knows how to cook and besides,  I found a place that made salads wholesale and in bulk, right in our own backyard. All we needed to do was barbecue the meat, order the buns and salads and serve the meal ….easy, right?

Flying solo, I booked our first job for a seed company that wanted to feed their customers a lunch of boneless pork loins carved onto a bun with potato salad and coleslaw. Oh…and did I mention it was for 500 people and our barbeque was still on the drawing board?

But hey, we had a good month to get that sucker built (when I say we, I only had the vision, I’m a hairstylist remember not a welder) so HE had to build it and my job was to book it and look after the ‘easy’ stuff, hah! A very good friend of ours, an engineer,  had a big shop and let us use a little portion of it. He also designed the bbq along with our vision. It had to be big (bigger than the brothers-in-law) and we needed it to fit on the back of a 3/4 ton truck and it had to be mobile.

Now picture this big behemoth. A huge barbeque that can rotate three market weight hogs, or six small ones, or 18 hips of beef with three rotating cylinder cages. We named this beast “The Grizzler”. Now Jack it up five or six feet into the air to get if off the bed of the truck box and it weighs a kazillion tons.

Sitting in the air on four flimsy jacks (that have to be lifted and lowered evenly) until we can get the truck clear and carefully ‘jack it down’ onto the ground was a MEAN feat! Talk about heart-stopping moments. We eventually put that beast onto a chassis (several years later)so we could tow it but not before we developed ulcers worrying about that sucker crashing to the ground every time we used it.

Coming out of a bankruptcy (a failed tire shop during the high 20 % interest years ) we didn’t have much capital (a fancy way of saying we were broke) so our friend gave us credit until we could get established and pay him back.

He believed in us (I want to say he believed in me, because I talked a good game, and I was sooo excited about all the money we were gonna  make in catering with this big bbq.)

As it turned out, he wanted to make a fortune himself, on manufacturing big barbeques. Let me tell you, I was choked! That is until he ran into all sorts of trouble getting his barbeques to pass CSA approvals (Canadian safety association) and that was the end of his mass manufacturing BBQs dream.Country-Style-BBQ-14-dropshadow-269x300[1]

I believe had he achieved it, the resulting competition would have wound up competing with ours. I have to say here that I do believe in Karma and I try to live my life as such. That is my older self-talking, and I’m sure this business helped the aging process along.

Back to building the barbeque. Another friend helped build it in the evenings when he had time….hmm …speaking of time….it was running out, this big job was racing upon us! In fact, it  was the day before the  big job, and although I was ready (the hard part ordering salads and buns, of course.)

The barbeque was still not finished, oh hell! The ex and his friend worked until 2:00 in the morning to get this thing far enough along so we could at least pull off this job.

This was so last minute that there was no way to test it before we took it out to this event to feed 500 people! First off, we pick up the boneless pork loins from the butcher (no marinating or seasoning here …uh uh, this is easy, remember).

We get to the site early so we can get these loins rotating and cooking and wtf? How come they are still frozen? OMG….this is not good !! This easy money business is slowly turning into a nightmare.

Ok…calm down, they are not all frozen, but we need to get cooking them right now! We light up the barbeque and everything is rotating and working and we breathe a big sigh of relief which lasts exactly three minutes before all the flames die out and now we have no fire …again.

Oh my god, this nightmare is not gonna end and now my mind was racing ahead to figure out a worst-case scenario. Kentucky Fried Chicken pops into my head and I wonder how can I get enough for 500 people. What time do they open, do I order from every store, and can they do it?imagesRAX2J127

Now I  need to mention here that in the ensuing years of this crazy business for some strange reason, this has always been my backup plan that has played out in my head more times than I care to admit to. Although it has never happened …OMG touch wood…

Turns out the propane fire was ‘starved’ for oxygen and fortunately the ex figured that out within a short time and rectified the problem. I think he opened up a door to let in the air? Needless to say, I do know he cut a couple of vents in the top of this huge behemoth when it went back to the shop and he made it so he could control the openings.

Ok, back on track and we have everything ready to feed 500 people (we are leaving pork loins on till the last minute and take off the ones that were not frozen first).945343_660710107278418_1571908740_n[1]

Well turns out only a fraction of these 500 people show up. I think it was maybe 100? We have sooo much food leftover! We gave some to the client ( I think they were a little upset they couldn’t have all the loins but they weren’t all cooked through and no way was I giving him half-cooked ones).

All of our staff and a few relatives got to eat pork, buns, and salads for a few weeks after. (Our two kids grew to hate buns “why can’t we have real bread like the other kids?” to which I gave the standard mom answer: “if all the other kids jumped off a bridge”…yada yada)

We charged the client, the big seed company, for 500 people ( you pay what you book for) $5.00 per person. The barbeque went back to the shop to be finished with vents to let in oxygen!

Look out everybody we are ready to make our millions in this great business called catering! Oh, and will ya look at what we built everyone? YOU TOO ‘non-believer brother-in-law’.

…oops I think that was my outside voice.