It’s well known that the pandemic has been brutal for most local restaurants. Things have been just as hard, if not harder, for the region’s caterers, most of whom relied on events and corporate meals to keep their companies going. With most of that bread-and-butter business shut down since March 2020, many East Bay catering companies came up with creative ways to stay afloat and keep their employees working. Now, some local companies tell Nosh, they’ve decided to keep those creative ideas going, and to turn their temporary pandemic pivots into a permanent offering for customers. Here’s how some local caterers are turning their short-term ideas into long-term affairs.
600 Hoffman Blvd. (near Potrero Avenue), Richmond
Arnon Oren had already opened a 10-seat communal dining experience, Anaviv’s Table, in his catering business’s tasting room in 2018, so pivoting to more of a restaurant model came easily to him; especially since his commissary kitchen in Richmond has a sizable parking lot and courtyard.
During the pandemic, he also opened an alfresco dining experience called Anaviv’s Open Market, which on Fridays-Sundays serves up wood-fired pizzas, rice bowls with such toppings as short rib and pork belly and seasonal small plates.
The Open Market also hosts live music in the evenings, and has been the site of a few comedy shows. There’s also a flamenco night, which has proven to be incredibly popular, Oren said, with enthusiasts coming from throughout the Bay Area.
“We definitely see it as a blessing,” Oren said. “The community has expressed to us that this is a great place to come and enjoy great food and music.”
They’ve also put up a tent, have hosted some outdoor art exhibits and made many new friends.
“We’ve developed many beautiful relationships because of this, where before we were sort of hiding and didn’t need to do anything outdoors,” Oren said.
While Anaviv’s Table has re-opened for groups who know each other and are fully vaccinated, he said that the Open Market will continue, even though making it all work is like a puzzle.
“We’ve catered an event for 175 people, hosted dinner at the Anaviv’s Table for 12 people, and had the market busy on a flamenco night,” Oren said, “and it’s all worked out.”
1012 Grayson St. (near 10th Street), Berkeley
California Rose Catering was founded by Rosa Mendicino two decades ago, and her son Dov Sims took it over when she retired. So there was a family legacy on the line when the pandemic hit, an additional responsibility that forced Sims to move fast. Fortunately, the catering company was adjacent to a central Berkeley alley where he could plunk a few tables down, and the spot has a public-facing window. So that’s how Cali Alley and its praiseworthy burger came about.
Sims’s philosophy is “get them to come here for the hamburger, and then have things that everyone can eat,” he told Nosh, saying that he started a burger spot because he felt that there weren’t a whole lot of places to find a good one in Berkeley.
The $14 burger – for which brisket and short rib are ground in-house and then mixed with ground chuck to get the right fat content – comes with a massive portion of fries, and has since become highly acclaimed, but he continues to serve up other comfort food favorites like chicken and waffles and more.
Cali Alley also serves plenty of veggie options like a tofu bao plate, and makes all its sauces and pickles in-house. While catering has come back somewhat, Sims doesn’t have any plans to shut down Cali Alley, saying “I don’t see any reason to stop it. It’s here to stay.”
Delivery available in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties
During the pandemic, Greenleaf Platters, an arm of Berkeley’s Hugh Groman Group, pivoted to a family style meal business that also offered groceries and alcohol. Greenleaf Provisions, as the pantry staple business was called, was especially active during the early days of the pandemic, during that time when we were making as few trips to shop as possible. While the meal deliveries have definitely slowed down, what Groman is sure will continue are custom-made gift baskets.
Those that have proven to be popular are themed “happy hour,” and “ladies night,” and include bottles of wine, several types of gourmet cheese and house-spiced nut mixes.
Another one, called “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” offers a choice of frozen chicken soup, frozen beef stew or vegan mulligatawny soup, along with vegan chocolate truffles, coffee beans, toasted nuts and a bouquet of flowers. There’s also one that can be mailed to others outside the area with house-made granola and other treats.
Even though the Bay Area is back to shopping in person, Groman said the gift baskets will remain available on Greenleaf’s website as long as there’s demand. “We have the team and the delivery vans and the ability to produce custom fresh items to put in a gift basket,” Groman said, and “it’s fun for us, and a potentially profitable arm of our business that we’ll keep going.”
Delivery available across the Bay Area, pickup is at 865 Marina Bay Parkway (near Meeker Avenue), Richmond, unit 33 and 34 (full instructions on website)
This newer Richmond-based caterer admits it didn’t know what to do when the pandemic struck, as all its clients with forthcoming events were suddenly asking for their deposits back.
Except for one. That one customer had a wedding booked, but instead suggested that Olive keep their deposit and could instead apply it to weekly meals for the couple. That kicked off Olive’s meal delivery service, which now they’ve resolved to keep going even as the region opens back up.
Owned by the husband and wife team Arkadi Kluger and Elinor Nahmani (he’s the chef, she does everything else), the company offers food from their native Israel, and from many other countries as well (we’ve seen Spain and Greek to mention two), though just between them, they have Russian and Moroccan backgrounds.
There are often staple items popular with kids, like meatballs in tomato sauce and chicken schnitzel and plenty of vegetarian options as well, like cauliflower, potato and spinach patties, or a lentil and eggplant casserole, covered with tahini and baked. They describe themselves as “California seasonal bounty with Mediterranean flair,” but often have popular-with-everyone dishes like chicken fajitas as well.
“We love doing the meal deliveries,” Nahmani said. “It’s so great to be able to have long-lasting relationships with our clients as opposed to only doing one event. Plus, we have a bunch that order every week and rely on us.” Right now, deliveries are on Tuesdays and Fridays. Coming soon: A subscription model.
Order pickup is at 344 20th St. (inside the the Port Workspaces at the Kaiser Mall), Oakland
Cooking out of Oakland’s Kaiser Center, Robert Dorsey is a longtime Oakland-based caterer, who also owns the Glenview breakfast and lunch spot Blackberry Bistro. During the pandemic, Dorsey started offering frozen family-style meals that are delivered or available for pickup on Fridays, a service that’s grown so popular he hopes to expand it.
Dorsey said his frozen line was an “a-ha” moment that came out of thinking about how to reduce food waste. Like many others, his company started offering family meals when the pandemic first hit, and the frozen line proved to be one of its biggest hits.
Soups and stews have been a mainstay of his pandemic business, and bundles of dishes often come with a side of his Thai curry noodles (not frozen). Entrees include family-friendly dishes like beef Bolognese with penne pasta or mac and cheese, while some of his top dishes include chicken adobo and a chile verde pork stew. He also offers cookie dough to be baked at home.
Dorsey is now in the process of raising capital to grow the frozen line further still. “This is a silver lining of the pandemic, for sure,” Dorsey said. “Figuring out the packaging and the story behind the new brand is one of the most exciting things I’ve done as an entrepreneur. It’s something I never would have thought of it not for the pandemic.”