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Catering, Vending and Cooking For The Masses. this forum is OnTopic. A resource to help with catering, vending and just cooking for large parties. Topics to include Getting Started, Ethics, Marketing, Catering resources, Formulas and recipes for cooking for large groups.

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Old 05-15-2021, 12:40 PM   #1
Kevin James
Knows what a fatty is.
Join Date: 11-06-19
Location: Citrus Heights, CA
Name/Nickname : KJ
Default Dumb question about catering

I would love to start a small BBQ catering company or do BBQ pop-up's and have friends and family encouraging me to do so. However from the research I've done, it just seems like an unrealistic pipe dream. This is mainly due to the fact that everything I'm reading indicates that you need to operate out of a commercial commissary kitchen, which for a small start-up, would kill any shred of profitability making it a non-starter.

My question is this... I watch a ton of BBQ Youtube channels, and I see lots of them talking openly about doing catering gigs and they are doing them right out of their home.

Just a few examples of some of these channels are:
Smokin' Joe's Pit BBQ
Aim'em and Claim'em Smokers
BBQ Catering Info by SDSBBQ
Mad Scientist BBQ

I know that I'm nowhere near ready to do anything yet and I'm just in research mode, but I'm just wondering what I'm missing here. How are they getting away with this?
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Old 05-15-2021, 02:17 PM   #2
somebody shut me the fark up.

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Join Date: 01-14-06
Location: At home on the range in Wyoming

The first place to start is your city/county health department. They might even have online resources for you to check out first. I think our health department breaks it down to restaurants, food trucks/trailers, and on site vendors (like a food stand at the fair or a farmers market.

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Old 05-16-2021, 10:27 AM   #3
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Join Date: 07-27-07
Location: Minnesota

Like thirdeye says, it all depends on where you live and where you want to sell.
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Old 05-16-2021, 07:19 PM   #4
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and if you care to do it legally or not.
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Old 05-16-2021, 10:33 PM   #5
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Join Date: 02-22-14
Location: Kensington, MD

There is a great YT video of a guy doing briskets in SOCal
in peoples' backyards - this is an update
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Old 05-17-2021, 12:05 AM   #6
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Join Date: 03-09-17
Location: Western PA

I'm not familiar with the YouTube channels you posted, but it's really determined by where you live and the local rules. I know here in PA, from what I've read and seen, you need to have a commercial type kitchen to sell any type of temperature sensitive food. The food you can sell from a residential kitchen is very limited, baked goods, jams, candy, etc... With that said, I know of numerous people that still sell BBQ from their home. I guess they're willing to take the risk.

I too "dream" of doing BBQ catering, but I'm not at a point in my life where I can put the needed time and $$$ into it to do it legally. So for now, to get my BBQ catering fix, I offer to make food for gatherings (graduation parties, birthday parties, etc...) for friends and family as often as I can. I have also done pulled pork and sides for a handful of fundraisers for my kid's youth sports organizations, where we've had 200 - 250 people. So I basically just do it for free / as a volunteer, but I enjoy doing so, so I guess there is some reward. Doing the large fundraisers, I know I could pull off catering gigs, but IMO it's too risky to do so if you're not going to do it the right way. Maybe some day, but for now it's still just a dream...
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Old 05-17-2021, 12:28 AM   #7
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Join Date: 09-07-12
Location: Independence, MO
Name/Nickname : Justin

Some very good points above. I've cooked for 200 a few times-but that was only the proteins and other people handled the sides as it was a 'potluck' celebration. I would accepted money for my supplies only, as I knew I didn't have the certified kitchen.

As to the kitchens, it can get interesting. I am actually about to rent one locally. It's more of a "culinary incubator" as they call it, where it's co-owned by the local school district and the economic development center. Their bigger goal is to help people start business (more tax revenue!) So after I sent a 'hey, what's it cost?" email, I was sent back the prices as well as a list of things I'd need to do first (business name, tax id, insurance, etc etc etc).

Of course, the kicker to BBQ is you still have to figure out the smoker. I will have to use their onsite smoker, which means I need to learn a new cooker. They are very generous and have said if I'm doing overnight cooks, I can pay for 2 hours of prep time/space, and then 2 hours for wrap up, which is great because I wouldn't be saddled with 12 hours of rental. Of course, the cost per hour will be an impact, and luckily I'm not actually planning to need much time in the kitchen with what I plan to make.
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Old 06-02-2021, 08:13 AM   #8
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Join Date: 05-11-21
Location: Carlisle
Name/Nickname : Leila

If you do plan on selling outside of a home or from your yard, I recommend using a 10x10 tent and maybe a bbq flag to attract attention.

Lots of similar marketing materials help in public and more private settings.
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Old 06-10-2021, 06:59 PM   #9
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Join Date: 06-07-21
Location: Western, Mass
Name/Nickname : G-man

Hi Kevin,

I went through this thought process in 2015 and concluded it was more practical to do it from a food truck than what I am guessing is a pop-up. In my area, having capabilities in a truck alleviated many of the tasks that needed to be done in a commissary. For example, a special food wash sink needed to have an air gap separating the sink from the plumbing. If you are not familiar, imagine a sink that drains into a funnel below the sink, that is attached to the plumbing. This requirement/feature was to protect food from being contaminated by water backing up into the sink and then draining out when you were not looking. Once I understood the requirement and the purpose it served, I was in a position to evaluate whether or not to build that capability into the truck. There are tons of little details like this, many of which would be covered or discussed in a manager level food safety course. In my opinion, that cost of the course was money well spent. Firstly because I was not familiar with food regs, and secondly because it gave me a vocabulary to use when visiting with the health department. Also in my case, though I may not have had every capability built into my truck, they were willing to accept an alternative process to achieve the same goal.

Commissary kitchens are/were not the only kitchens subject to regulation by the health department. In my area numerous civic and/or service organizations had banquet facilities that included kitchens that were largely unused during the week. I was able to negotiate a reduced rate by using it during off-peak times. In addition, I was able to make arrangements with a local club, not VFW or Elks but something similar, to bring my truck to their location one or two days per week for lunch service. The club was open and I was able to bring people to the club for BBQ that would otherwise not have known about the club. It was good for both of us.

If going it alone is not immediately in the cards, you may consider teaming up with another catering company with which you may not compete, to share expenses. Lastly, you might consider working for/with a local BBQ operation to get a taste of the business.

In my opinion, the cooking is the easiest part. Dealing with regulations can be difficult. The hardest part is attracting enough customers/clients to sustain your business is the hardest part. In the beginning, I marketed heavily to the local police department. I found they loved BBQ and had enough autonomy to make the special trip to my truck on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And just as importantly, they loved to talk about it, ie referrals.

I hope this helps.

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