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Omaha Magazine

Catering to Events Large and Small: 10,000 Parties; 10,000 Square Feet

Sep 25, 2020 04:05PM ● By Brody Hilgenkamp
man prepping meals in industrial kitchen

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Things get rocking and rolling around 2 p.m. on a typical Saturday in the kitchen at Abraham Catering. That’s when the kitchen staff finish cooking their meals, staff in the logistics department start packing vans with equipment for the events, and wait staff arrive to help deliver meals. It makes for an environment that is part well-oiled machine and part organized chaos.

“When it’s busy, I know, because there is a certain hum or noise that comes out of there. I can’t explain it and I’ve tried,” said Brian Kobs, Abraham Catering’s president and COO. “I love that sound.”

Vice president Ann Pitschka said of those who work in the kitchen, “They want to be busy. We always say we’re on our game when we’re busy. They really thrive on being fast-paced.” 

Abraham Catering has occupied its location near the heart of downtown Ralston since 1992. The building was a former grocery store and bake center, but now it’s home to the company’s corporate office and main kitchen space, where 85% of the company’s food production takes place. When the company moved in it was relocating from a 2,000 square foot facility, but the current kitchen is 10,000 square feet.

“At the time it seemed, oh my gosh, just enormous. How are we ever going to fit in here?” Kobs said. “Now we’re actually outgrowing it almost.”

They renovated the kitchen two years ago to maximize the space available and create a more efficient kitchen. Downstairs is a garde manger for salads, an hors d’oeuvres and sandwich station, a hot food section, and an area for dishes. Upstairs is the pack delivery department and a liquor room. Fridges and coolers were placed along the walls that run east and west, while the food prep sections and all the equipment needed in each one are in the middle and aligned north and south.

“The cold department doesn’t necessarily have a use for the ovens, so there’s no reason for them to be going back and forth or being in someone else’s way,” Pitschka said. “So that way everyone has their own station.”

Along a wall that divides the sandwich and hors d’oeuvres section from the hot section is an area devoted to Abraham Catering’s casserole business, A Casserole To Go. Pitschka and Kobs said the casseroles needed their own space since they were growing in popularity—they’ve gotten so popular they kept the company busy when many events this spring were canceled due to COVID-19.

On those high-capacity days in peak event season, between 30 and 35 kitchen staff are preparing enough food to feed thousands of people. The company does 10 to 15 events on a typical Friday or Saturday, and if the average wedding is between 150 and 200 guests, then enough food is being produced to feed 2,000-plus people.

That volume means there is high demand for counter space and cooking equipment, so chefs stagger the times they begin cooking by 15 or 30 minutes, and food is assigned to warmers or coolers labeled for specific vans, which are in turn assigned to specific events. The kitchen has seven stove-ovens and six convection ovens on its hot side, which requires the most time and staff in order to operate.

“That’s why their prep work is so important, to be ready so as soon as they can they’re ready to rock,” Pitschka said of working in a busy kitchen.

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This article was printed in the October/November 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.