SHERIDAN — Seven hundred fifty pounds of meat. Five hundred pounds of cold salad. Hundreds of labor hours. The businesses in charge of catering dinner and appetizers for about 800 people at the Gold Buckle Club during the Sheridan WYO Rodeo this week have a lot on their plates. Literally.
Three of the four businesses this year have experience catering for the club, while it will be the first time for one of them.
For all of the caterers, the job entails weeks of planning and preparation, along with the help of numerous employees, culminating with a few hours of feeding hungry, excited patrons.
It is a massive undertaking for the caterers with little room for error.
“You only have one chance to do it right,” Big Horn Smokehouse and Saloon owner Doug Meier said. “It’s high-stress. This is not fun work. This is work.”
Meier is in charge of dinner Thursday and will have at least 12 employees cooking, preparing, hauling, setting up, bussing, cleaning up, serving and tearing down. The entire process lasts at least 16 hours.
The Smokehouse has been catering at the rodeo for a few years. This year’s menu comprises pork loin, asparagus, pasta, salad, tater tot nachos and chocolate-dipped fruit. Meier will cook the meat in his smoker at the fairgrounds Thursday starting at 6 a.m. Other employees will do some prep work in Big Horn and finish at the fairgrounds.
The event entails intense, thorough preparation and a huge dinner rush for a few hours. Then all of a sudden, the night concludes and employees are left to clean up in the late-night quiet.
“It’s anticlimactic,” Meier said. “A lot of stress and a lot of planning up to (the event) and then it’s over.”
Bonafide Food Truck will cater Wednesday’s meal, the first of the week for the Gold Buckle Club. It is Bonafide’s inaugural year catering for the GBC, which co-owner Antonia Armenta-Miller called an honor.
To apply for the job, Bonafide had to submit a sample menu and take several questions from the GBC board. Wednesday is family night, so the menu will include burgers, hot dogs, salads, chips, salsa, queso and gourmet desserts.
Armenta-Miller anticipates about 260 labor hours Tuesday and Wednesday among 14 employees, plus four people for trailer and ground logistics. It will be the largest catering event ever for Bonafide, though Armenta-Miller catered for 8,000 people at a previous job.
Bonafide purchased fridges and trailers to transport all the food and supplies.
“We bought all kinds of new inventory to be able to cater something of this caliber, which in turn will set us up for future events,” Armenta-Miller said. “Even though we’re only serving hamburgers and hot dogs and some salads, we want people to be able to see what we’re able to provide.”
This year marks the seventh year of Gold Buckle catering for Volunteers of America Northern Rockies executive chef Kellie Carroll, all of them for Friday night performances.
The VOA menu includes the staples of brisket and shrimp cocktail, along with baked beans, grits, salad and fruit. Berry blast cake and chocolate brownies with mousse will be served for dessert.
The brisket will start cooking Friday around 7 a.m. Carroll will have the help of about 20 employees and volunteers assisting with preparation and transportation. Two large vans will shuttle most of the supplies from the VOA to the fairgrounds.
Dinner is served from 5-8 p.m. and during that rush, Carroll serves as a de facto conductor, making sure everything runs smoothly. She said it is by far her busiest week of the year.
Killy’s Smokehouse will take care of the Saturday meal, the company’s sixth year catering the event. The main entree of baby back ribs begin cooking Friday evening and are delivered to the fairgrounds Saturday around 4:30 p.m.
Killy’s co-owners Mary Guyer and Cindy Boyd said it is one of the largest jobs Killy’s does every year. At least 12 employees work the event and, like the VOA, they make many trips back and forth in two company vans to haul salads, desserts and other items.
This is Killy’s fourth consecutive year catering Saturday evening. Guyer said the first two years were learning experiences, but by the third year they had it down to a science.
Everyone agreed the toughest part is planning and organizing the enormous process.
“You just don’t go feed 800 people and not have some anxiety,” Carroll said. “That’s what keeps you on your toes.”
The recently installed walk-in cooler at the fairgrounds kitchen helps a lot with storage of cold items, as do new warmers to keep the meat ready throughout the evening. There isn’t much time to sit back and enjoy the job, but the owners like to see people appreciate the decor and food.
“The most exciting part is seeing people’s faces when they walk in the door of our events and they’re just wowed by the presentation,” Armenta-Miller said.
Armenta-Miller also likes the immediate feedback on the food quality.
“The best thing about being a chef or in the food service industry is that it is generally an immediate reward for service,” she said. “You know if you did a good job right away. People are going to tell you one way or the other.”
Boyd said she appreciates the calm before the storm when everything is ready, the club members haven’t come in yet and a sense of stillness overtakes the room.
“It just looks so beautiful,” Boyd said. “I always liked that moment where you’re like, ‘We’re good, everything’s ready and I can’t wait.’”
The catering process consumes time and stress but is usually worth it for the caterers when hundreds of people enjoy their culinary offerings during a busy Sheridan WYO Rodeo week.