As workers return to Silicon Valley tech campuses, so does demand for corporate catering

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- With office workers coming back to big tech campuses in Silicon Valley, the demand for corporate catering has returned as well.

Local business owners say the interest is just the boost they need after COVID-19 impacted the last two years and their livelihoods.

"We're getting a head start, we serve at 11 a.m.," Art Campos said in a video he recorded just before Wednesday morning's catering event.

Campos is the owner of The Art of BBQ. He said before COVID, he could book 12 events in a day and serve an upwards of 5,000 people.

However, Wednesday's large corporate catering event for 560-plus people was a welcome site.

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"It's like, not practicing for a while- not doing the job- and then now having to jump in with both feet," Campos described.

He said the job put 250-pounds of tri-tip, 12 trays of mac and cheese, seven 40-pound boxes of chicken, and 100 slabs of ribs on the menu for a major tech company and Devcon Construction.

Campos said the loosening of restrictions and the return to the office have re-energized business.

"We're booking through October already," he said. "A lot of weddings. Corporate stuff is coming with short notice because April's coming."

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Campos described, "As soon as the mask (mandate) was lifted, my phone probably rang 15 times that day."

Before the pandemic, he owned a brick-and-mortar location. He said the restaurant was closed for remodeling, and reopened two weeks before COVID-19 changed everything. Campos shut down his BBQ spot a year and a half ago.

However, catering business is picking back up. He mentioned interest multiplies after corporate catering events.

"The tech giants that I do office stuff for, I also do their baby showers and their weddings," Campos added.

It's demand Sushi Confidential owner Randy Musterer considers a nod to normalcy.

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He said pre-pandemic catering orders, made to feed up to 300 people, are now down to trays for 10 to 30. However, he's already booking events through August.

"It's overwhelming, but at the same time, I'd rather be overwhelmed with a lot of business coming in," Musterer said. "Especially catering."

He said many smaller companies tend to rely on the larger companies to make decisions, then follow suit.

"When is Apple, when is Meta going to bring back employees," he gave as an example. "And a lot of the smaller companies tend to follow."

Musterer added, "So having some of these big companies now saying, 'We're actively in the office. We want corporate catering. We're having you come in to get our employees back and to be excited to have sushi for lunch.'"

He said because of the interest, he's ready to hire a catering manager.

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In the last few weeks, Musterer has hosted the San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders. He's even hosted sushi-making classes for a number of tech workers.

"When you get the email, you're not sure- is this for virtual or in-house sushi team building? And they say, 'No, we want to come in.'"

Musterer also mentioned many businesses that focused only on corporate catering didn't survive the pandemic. However, he's in a unique position where catering is another "economic arm," considering the brick-and-mortar business. Now, there is a pool of potentially new customers looking to him for corporate catering options.

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However, both Musterer and Campos describe it's corporate catering events with a side of caution.

"We need to be optimistic, we don't know what's going to happen in six months or a year," Musterer told ABC7 News. "You're starting to hear stories about potential shutdowns or a new virus coming around."

Campos shared, "In the pandemic, I sat at that computer, waiting for an email to come through. And now I have to filter through which ones I'm going to go through first."

"I don't have high expectations, but I'm hopeful," he added.

To reach Musterer with Sushi Confidential, click here.

To reach Campos with The Art of BBQ, click here.

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