How We Started Catering for Professional Athletes
It’s mid-February and if you’re anything like the millions of fans out there, you’re knee-deep in pro basketball season, soaking up every game and watching your favorite athletes duke it out on the court. Here at Anja Lee Catering, we’ve been lucky enough to get to not only meet some of these stars in person, but also serve them some delicious grub! Here is Chef Anja Lee, sharing the story of how one phone call quickly changed everything:
It was a Sunday afternoon two years ago, five days before the first NBA Finals game Oakland Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers. I was heading to a friend’s barbecue and enjoying my day when I got an email from a colleague at Equinox Gym. I had been teaching workout classes a few hours per week (which I continue to do) because I find excitement when encouraging others to enjoy pushing their bodies hard and getting in a good sweat. Molly Sigman, head of the Pilates department, had seen my passion in both athletics and food, and sent me an email I will never forget.
“Hi Anja, Would you mind if I forward your info to the Cleveland Cavaliers? They are looking for a caterer for their upcoming games.”
That was it!...”WHAT??” I thought. “You have to take the time to ASK me if you can connect me to the Cleveland Cavaliers? Well, of course you can!”
The next day, I find a voicemail on my cell phone from the Head Personal Trainer of The Cleveland Cavaliers asking me if I am available to cook their pre and post-game food in their locker room during the upcoming NBA Championship game #1. I call him back immediately, listen to every little detail of what his team needs to eat, and dive into making a very special menu of all of my favorite things for them. It felt amazing to speak with someone so genuinely interested in every little detail of the menu we would serve, as well as to know I could help these strong, incredible people find the food they needed to feel good for their game. After all, that’s what brings me the most joy, no matter who it is!
Once I hung up and started writing the menu, I realized that:
1. I only had three days to come up with a kitchen equip to cook that much food (almost 4x the amount I had ever cooked before).
2. I needed extra staff immediately
3. I needed equipment to transport the food.
So, I called my mom. Thrilled, she said, “I am packing my bags and will be on the road at 7 am tomorrow to start cooking at 11 am with you.” I knew she and I would cook all night if we had to. I was so happy to have her. (Thanks again, Mom!)
Somehow, I managed to find a kitchen and start cooking. The chef I shared the kitchen with saw how much help I needed and lent me all of his buffet display gear. I will never forget it, and he is now my business partner for our new kitchen.
I wanted to make the freshest food I possibly could for the team, and bringing food from our kitchen over 45 minutes away from the stadium didn’t seem like it would keep it fresh enough for the quality they deserved. So, I called my boyfriend, asked him to recruit one more strong friend, and they were in charge of renting a car to bring their patio barbecue to the stadium parking lot. Eventually, my brother joined our crew too. We were going to grill the shrimp and steak on-site, cut it on our portable tables and cutting boards, and serve it straight from the parking lot to their locker room. This way, it was as fresh as can be! (Hey you do what you have to do to make it work and we definitely did!)
Needless to say it was a hit, and we followed the Cavaliers all of the way through to winning the 2016 NBA World Championships.
The next year, they invited us back for round two. And not to worry Warriors fans, we also got to know the Warriors’ amazing staff while there. Eventually we were invited to cater for their locker room meals during the 2017/2018 season and we couldn’t be happier. The Rockets and Clippers have also been clients of ours when they are in town to play against the Warriors.
Having now catered for four different teams who are very competitive against each other, I would say that the food is the priority and sometimes I do not pay attention to the result of the game. I don’t like to feel like I am bound to one team, because I love catering for any and all of these amazing athletes to make them as strong and successful as possible! It’s been an amazing experience cooking for such talented athletes and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have received that one phone call that changed everything!