Chandler catering firm serving foodies for 37 years - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler catering firm serving foodies for 37 years

November 6th, 2017 development
Chandler catering firm serving foodies for 37 years

By: David M. Brown, Contributor

Robert Richter was born the same year as the great 1957 Chevy Bel Air zoomed out of Detroit.

His Robert’s Catering in Chandler has become a classic, too, just without those signature soaring tail fins. And, when he’s got a dash of time away from the business, he plays his Rodgers 940 Classical digital electronic organ at home in Gilbert or traveling worldwide to play church pipe organs.

For 37 years, he and his employees have catered parties, weddings, business events, taking on all business challenges and keeping the quality food flowing.

“There are always challenges in taking the restaurant to the venues and homes where people want parties,” said Richter, who rescues horses and gives them homes.

“Sometimes it is easier to just pack up our kitchen trailer and go and cater a party under the pecan trees,” he said. “And freeway traffic is a huge challenge and weekend road closures. We are the work-weekend warriors of the food industry.”

In preparing for the annual Mesa Arts Center fundraising gala, for example, the menus always take thought because of the unique ideas people have for themes, he said.

And, for its annual Realtor Day at the Capitol, the Arizona Association of Realtors provides a luncheon for 600-plus guests in Wesley Bolin Plaza – which is a challenge for the outdoor site and the number of people.

Then, there’s the Southwest Airlines Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner at the airport, which attracts 750–1,000 employees, who receive all-day service. “That’s a long day,” Richter said.

Recently, Robert’s Catering helped local shopping center re-developer Michael Pollack celebrate entering the Guinness Book of World Records for his advertising art collection in Mesa. And, the crew also just catered a function honoring Marco Rubio, the junior U.S. senator from Florida.

“Doing the impossible for clients is one of my specialties,” Richter said.

Born in Dearborn, Michigan, he lived in Southgate, downriver to Detroit. “The Motor City is the melting pot of lots of ethnic foods and is home to many immigrants from all nationalities: German, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Netherlands,” he said.

Little Mexican food, however, was available in the city, but because his mother is a Chandler native, the family never had to go out for it.

Food was always being discussed and prepared at home, so his decision to become a chef was not just a career choice.

“I have been cooking ever since I could reach a stove. I have a talent in the kitchen and the taste buds to match,” he said. His grandparents “were also pretty darn good cooks.”

He attended culinary school at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan. This was a tough four-year program, which accepted only 30 students every two years, he said.

Meanwhile, he worked a variety of jobs to support his education and expand hands-on experience.

At a 24-hour short order venue, the Palace Restaurant in Taylor, Michigan, he worked all the shifts at different stretches, refining skills such as flipping omelets, deep-frying and making burgers. Those basic skills were a foundation to his career.

Then he was at a butcher shop, learning how to break down front shoulders and hindquarters of beef, lamb and pork and working up front at the meat counter and the cold cut department. One summer, he took a part-time cooking job at the Wyandotte Yacht Club along the Detroit River.

He was next at the Dearborn Hyatt Regency at a variety of cooking departments.

“They worked around my school schedule and also helped pay for my college,” he said. “Their program was if you went to school for the job you were working, they paid for your education.”

Richter moved to Arizona to work for a rum cake company and to be with his parents, who had retired here.

“My dad had promised my mom to bring her back to her hometown of Chandler,” he said, noting that he also has cousins, aunts and an uncle living in Chandler.

What celebrity chefs inspired him? Of course, the ebullient Julia Child, whom he watched on television starting he as a child. He quotes her often: “A party without cake is just a meeting!”

He also watched Jacques Pépin, another great chef, who did a television series with Child. “I got to cook for him at a fundraiser in the Biltmore Estates,” Richter recalled.

His vacations have centered on food, water and great pipe organs. Two musical aunts and his mother, who all played piano or organ, inspired that interest, which began at 7 with piano lessons.

“I never had to be told to practice. It was kind of natural to sit down at a piano,” he recalled.

He then played for his church, transitioning to the organ. He played for Chandler Presbyterian Church for 14 years. “I love to substitute at different churches when they need me around the Valley,” he said.

Food remains his main theme, though. “I have eaten my way through New Orleans many times and have some great Southern recipes from that region,” he said.

He’s also traveled often to Nova Scotia for the seafood and the old churches with pipe organs. There he has a small cabin along the Atlantic Ocean for recreational fishing.

Germany, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Slovakia and all the Canadian provinces have been destinations where he’s enjoyed the food and playing music.

Food, music, life in a nutshell?  “I will stop learning when I go the great wine cellar in the sky.”

Information: 480-963-4040.

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