Pivotal Role

Chow Catering is a star attraction for film crews in Detroit

This Must Be the Place, the Sean Penn film shot here this year, may or may not get great reviews when it opens. But what has already garnered superlatives is the on-location fare served to the cast and crew while they were filming in Detroit.

The company that provided the sustenance is Chow Catering, a name that has become well known within the film and commercial industry in a very short time.

“They have taken an opportunity and created a great divide between themselves and their competition,” says Dave Krieger, who served as location manager on the Penn shoot. “They introduce little touches like gourmet cheeses, labeling their trays, and providing a vegan/vegetarian alternative. Even with low-budget shows, they try their best not to compromise on quality.”

One local actor who worked on This Must Be the Place, says of the on-set dining: “When you see salmon on a catering menu, especially with a crew as big as this was, you expect identical-size squares out of a box. What they served looked like it came out of a river in [Sarah] Palin’s neighborhood.”

Dan Gearig founded Ciao six years ago, which became Chow in 2008, after being tipped off by Bryan and Megan Meganck, friends who had a snack business and saw the need increasing for good caterers. It was before the tax incentives brought filmmakers here in droves, and Gearig has seen what was a minor business take off.

Chow, based in Madison Heights, has catered at least 25 major film productions, including You Don’t Know Jack, Harold and Kumar 3, and The Transformers, plus music-video shoots with Kid Rock and Eminem, and commercials for Ford, Chrysler, and Nike, among others.
As movie cameras and crews multiplied in metro Detroit, so did Chow’s reputation for the quality of its food — not trucked in, but cooked on-site in one of the two fully equipped, custom-made catering trucks (purchased used, appropriately enough, from Los Angeles caterers).

The trucks are emblazoned with the Chow logo, a Jolly Roger in a chef’s hat with crossed knives and forks rather than crossbones.

Why that symbol? “I just thought it was cool,” says the self-taught Gearig, who describes himself, his business partner Kurt Peters, and chef Tony Goodrich, all in their 30s, as “not your buttoned-up, suit-type owners or chefs but a gnarly crew with a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.”

The trucks sport complete kitchens with 6-foot flat grills, steam tables, and six-burner gas ranges. The food is made “as much as possible with fresh local ingredients,” says Gearig. The menus change daily.

A “day” means 15 hours on the job, or even as long as 20 hours in some cases. “We’re up at 3 a.m. for a 7 a.m. call,” he says, generally putting out two meals a day, from pancakes and sausages at breakfast to full-scale filet mignon, lobster-tail, and halibut entrees later in the day. “Anything they want,” he says, “we do it.”

A personal bonus for Gearig has been the chance to see so many local people getting film jobs, and learning about the diverse locations that attract filmmakers to Detroit — such places as the train station and Masonic Temple, which the Holly native had never visited. “Stepping into an old building is stepping back into the history of Detroit,” he says. “The things we get to see are amazing.”

Chow Catering; 810-240-0747.

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