As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage in the U.S. thanks in large part to the more-infectious Delta variant, Billboard is catching up with individuals we interviewed at the beginning of the crisis to see how they’ve weathered the past year.
This installment is with Shelleylyn Brandler, the owner of Ta-Da! Catering in Los Angeles, who has been feeding rock stars and their staff backstage since 1998 at festivals and venues including Coachella, Vans Warped Tour, The Hollywood Bowl and The Forum. After struggling mightily in the early days of the pandemic — including being forced to lay off nearly her entire staff — she’s back to catering for such big-name stars as the Foo Fighters, Guns N’ Roses, Green Day and the Eagles as concerts resume. But the surging Delta variant is once again making her anxious about where things are headed.
First, I went into a little bit of a hibernation, and it felt so good. We just felt like, “Okay, this is just a little forced break.” But then it kept going.
I was in a really hard spot because a lot of the small businesses that were getting grants and loans from great organizations that were helping restaurants stay open, a lot of them asked you to fill out an application, and you needed a brick and mortar. I have these kitchen trucks. So I was kind of left with the short straw and not getting these loans and grants month after month after month.
I was misguided with a lot of my PPP loans and didn’t get what I probably deserved. I received such a minuscule amount for, like, one person, because we used a company that was a payroll company, and we were told that [my employees were] the payroll company’s employees. I had a hard time even paying my mortgage.
We definitely pivoted. We were doing a delivery service, but we found that we were competing with a lot of neighborhood restaurants that had that already built into their business.
We ended up having to let go of our staff. We have some chefs that are dads, and we tried to give them a little bit of work. I was even giving people a little bit of money out of my savings that were really, really struggling. But that wasn’t sustainable.
We would get the random call maybe once every six weeks, like, “Hey, can you deliver to this livestreaming thing?” [At that point] it was just me and my business partner, Chef Mike. It was just like, “Okay, I have to keep my chin up and be willing to take whatever comes my way.” And so I would get up, and the first thing I would do is start washing the dishes. And then start being the prep cook and start building the boxes and doing whatever I had to do, build the salads, make the little salad dressing cups. Then I would go and deliver the meal.
And then I would drive back to the kitchen, do the dishes, take out the trash, prep it again, then go deliver the next meal, and then I would have to stop at a restaurant depot or whatever, get some supplies or something, go back to the kitchen, do a sweep, do a trash, prep for the next morning. I was working easily from 4 or 5 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m.
I don’t even usually look back, I just look forward. But [everything] was crumbling around me. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to go into my retirement money to live?” Even though every CPA says, ” Whatever you do, we don’t want you to spend your retirement money.” But I had no other road to go to. I had to put my place on Airbnb. You do what you have to do.
We’ve been catering Vans Warped Tour for like 20 years. I got a call like end of February, beginning of March, and they said, “We’re doing this program where we donate like 1,000 shoes and 250 t-shirts and then the net proceeds will go to helping you pay the bills however you see fit.” So I thought that was super cool. I collabed to design a Ta-Da catering and Vans tennis shoe.
I really got a lot of support from all my clients. I cater this really awesome festival called Ohana. Eddie Vedder produces it. Out of nowhere I got a call…I was told by Ed’s partners in Ohana that he wanted to help his people who he knew were left out and weren’t getting financial aid. Ed sent a nice little check to his crew who worked Ohana. The check was from him directly, his name on it and all. It helped me pay the bills and lifted my spirits still to this day. We split it with some key people here at TaDa too. No one reached out to him and asked for a handout. It was all initiated by him and took me by surprise, but I was so grateful.
We started at the Greek beginning of April. On May 1, we did the first concert at SoFi Stadium, Vax Live. It was really exciting for us to be back at work basically just killing it. We had like 60 employees come back. We worked for three weeks on it.
[Now] we’re busier than we’ve ever been in our entire lives. It’s like zero to 1,000. We have so many stadium shows, from Green Day to Guns N’ Roses. We have something for The Eagles.
We did the Foo Fighters for like 10 days [for] rehearsals [at the Forum], and then the band was supposed to come in on July 14th, 15th, 16th. Then we got the notice that someone in the organization got a positive COVID test. I guess this is going to be part of the new norm, I don’t know. Like when someone gets COVID, are we all gonna just stop again? [Ed. Note: the Foo Fighters show at the Forum has since been rescheduled to Aug. 26.]
As we have a few shows under our belt, we noticed all the bands requesting in advance to “please try and hire all vaccinated staff.” Thankfully, we now have a 100% vaccinated staff and we are now able to accommodate that without question.
We are going to be really busy starting about mid-August, all the way till December. I mean, who knows, like I said. I’m just hoping this isn’t going the wrong direction.
I guess my big question is, this thing is really contagious, everyone knows it’s contagious. I feel that there’s going to be cases, but as long as we keep the hospitals low, and we keep the death rate low, that we might have to come to terms that people are going to get it. But at least the chance of survival is looking better.
As told to Chris Eggertsen.