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To see that it’s done right

By Staff | Feb 26, 2010

Dan and Sandy Naig works out of their rural Graettinger home to cater four to five events each weekend around northwest Iowa. Their business, Sandan's Catering, began in 1993, when they agreed to take over a catering job that was canceled at the last minute.

GRAETTINGER – Most homes have a living room. Dan and Sandy Naig ,of Graettinger, have a break room; but with a time-tested work ethic and a huge crowd of hungry customers with high expectations, it’s not one in which they spend much time.

“There’s almost no such thing as time off. We pretty much work 24/7,” said Sandy Naig, one half of Sandan’s Catering service. “As soon as you get done with one job, you just change hats and get started working on the next one.”

A full day off, described as one when the couple isn’t cooking, meeting customers, or setting up and serving an event, or washing the mounds of dishes and laundry that result from those events; or one where Sandy isn’t working her day job at Iowa Lakes Community College, in Emmetsburg, is a rare event.

Theirs is a schedule that requires some division of labor.

“We have to specialize a little bit to get it all done and we look at it as he’s the cooker and I’m the booker,” Sandy Naig said. “I do the deserts and sides and talk with the customers to set things up the way they want.

“Dan does the main courses and especially the meat.”

Roasted meat, especially pork loins, as well as “slushi punch,” and a meticulous attention to detail, have become signatures of Sandan’s Catering. Together the couple, who each admit that they had married with more experience in outside farm work than in the kitchen, have now spent more than 30 years in various aspects of food service.

On any given weekend, the Naigs do food, as well as decorations and serving, for four to five events from weddings and family gatherings to business meetings and community functions.

In the fall they do full food service for dozens of high school graduations, as well as providing gallons of their signature potato salad for others.

And during the week they help provide meals for seniors by cooking for the local Dinner Date program.

For all that, Sandan’s is only the Naigs’ latest foray into the food business and it happened somewhat by accident.

From 1980 though the early 1990s, Sandy Naig worked several different food service jobs while Dan Naig focused on the family’s farm and livestock operation.

In 1993 the couple took on a one-time job for a caterer who pulled out at the last minute.

“After we did that we thought, ‘This could be a good business if we did it a couple of times a month,'” Sandy Naig said. “Things just kind of took off from there.”

In 2000, Dan Naig, who had developed his niche as master entree chief, gave up farming to devote himself full time to the growing catering business. True to his self-taught culinary background Naig said he has never felt the need to make cooking too rigid a process.

“I don’t really work from recipes. I cook to taste,” he said. “When I’m working on something I know from over the years how it’s supposed to come out and I just keep adding until it gets there.”

The business has also continued to add services. From early on Sandy Naig set a goal not to limit what kind of fare customers could expect from Sandan’s. By request the Naigs have done everything from Mexican themes to individual angle food wedding cakes.

They have also grown their business from a straight forward catering operation to a full-service food, decoration and planning service, offering authentic linen table service, chocolate fountains and hand-cut vegetable bouquets.

“We started doing the decorating after our daughter got married and we realized how many people were in the position of buying all of these decorations and having nothing to do with them,” Sandy said. “Now we have another building around the corner with decorations and more stuff filling up the house.

Downstairs we used to have an extra bedroom, now that’s the glass room where we keep all our glass serving bowls. Sandan’s has kind of grown to take over the whole place.”

With a reputation for excellence that keeps their services booked almost a year in advance, the Naigs stay very busy, but they say they’re generally happy with everything their business has brought them.

Sandan’s has provided a job and good life experiences for each of the couple’s six grown children. It has also given the Naigs countless opportunities to learn new skills and earn the satisfaction of a job well done.

“For us customer service is the most important part of every event” Sandy Naig said. “If it’s an event like a wedding, we want to make sure it happens just the way the bride imagined it.

“That’s why we’re there to make sure everything goes right, not just the food.”

The Naigs offer a pair of salad recipes.

Taco rotini salad

2 pounds spiral rotini noodles

1 package fajita/burrito mix

1 tomato, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

1/2 cup black olives

1/4 cup green peppers

French dressing to cover

1/2 cup sugar

Cheddar cheese to suit

Enchilada sauce to suit

Marinated green beans with dill

3 pounds fresh green beans

1/4 cup coarsely chopped dill

1 large garlic clove finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 3 large) peeled, cored, seeded & cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 small onion thinly sliced

3 teaspoons lemon juice

Cook beans covered in a large pot with lightly salted boiling water over high heat for 10 minutes or until crisp and tender. Place dill and next three ingredients in large heat-proof glass bowl. Drain beans well add and to dill mixture.

Add olive oil and tomatoes and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Remove beans from fridge and let stand covered at room temperature. After one hour add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and toss gently. Taste and season more. If needed, add remaining lemon juice.

Contact Kevin Stillman by e-mail at stillman.kw@gmail.com.

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