Caterer on wheels

Caterer on wheels

When Dan and Tawni Batdorf hit the road to their latest catering job, they bring a spacious kitchen with all the conveniences of home right along with them.

This day, the Covington-area residents and their trusty staff have set up shop near the Tin Roof Barn near Houston, in the heart of Pioneer Rural Electric Cooperative territory. Wedding guests sniff the air, eagerly waiting to fill dinner plates from a line of covered chafing dishes.

Pork loin

The Batdorfs, who formerly raised hogs, admit that pork is still their specialty, with succulent pork loin their most requested entrée.

Tawni and Dan Batdorf

The Batdorfs started Red Barn Catering in 1998, working from the back of a pickup truck stacked with coolers, grills, and cooking utensils. One of their early engagements had them preparing 77 customer appreciation lunches for Ebberts Field Seeds, down the road from their Miami County farm. They still work that lunch, but today, the number of lunches they produce for the annual event has grown to about 630.

“We definitely needed something more than a pickup truck bed,” Tawni Batdorf says with a chuckle. “We needed a place out of the rain and the sun and a place to wash dishes.”

Dan Batdorf purchased a 25-foot trailer that had been used as a library bookmobile and set to work installing electricity, running water, cabinets, counters, sinks, and commercial kitchen appliances. It turned out to be a real boon for everyone involved, despite rather close quarters.

When business kept growing, Tawni, who formerly taught food service operations at the Upper Valley Joint Vocational School in Piqua, knew what was needed. Soon, they added a 54-foot trailer, which required nearly three months of work to outfit. Now both trailers are pressed into service for larger jobs.

“I told Dan early on he had to get us to the venue, make sure we have electricity and water, and prepare the meat,” she says. “Our helpers and I can handle the rest.”

The 18-member staff includes a number of retired teachers, including Pioneer member Julie Roeth, who has served as chief cook the past six years. A cousin and three retired home economics teachers show up the day before an engagement to handle prep work ranging from stirring up corn casserole to creating mouth-watering desserts.

The Batdorfs, who formerly raised hogs, admit that pork is still their specialty, with succulent pork loin their most requested entrée. Other popular offerings include pulled pork, shredded chicken, and Italian marinated chicken strips. Occasionally, a client will ask for vegetarian lasagna. Among the more popular side dishes are mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, green beans, and applesauce. Desserts run the gamut from fruit crisp to peanut butter confections.

The trailers do not leave a venue until all the equipment has been washed and stowed away, appliances are wiped down, and floors are mopped. Everything comes home clean and ready for the next engagement.

The last year or more has been difficult for the Batdorfs, as COVID-19 caused the cancellation of numerous scheduled events including weddings, reunions, and other large gatherings. One bright spot, however, has been the continuing popularity of fundraising meals for seven Future Farmers of America chapters in the area. One of the largest provided 800 pork loin dinners served via drive-through lanes at Fairlawn High School in rural Shelby County. A similar event provided 770 meals at Versailles High School in Darke County.

“I enjoy the work and the people,” Tawni says. “Pleasing people with good food is easy. Getting groceries and making sure everything gets delivered is the hard part.”

Batdorf’s Red Barn Catering, 937-418-3393 |