Takeout for takeoff
Rain, sleet or shine, man keeps airline passengers fed
Hayden — A small bunch of grapes, a few cocktail shrimp, a triangle of cheese and slices of salami are carefully arranged and wrapped in Charlie Epp’s kitchen.
He fills small ramekins with cocktail sauce and arranges salt and pepper shakers on the small trays. He loads the 14 meals into a cart and heads to Yampa Valley Regional Airport to deliver the meals to the passengers on a Continental flight to Houston.
“I am the only local catering station that provides fresh food to (Continental). The food I am preparing right now will be eaten in two hours,” he said. “Nothing is ever frozen. It doesn’t sit in a fridge for eight hours like the food other airlines use.”
Epp’s business, C’s Catering in Hayden, has provided fresh meals for Continental, Delta, TWA, American and United airlines for more than 11 years. Through the years, as airlines have cut costs, Epp has kept only Continental as a client, which is fine with him. He knows the airline understands what kind of product it is providing its passengers.
“(Continental) knows what they are getting is fresh. I’ve based my reputation on having a quality product. I think they realize that. One of the main reasons people fly the airlines they do is because of the food,” he said.
Epp, who also own Charlie’s Chuck Wagon in the airport terminal, said he prepares the same meal every day, sometimes more than once a day, depending on airplane schedules.
Epp prepares the same menu items for each flight — shrimp, salami and grapes for first-class passengers and pretzels for coach passengers. Epp also prepares Reuben sandwiches, mushroom soup, salads and other items.
Epp got into catering 11 years ago after he bought his business on Fifth Street from a widow.
Walking into Epp’s kitchen is like walking into any other restaurant or catering kitchen. There are rows of spices, powders and dressings. There are spatulas and spoons hanging from hooks, and there are stacks of glassware. There are gigantic pots and a full-size dishwasher.
“It was sort of an accident how I got into this. My friend already had a contract to provide the meals to the airlines, and when I bought it, everyone told me I should just keep his contracts. The rest is history now,” he said.
In addition to catering for travelers, Epp caters weddings, reunions and meetings.
“My mom and dad used to cook when I was young. I was a general’s cook in the U.S. Army, so getting back to food wasn’t a big deal to me. I grew up around food,” he said.
Epp said in a typical day, he goes to YVRA to open his chuck wagon stand at 6 a.m., comes back to his catering business to prepare meals, loads the meals in his massive 1973 Ford pickup, drives back to YVRA, drives onto the airport’s landing field, watches the plane land, drives to the plane, unloads the last flight’s used carts and replaces the new ones with meals he prepared less than an hour before.
“Rain, sleet or shine, I am here every day at the same time,” he said as he watched a Continental flight touch ground Thursday.
Epp’s truck is outfitted to raise 20 to 30 feet off the ground to reach the airplane’s back door, Epp’s personal loading zone.
“Pretty neat, huh?” he said as he lifted his truck’s ramps to meet the open airplane door.
After Sept. 11, Epp said, he was assigned a security guard — or sandwich guard, as he calls them — to watch Epp prepare the food, load it and secure the truck.
Most recently, Epp worked with Corky Maeder of Craig.
“After (Maeder) puts that orange security tag on the truck, we’re done. We can’t stop for fuel. We can’t stop to secure the truck. We can’t stop for anything,” he said.
Maeder said he doesn’t have to do anything but watch Epp work, though he usually works side by side with Epp to package the meals and unload the planes.
“After I retired, I decided to do something different,” Maeder said. “I didn’t know I would end up here with Charlie. But I’d be bored to tears if I just stood around and watched him work.”
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