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April 19, 2021

Monterey Bay Caterers up for sale as owner rides into retirement

WATSONVILLE—Monterey Bay Caterers, a long-standing business in the Pajaro Valley which operated as a catering business and a restaurant, is for sale.

Owner Ken Schwan said a combination of things led to his decision. He’ll be 64 next month, and his recent motorcycle crash that claimed his leg has slowed him down.

“The Covid thing really changed the dynamics of this business, and my accident,” he said. “I have alway envisioned retiring and that time has arrived. It’s all a matter of timing and circumstance.”

In addition, Schwan said Michelle Mise, a key employee for the past 31 years, recently moved on.

“Right now, I’m not of the energy to build a new team,” Schwan said. “I still come in at 6 in the morning and cook. Then I head into the office to do paperwork to keep it all going and keep people happy; it’s a lot of work.”

The business got started at the Pajaro Dunes Rental agency in 1982. 

“Kathy (his wife) and I bought it from the bankruptcy court and we started our own business on Jan. 1, 2001,” he said.

Bad fortune fell on Schwan with two separate disastrous motorcycle crashes. The latest happened in the city of Twentynine Palms in Southern California three years ago this month. Though he lost a leg in the crash, he and his wife rebounded and continued to run Monterey Bay Caterers (MBC) with the help of Katherine Fantozzi, who has been there for 28 years, and Nancy Shott, who has worked on and off for around 20 years.

“We are a great team,” Schwan said. “When my accident happened my employees just jumped in and ran the place. Everyone was fantastic.”

MBC for years has been a go-to catering service for scores of private parties, and a long list of major players around South County, including Graniterock, Granite Construction, West Marine, The Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, The Evening of Wine and Roses (Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust), the city of Watsonville and Driscoll’s.

“We’ve also served food at a ton of small businesses, like at their parties and special events,” Schwan said. “The list is just huge.”

With the pandemic still in the mix, Schwan said he is seeing a slight return to some of his catering business.

“Before Covid the deli was paying the bills and the catering was about making money,” Schwan said. “We’re lucky we have a patio and we had it open when we were able to. With our business, the catering made up about 60-70 percent of our volume.”

Despite his crashes, Schwan has not been deterred from his passion for motorcycles. He’s back on his Suzuki with its sidecar where his dog, Rider, accompanies him.

“Someone once said, ‘What is success? Having fun making money and having people trust and like you.’ It’s just not all about money,” he said. “I have a shelf life. I’ve done a lot of adjusting to make the business ready to pass on.”

Schwan humorously referred to a song he heard on KPIG, the Watsonville-based radio station, “You never see a hearse with a luggage rack.”

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