Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
It’s somehow fitting that the final catering job Mangia/Nosh had scheduled on March 11 was for one of the Jewish community’s premier events — the JCRC’s annual gala at the War Memorial Veterans Building. The food for 400 guests had been bought, and prepping was in progress — and then San Francisco Mayor London Breed shut down municipal buildings and large events due to the coronavirus, and the gala was canceled.
“It’s not the way I painted the picture,” owner Robert Meyer said of ending his career this way. But at age 65, he feels like it’s time to ride off into the sunset.
“I came back after the last recession, but I was 10 years younger than I am now. I still have the passion … but not for another 18 months until the world might come back in our business. We depend on once-in-a-lifetime events and large crowds.”
Before Covid, his kitchen was open seven days a week, always with three or four employees, and he was grossing around $100,000 a month. Now down to two part-time employees and no longer paying himself, he has been making lunches for employees of E&O Soap Co., which has pivoted to making hand sanitizer, and creating entrées for families, sometimes delivering them himself.
Meyer is hoping to sell his lease in Ignacio, an unincorporated area of Marin County near Novato, along with his equipment (he can be reached through his website). He has an impressive client list — everyone from fabulously wealthy families to Fortune 500 companies to nonprofits — that someone getting started would be lucky to have.
He has been a mainstay caterer of the Bay Area’s Jewish community for 30 years.
“He’s such a part of this community and he takes such pride in that,” said Moji Javid, director of synagogue engagement at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael. “He’d always show up to an event, even when his staff had it totally under control, just to say hi. This is his community and he takes care of his people.”
Meyer is a fifth-generation San Franciscan; both sides of his family were ’49ers from Germany and came during the Gold Rush. He was raised in Larkspur and now lives in Novato.
He came from a family where everything was made from scratch — “my mother never had a box of cake mix or can of vegetables” he said — and both of his grandmothers made excellent cookies, but admits his interest at first was limited mostly to beater-licking. He didn’t think about pursuing food professionally.
In fact, his intention was to work with youth who had substance abuse issues. He went to work as a chef at a facility for that population, seeing it as a temporary gig that would allow him to get more direct experience. But then he got a side job with a catering company on weekends, and did so well there that people kept mistaking him for the owner and asking him to do their events. That’s when he decided to go out on his own.
From there his business grew, mostly through word of mouth. “We went from ‘I’d never say no to anyone’ to … saying ‘I’m too busy,’” he said.
“You just sort of have the soul for it,” he explained. “I can tell something is ready by touching it. I have a different DNA inside of me.”
Mangia/Nosh wasn’t a kosher caterer, but Meyer was always willing to work with his clients, so he did many kosher events at both Reform and Conservative synagogues and worked with Chabad on occasion.
For six years Meyer ran the café in the Osher Marin JCC, too. He was its longest tenant.
“The older community members would go there after their swim or exercise,” Javid said, “and he was always so loving and caring toward them and created a place for them to be with each other, even if they were only going to have a cup of coffee for two hours.”
One was Phyllis Lampert. “Separate from the fact that his food is top quality, I love Robert and I love his food,” said Lampert, who recently has been ordering entrées from Mangia/Nosh. “When I was sick I got his food delivered. I don’t know what I have done without him.”
His client list reached far beyond the Jewish community. One bartender who worked for him also worked for a film company, and he got word one day that a production crew needed lunch. That led to Meyer catering for television shows on and off for five years.
“When you go into business, you hope you’ll be successful and that you’ll provide for yourself and your family,” Meyer said. He did that and then some, catering everything from bris to burial within the same family.
The connections are so strong that recently Meyer’s son got married in the home of a client who offered it for the occasion — just one example of a client who became a friend.
“Over 30 years of being part of their lives, they’ve also become part of mine. It’s such a gift. I don’t think people in other occupations get to see that, and I’m so grateful for that.”