Rock ’n’ Roll Caterer

Irene Cole Fills the Bowl’s Hungry Bowls

It’s only fitting that Irene Cole’s name rhymes with “Bowl,” as she’s been a fixture there for more than 30 years. As the backstage caterer, Cole and her team (now of eight, counting her) are working to keep musicians and crews sated from the moment the buses roll in.

“It was much simpler in the beginning,” she said. “People are much more concerned with what they eat now. And they eat a lot more.” There’s also more variety. “When I started, it was doughnuts and coffee for breakfast, a deli tray at lunch, and reservations at Joe’s for dinner,” said Cole. “Now, we make three hot meals. Whatever they want, we give it to them.”

Irene Cole
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Irene Cole

Working from 7 a.m. ’til after the concert means a full day for Cole, whose company, aptly named Backstage Catering, also works at sites besides the Bowl. In fact, it’s so much work that she often doesn’t even see the show. “I try to go up and watch a couple of songs,” she said, “but you’re so tired by eight o’clock you don’t care.”

Things certainly have changed at the Bowl over the years. Cole recalled, “In the early years I did the catering in a Volkswagen with two little kids.” The Bowl’s recent remodel included the addition of a full commercial kitchen, dining room, and “running hot water,” she joked. They still always barbecue—that was a necessity back in the day, but now it’s a trademark. “I cook really basic, home-cooked food; nothing premade. That’s always worked for me, so I haven’t changed it,” she explained. “People always say we have better food [than other venues].”

And if you want dirt on which rockers are well-behaved and which are boorish, the discreet Cole isn’t talking, instead name-checking bands as diverse as Steely Dan and Incubus as good “customers.” The crew’s also looking forward to Journey’s big Bowl return. She did admit, “It’s better now than it was five to 10 years ago. There used to be a lot more attitude problems in the music business. Now, they do less drugs.”

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