“I just felt one day that I really needed to go downtown,” explains Angel Sanchez of the day that would change the trajectory of his career as chef and founder of Angel Catering Company. “There was something downtown calling my name.”
With business folders in hand and a steadfast trust in that gut feeling, Sanchez walked up to the entrance of Night Lizard Brewing Company in downtown Santa Barbara and asked if he could speak to the manager. It was late June, and the California Department of Public Health was restricting breweries and bars from selling alcohol unless it was served with food.
The man at the door was John Nasser, the brewery’s owner. By chance, Sanchez asked politely, did the brewery need help with food services to remain open amid new COVID-19 regulations?
Nasser stared at Sanchez for a pause before speaking. “I don’t know what it is, but I think God is answering my prayers,” replied Nasser. “Because I just prayed about this last night.”
Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and Sanchez is now serving a wildly popular street taco and quesadilla menu all day at Night Lizard. Most popular is his Korean-inspired taco served on a blue corn tortilla with pulled pork that’s braised for more than 12 hours. Topped with homemade chipotle barbeque aioli, lemon sriracha aioli, cabbage, and seasonal fruit like snow melon or mango, it’s the perfect tapa to pair with one of Night Lizard’s ales. Weekly specials, like a tri-tip taco and cubano, are in the works.
The gig is just one milestone out of many for Sanchez, a 28-year-old self-taught chef with an eight-year culinary career that includes working for Country Catering Company in Goleta, Metropulos Fine Foods and Pascucci in Santa Barbara, and the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito. He moved into catering after a two-year stint with College Fresh, a nationally recognized company that serves prepared meals to college fraternities and sororities. Sanchez was in the middle of his first independent catering contract with UCSB’s Zeta Beta Tau fraternity when COVID-19 struck, which ended the contract prematurely.
“I was applying for six to 12 jobs a day for two to three weeks straight,” Sanchez explained. “I have a management license. I have my food handler’s license. I have experience with being a management supervisor. And I didn’t get anywhere.”
He took matters into his own hands by starting a late-night food delivery service in Goleta, which operated from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. The menu reflects Sanchez’s many culinary influences from his past stints at American, French, and Italian restaurants, with gourmet offerings such as chicken piccata pasta, filet-mignon-topped salad, hearty smoked tri-tip sandwiches, and American-style barbeque meats.
But the less traditional offerings are where Sanchez’s imagination shines. He served up unique recipes such as grilled cheese chicken and waffles, Froot Loop–infused waffles with fried chicken and candied bacon, and a strawberry shortcake waffle topped with fried chicken and homemade strawberry-infused whipped cream.
To tackle the regular Night Lizard work, Sanchez paused the late-night service, but he hopes to purchase a food truck to better share his creations with Goleta and elsewhere in the near future. Ultimately, his dream is to open his own restaurant to serve his favorite type of cuisine: hearty and creative American comfort food.
“I love cooking. I have fun with it. The kitchen is my safest place,” Sanchez said. “I go to the kitchen to think, to relax — it’s like church to me.”
It’s that passion that has motivated Sanchez through his journey, which has been filled with as many challenges and false starts as it has with successes. As a one-man catering company, Sanchez handles every aspect of the business, from developing and testing recipes to shopping for ingredients to cooking every single dish. That all amounts to regular 12- to 18-hour workdays. When he isn’t cooking or on shift, he’s preparing ingredients or shopping for supplies for the next day. Sanchez wishes that he could spend more time with his two young children and admitted that the mental toll of being his own stocker, accountant, marketer, busboy, and chef leaves him feeling like giving up some days.
But still, he’s determined when he tells me his story. There’s a quiet confidence to his voice — his career is on the cusp of something great, and he’s sure of it.
“With as long as it took me to get where I am, I think a lot of people would’ve given up by now,” he said. “But I’m not anyone. I’m Angel Sanchez, so I got that in me.”
Keep up with Angel Catering Co. and request catering services on Instagram with @angelcateringco.
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