Elaine LaMontagne, Hot Seat Interviewer
“I love learning the journeys of interesting people – and Mario Gonzalez has a great story. Originally from Mexico of humble roots, but a very proud American for the bulk of his life, Mario started his career “by accident”. While visiting Disneyland in California, he ran into a friend in the movie catering business who needed help. Although cold and rainy, Mario stepped in and loved the camaraderie and energy on the set. He was hooked. Admittedly, at first it was mainly manual labor, but Mario immersed himself in learning to cook and the operational side of the business. 30 years later – with the help of a fairy godfather – he represents the standard in a unique catering niche. But if that “mistake” hadn’t happened, Mario’s infectious positive attitude, a willingness to serve others joyfully, and old fashioned values would have landed him successful somewhere else. But where and doing what? Sounds like a delicious movie script…”
– Elaine LaMontagne, Hot Seat Interviewer
MARIO’S CATERING BLENDS FOOD WITH HOLLYWOOD CELEBRITIES, NICE SMILES AND A FUN FAMILY
Mario has built a top five caterer for the on-site Motion Picture industry. Mexican-born Mario Gonzalez never worked a day in a restaurant, but after being exposed to this culinary niche and showcasing over-the-top service qualities, he was professionally adopted by Norm Honath who invested in him with a catering truck (they met on a ‘Jackie Onassis’ movie set in Northern California). Throughout the last three decades, Mario’s now 60-person traveling food circus has plenty of perks and excitement as they traverse the continent during motion picture filming, yet it’s combined with much sacrifice in terms of time, travel and maintaining quality employees. Mario’s home-base is in Los Angeles but has a second home and office in Atlanta and a third office in Alba, New Mexico. He espouses that the secret ingredient to his success is something competitors will never have – his three sons who love the business as much as he does.
Q1 – Go ahead and do some name dropping of some celebrities you’ve worked with and enjoyed most – and any notable divas or divos?
A1 – “They’re all a little diva-ish but I love them all! They treat you the way you treat them. Barbra Streisand, during ‘The Main Event’, was a bit difficult at first but we warmed up so much she gave me literally all the new baby items for my first-born son – very generous. Jack Nicholson was wonderful during ‘Prizzi’s Honor’. I’m currently working with Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, in Boston for ‘Central Intelligence’ and in Mexico for the ‘Independence Day II’. Mark Wahlberg has been the actor I’ve worked with the most. He’s extremely family-oriented, a lover of God and golf, and never talks negatively about anyone or anything – special person.”
Q2 – What’s been your biggest challenge as an Entrepreneur?
A2 – “Three months after starting my own business, the Writers Guild industry went on strike. It was devastating. But I stayed committed and patient, so when the industry rebounded, I was so glad I did.”
Q3 – Clearly, Atlanta has catapulted in the motion picture business. What is the city doing well and where is improvement needed?
A3 – “Atlanta has been very smart in their decisions for the industry. Tax incentives, easy access, infrastructure, self-sufficient locales – multi-whammies. But frankly, the southern hospitality is an intangible component and why I fell in love with the city when I first came here during the filming of ‘The Blindside’. Atlantans need to continue pro-industry policies and keep their friendly dispositions.”
Q4 – Do you have a signature menu item or favorite cuisine with the stars?
A4 – “What sets me apart with my food are two things – an amazing fresh vegetable and juice bar with 10 different juices, and a pasta bar with 20 different toppings of vegetables, meats and tofu with fabulous sauces. We’re very health conscious because our customers are, so we spend a lot of money on seafood and veggies.”
Q5 – What is a Mobile Dining Room, and did you develop the concept?
A5 – “I wish I could say I developed the idea, but I simply copied the concept and tweaked some details. Before, tents were used for the talent to eat on-set, but now Mobile Dining Rooms – think luxury RV dining cars – are the very costly up-and-coming approach. They are climate-controlled and beautifully designed with an automatic door for up to 100 people. It’s completely separate from our food prep units. We currently have six and project to have 15-20 within three years.”
Q6 – Are you aligned with specific motion picture companies and do you have many competitors?
A6 – “It’s all about relationships and doing the right thing when given the opportunity. Most of our work is with Universal and independent companies. And yes, we have lots of excellent competitors, but none quite like us. We work very hard to be the word-of-mouth choice.”
Q7 – As a man of Mexican descent, what do you think about the El Chapa prison escape?
A7 – “Sadly, he is smarter than those guarding him. Even more sadly is the deep Mexican corruption. I’m so happy that my children were born and raised in the beautiful USA.”
[Elaine is a former award-winning publicist who represented Macy’s, Pano Karatassos and the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, Spa Sydell and the March of Dimes during her 20 year public relations career. Chosen one of Cosmopolitan Magazine’s “Top 10 PR Women”, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “PR All Star” and SOS Taste of the Nation’s “National Community Business Leader of the Year”, she now freelance writes for miscellaneous publications and companies and serves on non-profit boards.]