By S. Clayton Moore,
San Francisco is well known for its culinary offerings but its most vibrant restaurant might only be open to airborne diners.
Jetfinity aviation catering services is operating under a new name but is offering the same great food that has made its reputation as one of the West Coast’s finest purveyors of meals for business aviation customers. Its owners are well known in the Bay Area for the extraordinary food offered by Jetfinity’s sister companies, California Chicken and California Cuisine Catering, but the company has really outdone itself with its superb aviation offerings.
Recently, the family owned company has rebranded its aviation catering services as Jetfinity to more closely reflect its primary mission.
“The name came about by combining the word jet, and infinite, which represents the endless number of possibilities available when you order from us,” explained Khalid Halim, who manages Jetfinity. “It removed some constraints so that we could achieve everything we wanted to as a company. As we grew, we felt the name California Cuisine didn’t capture the international nature of our aviation offerings.”
He runs Jetfinity’s 24/7/365 operation in partnership with his mother, Amina Halim, who provides much of the inspiration behind its unique cuisine. Her culinary sense comes from a rich fusion of influences. As the child of a Muslim-Egyptian father and a Russian-Jewish mother, she grew up near the Mediterranean Sea, taking in all the flavors the area had to offer. When she was 19, her family moved to Paris, where she absorbed some of the ways of traditional French cooking before finally coming to America.
“We couldn’t have planned those influences any better,” Khalid Halim said. “She learned how to cook in the Mediterranean style of cooking, which is an old world style that is passed down from generation to generation. It’s why a lot of our food is really unique. You’ll find the spices that we use and a lot of the ingredients for our marinades and sauces come from that tradition.”
In San Francisco, Amina Halim started a small Mediterranean café. She served spiced rotisserie chicken as a healthy and tasty alternative for working women who wanted to feed their families a good meal but had limited time.
“I started this with the idea that whatever we do, it should be a little different and a little better than anyone else,” she said.
The popular restaurant quickly grew, and her delicious meals continued to draw a larger following. The word was out on her secret recipes, and soon customers were asking the small crew to cater weddings, birthday parties and other events. About seven years ago, she broke off California Cuisine as its own company to service events and corporate catering.
Khalid Halim has been working in his mother’s kitchen since he was a child. After taking a few years off to earn a classics degree from UCLA and learn some of the technology needed for the business, he returned to work side-by-side with his mother. After doing several events for the San Francisco Police Department, they were introduced to Signature Flight Support at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and were soon asked to take on their catering needs.
Today, Jetfinity handles the catering needs for all Signature Flight Support flights in the Bay Area as well as Atlantic Aviation at Hayward Executive Airport (HWD), Kaiser Air at Metropolitan Oakland International Airport (OAK), and dozens of high tech and biotech companies in nearby San Jose, Calif. In fact, of the roughly 35 Fortune 500 companies based in the Bay Area, more than half are Jetfinity customers.
The catering empire is run from a small but efficient 1,200-square-foot kitchen at the foot of the San Mateo Bridge in Foster City, Calif. There, a staff of 23 professional chefs and other staff prep amazing customer meals for between 25 and 50 flights a day.
“We’re very centrally located, which is good, because the Bay Area is very tricky to navigate,” Halim explained.
It means plotting a way through the steep hills of San Francisco to secure specialty items, as well as rushing north eight minutes to SFO, across the Bay Bridge to Oakland in 20 minutes, or negotiating the dense traffic of Silicon Valley to get to San Jose. To make sure everything goes to plan, each of Jetfinity’s four vehicles is equipped with a high-tech GPS receiver that allows Halim to track its movements at any moment. He even invested in a hybrid Toyota Prius, which is allowed to utilize California’s high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
“We can tell where an order is every step of the way,” he said. “For a flight attendant taking off early, that lends a lot of peace of mind because the biggest challenge in this business is always time. As in every aspect of aviation, you’re always running against the clock. There’s nothing that will give you five more minutes, but we can make sure we use our minutes as efficiently as possible.”
Halim’s brief stint as a programmer for a high-technology company has served him well, allowing him to assemble custom solutions for his mother’s business.
“We’ve built an enormous amount of technology in-house to help us with logistics,” he said. “Our database has everything—portions, recipes, specific client requests and shopping items. Sitting in my office, I know when the last pineapple is used and how many pineapples we’ll need tomorrow, and can generate our produce order appropriately. It’s allowed us to overcome a lot of our logistical challenges without having to outlay the capital that most companies have to invest.”
The people of Jetfinity have strong relationships with flight attendants, flight departments and all their other clientele. From January through March, they perfect the menu, taking into account feedback from regular customers.
“My mom is the person behind every single recipe,” Halim said. “We also listen to the things that flight attendants have told us all year long, not only about what works for each item but also about what works in different aviation markets. A lot of things that work well on the ground don’t always work well in the sky, so it takes a lot of fine tuning.”
The results are remarkable. In addition to the more conventional meals offered by catering companies, Jetfinity also offers many signature offerings that are unique to Amina Halim’s heritage.
“You have to have all the traditional items but we do have a lot of items that are unique that carry the Mediterranean flavors that Amina brings to the food,” Halim said. “We have a very unique flavor and it’s the strongest thing that people react to when they first try our cooking.”
The exceptional menu reflects her Middle Eastern, European and California influences. The kitchen still offers her secret recipe rotisserie chicken, which is marinated for two days and then slowly roasted to a golden brown. A Mediterranean sampler offers an appetizing plate of fresh pita bread, hummus, their flavorful tabouli salad, kalamata olives and feta cheese. The fruit tray carries fresh papaya, mango and figs in lieu of more pedestrian fruit. Seafood, which is usually steamed by less adventurous catering services, is prepared in the traditional Mediterranean style through marinating and grilling. Other customers are taken with the fresh sushi and sashimi that has become a mainstream influence from California’s Asian population.
To obtain ingredients, Jetfinity follows more of a European model of shopping than a typical American industrial approach. Instead of using large food service companies, Jetfinity’s professionals go out to wholesale fruit and meat markets near San Francisco’s dynamic wharves to procure the freshest possible whole foods. They shop nearly every day, guaranteeing that the food on their plates is straight from local farms, butchers and fishermen.
They also respond to their customers’ high regard for San Francisco’s specialty items. In addition to making clam chowder in the well-known Fisherman’s Wharf style every day, Jetfinity also buys fresh sourdough bread from the famous Bourdin Bakery and Ghirardelli chocolates. They also respond to every custom request from clients, even if it means tracking down pickled jellyfish in Chinatown.
“We’ve gotten some pretty interesting requests, but that one probably takes the cake,” Halim laughed. “We know that every order is unique, so we have to reinvent ourselves with every single phone call. You really can’t be successful in this business if you don’t offer your customers a choice. Our menu is merely a suggestion of what’s possible, but it doesn’t encompass everything we can offer.”
Responding to trends is another necessity, but Halim is finding that eating healthy is becoming more a matter of taste than fashion.
“We had to familiarize ourselves with every diet trend including Atkins and South Beach, but it sounds like people are realizing that they can enjoy what they eat again,” he observed.
Jetfinity’s employees recently came together in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to provide relief supplies for victims. When one of their clients, the Applera Corporation, asked for supplies to transport on their corporate aircraft to Baton Rouge, La., Jetfinity answered the call, buying cases of water and other supplies to send down with Doug Schultz, Appelera’s chief pilot.
“It was one of those situations where you’ve seen something terrible happen and you wish you could help and suddenly there’s a way,” Halim said. “It really worked out well because we were able to work with a client who had the aircraft to get supplies where they were needed.”
Their can-do attitude separates Jetfinity from its competition and contributes to the great word-of-mouth about the company all along the West Coast.
“Our philosophy as a caterer is that this isn’t just a vendor-client relationship,” Halim explained. “We’re partners in this enterprise, with the common goal of making the customer happy. We really put ourselves in that aircraft with the person who’s ultimately going to be delivering our meals and envision their situation. It makes you realize how important it is to go out of your way to make them look like a superstar.”
Jetfinity may have served kings, presidents and movie stars, but in the end, their success really comes down to the Halim family’s passion for their work.
“If you’re always thinking about putting out products that you love and coming to work every day to do the work that you love, the possibilities are endless,” Halim said. “We love what we do.”
For more information about Jetfinity’s aviation catering services, visit [http://www.jetfinity.com].