Chef and Moceri pose in front of the Moceri truck with boxes of produce
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Centerplate Serves More Than a Half-million Meals to Shelter Effort

Today our food and beverage partners reached a milestone: 500,000 meals served to individuals residing in the San Diego Convention Center through Operation Shelter to Home. 

The Centerplate team has been preparing several thousand meals per day since the shelter opened in April. Just as they do when catering conventions, the organization uses locally sourced and seasonal ingredients whenever possible—an emphasis that has a ripple effect in the region.

O'Brien's Boulangerie is among the local suppliers. Based in Poway, O'Brien's provides the Center with baked products such as rolls and sandwich buns. Sara Escobar, the bakery's Senior Director of Operations, noted the importance of this relationship to her family's business, which primarily serves customers in hotel, restaurant and casino industries.

"The reality of the pandemic hit us in mid-March when we saw the dramatic loss in sales. April was the worst month. The customers who pretty much kept us afloat this Spring were the San Diego Convention Center and Board & Brew, because people were still going out to pick up sandwiches," Escobar said. "Most other places were completely shut down."

She has been with O'Brien's since 2006 when her Guatemalan-born parents bought the bakery. Her uncle is the head baker and her brother is the pastry chef.

"When Chef Daryl reached out to let us know they would be making a lot of sandwiches, we were all so glad."

"We are fortunate to be in San Diego where so many great foods are available around us. Why ship across the country when you can get fresh options here: seafood, fruit, tortillas and breads? Plus it's more sustainable," said Centerplate's Executive Chef Daryl O'Donnell.

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Rolls to be transported from O’Brien’s to the Convention Center

Beyond bakeries, Centerplate's suppliers include local farms, dairies and specialized markets. A typical order can consist of 100 dozen tortillas, 400 pounds of lettuce, 60 pounds of broccoli and 50 pounds of cucumbers.

"We are fortunate to be in San Diego where so many great foods are available around us. Why ship across the country when you can get fresh options here: seafood, fruit, tortillas and breads? Plus it's more sustainable," said Centerplate's Executive Chef Daryl O'Donnell.

O'Donnell and Senior Executive Sous Chef Sufi Karaien plan the meals about a week in advance to keep the food balanced and varied. Around the building, Centerplate staff hear from residents about favorites such as Buffalo chicken salad sandwiches, tuna salad, and manicotti.

"We can't get too fancy within the price point but we've learned to get creative so people don't tire of the ingredients. We've made about eight different potato salads, multiple kinds of coleslaw and various bean salads," O'Donnell said.

Many of the vegetables come from family-owned Moceri Produce. VP of Sales Sal Moceri said he remembers making deliveries to the Convention Center when he was 18 years old, about 20 years ago.

"The pandemic has been rough for us and for our employees. As we face adversity, our local relationships are critical, and those relationships affect other San Diego businesses. For example, we work with a company in Chula Vista to process the vegetables—shredding lettuce, cutting carrots, dicing tomatoes, things like that—before they go to the Convention Center," Moceri said. "San Diego still has that small-town aspect at times, one that depends on living up to your word. In that way, hard work pays off."

Escobar echoed the sentiment.

"My family is grateful for all the chefs at the Convention Center because we have had such a great relationship since we started working together. We're thankful to be part of this project."

Authored by Maren Dougherty
Maren Dougherty is the San Diego Convention Center's Director of Marketing & Communications. When she isn't writing articles or talking to media, you can find her enjoying San Diego's climate. She loves running through neighborhoods, visiting Balboa Park, and relaxing at San Diego's beautiful beaches.