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What’s Cookin’ On Race Day?

Behind the scenes of Jug’s Catering’s massive operation for Indy 500 weekend

Writer / Jon Shoulders
Photographer / Michael Thierwechter

Each year when Central Indiana residents turn their calendars to the month of May, eagerly anticipating Memorial Day celebrations and the legendary Indy 500, there is perhaps no group of people working harder than the folks at Jug’s Catering.

Since the early 1970s Jug’s has been a fixture at the Speedway during the month of May as a caterer for the various corporate and private parties thrown at the Speedway’s popular suites, as well as the facility’s pavilion and infield tent locations.

“As the suites were added one at a time through the years, that caused us to grow, starting with the Turn 2 suites – that was the first time they needed a food service out there,” says Max Eckert, whose father, Jasper native Charles “Jug” Eckert, founded Jug’s 50 years ago. “The Hulman Terrace suites followed, then the Tower Terrace and the Gasoline Alley suites later. As they grew, we grew.”

With 22 full-time employees and approximately 100 part-time staff members who join up for their busy season, Jug’s operates 12 mobile catering trucks with a brick-and-mortar headquarters on 65th Street in Indianapolis. The business has become known for its fried chicken, country biscuits and apple butter, but Max’s wife Connie, who works part-time for Jug’s, says the company also accommodates special requests.

“Just because it’s not on our menu doesn’t mean we don’t do it,” she says. “At the Speedway we have beef tenderloins, kabobs and our giant pork chops. We can do most anything the client wants. We have to be versatile for the amount of business we do at the Speedway.”

And that amount is fairly staggering. Max says Jug’s fried up 96,000 pieces of fried chicken this May at the Speedway, along with hundreds of pounds of apple butter for their fresh biscuits. The Jug’s team loads up four of their 12 catering trucks for race weekend and begins prepping mountains of fresh, hot food for tens of thousands of hungry race-goers at 4 a.m.

“The busiest days for us are the qualifications day, then Carb Day on the Friday before the race, and race day,” Max says. “On Carb Day in the pavilion area alone, we did a party for 3,000 people. Those are long days and it’s very fast-paced from cooking to serving. It all happens very swiftly because there are so many people there that want to eat.”

Max says the biggest challenge after so many years at the Speedway remains time management, and making sure the entrees and side items for each and every party are fresh and hot at just the right time.

“With something like baked beans, you can stick that in the oven, get it hot, and you don’t have to worry about it,” he says. “But with fried chicken, I want that to be nice and fresh, so you can’t do that at eight in the morning. You have to be careful about overcooking tenderloin or pork chops. You have to stay on track, and any little hiccup can throw you off.”

Max says the Jug’s staff has seen their share of celebrities at the track, recounting a chance meeting between a group of his employees and a certain pop singer.

“As the race was finishing up last year, Lady Gaga happened to get onto an elevator with a couple of our girls who were bringing a leftover cart full of food back to the kitchen,” he recalls. “She must’ve been really hungry, probably from walking around all day and meeting people, and she started eating right off of the cart. That was pretty refreshing to hear that someone of her status wouldn’t think that was beneath her.”

Connie says her greatest enjoyment after 25 years with Jug’s is still helping to make parties, weddings and other events special across the state.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, I’ve realized people in Indiana are nice people,” she says. “They’re fun loving, and it’s pretty neat to be a part of their celebrations, no matter what we’re catering.”

For more information on Jug’s Catering, including catering menus and pricing, call 317-842-5879 or visit jugscatering.com.

About Jon Shoulders

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