Growth pushes Sander Catering to Jasper move



In the last 25 years, Sander Catering has grown by leaps and bounds.

It has gone from a small business operating from a home in Celestine, to an independent company planning to move to a 6,000-square-foot building in Jasper to accommodate its customers.

“We were looking to move to Jasper because 90% of our business is done in Jasper and this area,” said business owner Alex Zehr. “We’re in Jasper six times a day.

“But we will never forget where we come from,” Zehr said. “We’re still going to be in Celestine, still supporting Celestine and Dubois like Donnie did.”

Donnie Sander started Sander Catering in 1994 as a small business in his Celestine home. He eventually built a structure behind his home for the business, and ran it for years. About five years ago, Sander was looking for someone to buy the business, as he was ready to retire.

Around that time, Zehr was getting more involved in community work. His wife of six years, Tracy, had died in 2012. At the time, he had two young daughters, Bre and Jazlyn.

“After she passed, I worked for about six more months and then left MasterBrand,” he said. “I was doing mission work, I was substitute teaching, and I was hanging out with the girls.”

Someone approached Zehr about taking over Sander’s business. He had never been in the catering business. But he felt it was a great idea, especially to keep the company and its service to the community going.

“I love to cook,” Zehr said. “I love being in the kitchen. I like creating dishes.”

And Sander Catering already had a proven positive reputation. “It was a business already set up, already established, already successful,” he said. “My biggest thing going in was not to mess it up.”

Zehr acquired the business from Sander in 2015. The company continued to operate in the building behind Sander’s home.

“The main crew, including Donnie and Linda Sander, stayed on for the following year. “That helped me to transition and learn the business,” Zehr. “Now it’s about keeping it going for them, for all the people who put in years of work to build it to where it is.”

Since taking ownership, Zehr has added his own touch to the company while keeping all the elements known to be Sander Catering. He has added some items to the menu, like a cold vegetable medley, loaded mashed potatoes and parmesan ranch chicken.

Another new element is providing lunch on-site at some of the local manufacturing companies, something Sander has been doing for the last three and a half years. The company has worked out agreements in which it sets up breakfast and lunch service in the building or has food trucks on-site, depending on what the company wants. Sander has routes serving Kimball Hospitality, Kimball Electronics and Jasper Engines and Transmissions in Jasper, Farbest in Huntingburg, and Best Chairs and MasterBrand in Ferdinand.

“It’s pretty popular,” Zehr said. “That’s why I said we’re in Jasper at least six times a day.”

What has not changed is Sander Catering’s service to the community.

“Donnie always did stuff for the community, for churches, schools. And we continue to do that,” Zehr said. “We employ people who need a second chance, for instance. We take food to people in need. For me, I felt like by taking over this, I could continue my mission work, not just financially, but in other ways.”

The company is now planning to move to a large warehouse on Clay Street. Currently, the facility is being remodeled to accommodate the company.

“We’ve been wanting to come to Jasper for about a year now,” he said.

The company’s size will increase from its current 3,500 square feet to almost 6,000 square feet.

“We’re pretty much doubling our space,” Zehr said. “We are literally so full right now, with the storage and everything. We’re running into each other all the time.”

A lot of work has to be done to the new building, which sits between Jay-Kem and Celebration Ice. A double layer of drywall is being installed to satisfy the fire code. The floor is being poured and walls are being built to make rooms. Coolers and freezers will be installed, as well as new plumbing and electric and gas lines. All this will be done before the equipment is moved.

“It literally is a warehouse right now,” Zehr said. “Basically we’re starting out with a shell of a building, and we’re having to put in everything.”

Work has been ongoing for the last three weeks, and Zehr expects it to take at least another four weeks before the company can move in.

“We’re hoping to not have to shut down,” he said.

Zehr emphasized that he will continue the same service to the Celestine and Dubois communities as before.

“I don’t want Celestine or Dubois to think that just because Sander is moving to Jasper that we’re going to forget them,” he said. “We will do for Celestine and Dubois like we always have.”

Zehr lives in Dubois with his daughters, 18-year-old Bre and 10-year-old Jazlyn, and his wife, Heather, who owns StudioH in Jasper.

Zehr said that Donnie and Linda Sander have always been supportive of him keeping the company going.

“It’s nice that we’ve been able to maintain that relationship. We’re really thankful for them,” he said. “We’re thankful for everyone that came before us and paved the way for us to be successful. It’s not anything that I did or my staff did. We’re just continuing on what was set forth for us.”

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