John Woods First Choice Catering

John Woods, owner of First Choice Catering in Horn Lake, has seen his catering service stop with the pandemic. However, Woods has repurposed his business to cooking heat and serve meals, a popular option in the area a few years ago. 

A well-known DeSoto County catering service is not letting the coronavirus pandemic completely shut down its operation. For now, it’s just going in a different direction.

John Woods and First Choice Catering have for years been in the business of serving exceptional food for events, like weddings, banquets, meetings, and receptions, anything from the large to small. Woods and First Choice Catering have won several awards for its food and service.

However, a business on its way to another successful year came screeching to a halt with the pandemic declaration and announcements of social distancing, not grouping above 10 people, and restaurants being told it could no longer offer dine-in food.

Woods likened what happened to the foodservice industry to a meteor colliding with the earth.

“It’s like a big meteor hit and destroyed everything,” Woods said. “In one day alone we had thousands of dollars of events canceled. Everything was canceled in the remainder of the month of March, April, and May. We had a huge weekly client who canceled everything for the year. It caused irreparable damage to a large majority of people in my industry.”

Instead of letting coronavirus paralyze his operation, Woods took to offering an option he has used before: heat and serve meals.

“I always knew it would come in handy one day,” said Woods. “We hit the ground running with this thing and it looks like it’s going to meet a real need for people.”

Heat and serve meals had already impacted the market before when Woods helped open Borrowed Time Meals at a location on Getwell Road in Southaven near DeSoto Central High School. There, entrees were put together and made ready for customers to take home, heat up in the oven or microwave, and become tasty family meals to be enjoyed at their own table.

“That was the whole premise behind it, to prepare heat and serve meals for people’s convenience,” Woods said. “That being people who just didn’t have time to cook or didn’t have the ability to cook. Soccer moms, people who had elderly parents that needed nutrition.”

Woods said he actually had to step away from the Borrowed Time Meals concept because its success was taking him away from his First Choice Catering business.

But, with the catering business now suffering from the effects put on it from the pandemic, Woods has returned to the heat and serve concept to keep operating.

“We’re preparing a line of entrees, casseroles, side dishes that are geared toward the family, individuals or people with elderly parents they are concerned about feeding,” Woods explained. “Really, it was just a matter of getting the product in and starting to cook. We got the business up and running in the matter of just a day.”

Woods kept the recipes he put together for Borrowed Time Meals and his wife had him ready well ahead of time to guard against a calamity and quickly respond to it.

“We were fortunate in that I’ve been in business for 30 years and after 9/11 my wife basically got us prepared for a disaster, so we’re going to continue to operate and employ people here as much as possible,” said Woods. “We’re just repurposing our business to something that we’ve not been geared to do for a long time.”

The repurposed business has also been able to continue with almost all of its fulltime people, who, while getting the paychecks reduced from what they formerly received, are still glad to still be working, Woods said.

The meals are made with the utmost care and Woods makes sure they reflect the excellent health reports scores First Choice Catering has gotten in the past.

“We’ve always gotten an ‘A’ and we’re very conscious of having our facilities clean,” said Woods. “We’re sanitizing more than usual, always wearing gloves for every task, washing hands, not allowing anyone into the building.”

In fact, the shifts are set up to have only the bare minimum number of people working at one time.

“I’m here in the morning cooking, then I’ll have someone come in and do the cleanup, sanitation and then I’ll have someone come in and pull the orders and get them ready for delivery or pick up and to meet the client when they come,” Woods said. “We’ve eliminated just about all contact with one another through this process.”

To order, customers may go to the website menus.firstchoicecatering.com, order and pay directly from there. For more information, you may also call 662-342-2559. People have also gone to the First Choice Catering Facebook page for menus before they call in an order.

Woods will continue with the heat and serve meals because the catering side of his business will take a while to recover.

“If and when it does start back up again, it will take a long time, because people generally would book events six months to a year out or more,” Woods said. “Even if they started booking today, you’re looking at another six months to a year before the event takes place.”