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Interview with a Specialty Caterer
blaisepascal
Henchmen know the dangers of working for the sort of unconventional geniuses and philanthropists that world Governments despise. But they also know of the benefits, too, like high pay, effective but unusual medical care, and surprisingly good food. What most don't know is that many of the most successful quote-unquote Evil Geniuses we work for subcontract their catering to one company. This week, Henchmen Weekly has an exclusive interview with Daryl Hakala, caterer to the megalomaniacal.



HW: Over the past 50 years, you've built this business from nothing into the largest underground catering operation in the world. How did you get your start?

DH: I first got involved in henching when I was just a teen, living in the Florida Keys. I ran into Dr. Julius No, and was captivated by his vision (you know how that goes). He had a small operation then, only a few dozen of us working for him, but even then we ran into the typical problem of secret organizations: shipping.

HW: You mean, how do you get equipment into and out of a hidden base undetected?

DH: Yeah. In the Keys it's very hard because everything has to come by boat, but with the wide-open waters with very shallow seas, there's lots of island, fishermen, customs patrols, and so on.

It turns out that food is a particularly difficult challenge. 50 henchmen can easily eat a few hundred pounds of fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables a week, so constant shipments have to keep coming in. And if you keep buying from the same nearby suppliers, it gets suspicious, you know?

Julie gave me the task of solving it, and it became my main job to scour the markets in the Keys for food for our base. I was fairly good at it, and soon had a route from Miami to Havana hitting up about a dozen markets on rotation.

As Dr. No's operation grew, I had to keep finding more and more food suppliers. Dr. No had also decided that the Florida Keys were too risky, and arranged to move to a key off of Jamaica. I had to scout out new suppliers. This was good, because between Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola the Caymans, as well as Central and South American coasts, it's easy to find plentiful, cheap, good quality food from people who won't ask too many questions.

HW: When did you start out on your own in the catering business?

DH: When I was 23, I was running a boatload of food -- about a month's supply for the 500 people Dr. No had on Crab Key -- when I saw smoke and explosions on the horizon coming from Crab Key. I had one of my crew get in a Zodiac and scout to see what was going on. The base was utterly destroyed, Julius himself was dead, buried in guano.

So there I was, with a boatload of meats, tropical fruits, and fresh vegetables, and no place to go. I also had contracts with markets throughout the Caribbean, and no way to pay them. I knew of Erik Hukill from my days scouring the Miami markets; he was working for Emilio Largo out of the Bahamas. I got him on the radio, and asked him if he wanted to buy the boatload.

HW: So you then ended up working for Largo?

DH: No. Erik was a good guy, and wanted to help, but Largo's operation wasn't as large as Julie's. He couldn't take the entire boatload, but he did know of a few other remote islands with secret bases that might need some. By the time we sailed into the Bahamas a week later, we had sold the whole boatload, and I had 6 regular contracts in hand. Erik offered me a job; I offered him a delivery contract instead.

Things just grew from there. After Largo's operation shut down, Erik came to work for me.

HW: One thing our readers keep telling us about your operation is that it isn't just the quality of the ingredients which is so great, but that you do top-notch food prep as well. How did that come about?

DH: One thing I noticed early on in making my deliveries was that often times there were two types of food ordered for any location: traditional staples like eggs, potatoes, bananas, cod, tuna, and the like for the henchmen, and lobster, steak, swordfish, and truffles for the head of the organization. I was hearing lots of complaints from the henchmen about the quality of the food -- complaints I took hard because I worked hard to provide good supplies to them.

At the same time, there were grumbles from my customers about the fact that I needed to know where their secret facilities were to make deliveries. I was having trouble expanding my customer base because of this.

So in order to get a lucrative contract with the Spang Brothers in Sierra Leone, I made a deal: I would leave a small crew of 5 top-notch cooks to run the kitchens -- at my cost -- who would also act as "hostages", ensuring my silence as to the location of the base. My guys knew the risks, but it paid off. The Spang's henchmen loved the arrangement, and after that operation ended, they spread the word as they went to work elsewhere around the world.

Pretty soon, customers started seeking me out, as they found more and more henchmen were asking them if we were the caterers during job interviews. I was astonished the first time I heard that.

HW: I bet! We all know henching is a high-risk profession; have you lost any of your cooks?

DH: Rarely. Most of the operations we serve end badly, as is typical in this field. But most experienced henchmen know how to plan an escape for when the alarms start going off and the secret agents trigger the self-destruct sequence. Our guys are all experienced volunteers. Still, it's not risk free. In one particularly challenging operation (the Evil Genius who hired us was running an operation literally under the Arecebo Observatory in Puerto Rico, undetected by the Cornell University staff), in the final explosions and destruction of the base, one of the cooks got flash-frozen by a liquid nitrogen spill. But usually we get our guys out.

HW: The end of the cold war brought a lot of changes to the henching business. How did you weather that period?

DH: Over the years, Evil Geniuses come and go. I rarely keep a particular client for over 10 years before some government interferes and brings them down. The end of the cold war led to the end of Evil Geniuses concerned about the Communist/Capitalist divide, but it was timed with the rise of the "technology can save the world" Evil Genius. There were a few hard years, but as I'm sure Henchmen Weekly knows, the field sprang back, just with different goals. It'll always be here, you just have to keep on henching, that's all.

HW: How have your menus changed over the years?

Less than you'd think. Good food is good food, although tastes and nutrition guidelines do change. We have always prided ourselves on service fresh, well prepared, nutritious food, so we've never relied on the foods considered "bad" today.

Working with traditional regional diets has been a big help in this. The foods native to a region we serve are typically fresh and nutritious already, and easy to integrate into our menus. As such, we already cover many of the food fads out there: we serve the "China Diet" in Asia, the "Mediterranean Diet" in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and northern Africa, and so forth.

HW: And in South Beach?

DH: Heh, I won't confirm or deny if we have clients in South Beach. But I didn't serve Dr. No the South Beach Diet at the time we were in the Keys.

There have been some changes, however. When I started, I didn't have many special menus I had to deal with. It was easy: most food could be regionally sourced, and most henchmen were willing to accept what was served. Now, with a much wider operation, there are more special requests I have to deal with. So in various places I have to make sure our kitchens and foods are kosher, halal, vegetarian, and so forth. More henchmen have food allergies than in the past, as well. Imagine running a halal kitchen in Thailand when the head henchman has a peanut allergy!

HW: You've been doing this for over 50 years now. What are your plans for retirement?

DH: I've made transition plans for my business for when I have to retire. But right now, I'm successful, I have lots of money saved up, and things are going great. I'm in my 70's now; if I was the sort who wanted to retire, I could have done it a decade ago.

Still, there are times when I just want to go to my own secluded island, sit in a "modern"-styled swivel office chair, pet a white cat, and laugh maniacally. But that day isn't quite yet.

HW: This has been a fascinating interview. I'd like to thank you for your time, and for shedding a little light on this under-appreciated role in the field of henching.

DH: My pleasure.



We here at Henchmen Weekly know there is more you want to know about how the food you are eating gets to you. Daryl Hakala has graciously agreed to answer readers questions in the comments below.

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While I only mentioned Dr. No, Emilio Largo, and the Arecebo Observatory location as specific clients, I don't wish to limit this to just James Bond villains. I should have figured a way to include Drs. Krupov, Wu, and Schneider, for instance, to make that clear.

Does your operation provide wait staff as well? In my own organization the top tier heads had always personal valets and low level henchs ate cafeteria style but mid- to upper level management was always a problem. The completion from banking and Wall Street made it a bit difficult to attract promising talent. An MBA from a top school does not expect to bus his own table. As you so rightly noted, at that level it’s all about the perks. While the recent hostile take-over by Halliburton has swelled the ranks of upper level evil, it has only intensified the minion problem. In-house training, which traditionally included a year of menial service, has been discontinued. Do you see a business opportunity in outsourcing minions?

Edited at 2012-07-23 06:07 pm (UTC)

We are rarely asked to provide waitstaff. Outsourcing operations like ours are rare among our clients. Most want to keep the number of outsiders who know of their plans to a minimum -- that is, until the day comes for the big reveal, of course. Most want to hire henchmen who are loyal to their cause, not someone else's. I think we are accepted because of our reputation and because we excel in solving a logistical nightmare most of them would rather not deal with.

I'll pass on a bit of advice: It's true that many in "middle management" wish to have the personal service perks of your upper level "evil genius". Volunteer for the job. Not only will it get you out of the daily grind of digging new tunnels or making sure the sharks are fed, it'll make you known to the higher ups and provide you with more opportunities to perform important sensitive tasks, like courier duty or minor assassination. You'll also be in a better position to hear when the secret agents are captured, so you can make your escape. Being valet to the section chief always looks good on your resume.

I don't compete much with Haliburton. They tend to go for the government jobs, and I'm sure you know that most of the Evil Geniuses we work for are not the government -- at least, not yet. We have beat out Haliburton for some contracts, but those tend to be the real "men-in-black" operations.

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