The 61-year-old Michigan native was working in the restaurant and hospitality industry from an early age at the Hyatt in Dearborn. Wanting a change of scenery, he headed south to Houston, landing a job at a T.G.I. Friday’s.
From there, Mathews bounced across the metro area, working as a chef at country clubs and competing in culinary competitions. In 2010, however, he decided it was time to become his own boss.
“We hit the streets, did some advertising, got our name on the map,” Mathews said.
In July of that year, Mathews opened up Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen, his own catering service. Mathews said he preferred the “ebb and flow” of the catering industry compared to the daily hustle of the restaurant business.
“The restaurant, you’re married to it. ... If you want to be successful, you’ve got to be open every single day,” Mathews said. “Catering gives you that bit more flexibility. ... You can decide to take or not take that event, be your own boss.”
Chef Michael’s saw strong growth thanks to its location, which put him close to fast-growing areas in Magnolia and The Woodlands. While events and weddings make up many of his usual clients, Mathews also brings tents to local festivals, where he cooks street food, bringing exposure that he said contributes to his growth.
One of his biggest client bases, however, took a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. With corporate offices working remotely, there was less demand for office catering, meaning more slow days for Mathews.
“I don’t have any corporate accounts now,” Mathews said. “Now with everyone [working remotely], they don’t need anyone to feed them.”
Supply chain issues also saw price increases for some of Mathews’ most common ingredients, such as beef, dairy and some produce, and meant that he had to plan carefully when purchasing perishable ingredients due to the lower demand for his services.
With in-person events beginning to return, Mathews did record an unprecedented uptick in prebookings—specifically for weddings—for 2022, as of press time, he said.
“A lot [of business] was lost, but most was postponed,” Mathews said. “We are certainly on the uptick now.” “The restaurant, you’re married to it. ... If you want to be successful, you’ve got to be open every single day. Catering gives you that bit more flexibility. ... You can decide to take or not take that event, be your own boss.”
Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen
25435 FM 2978, Ste. 115, Tomball
Hours: Wed.-Fri. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Sat.-Tue.