ERICK — Camala Hinkle was hauling water to oil and natural gas well sites in April 2009 when a customer and friend made a simple suggestion.
“He'd say, ‘I'm so tired of beanie weenies and Ramen noodles. I'd love to have a hot meal,'” Hinkle recalled her friend Mitch McNeill saying. He was an oil-field worker who often spent weeks at a time on well sites, she said.
That prompted Hinkle to clean out her horse trailer, cook up some chicken-fried steak and deliver the food to hungry rig hands.
“We had flour everywhere. That trailer was white,” she said. “It was the biggest mess I have ever seen. It probably was not the best meal I could have picked.”
At first, Hinkle would grill out of the back of a horse trailer, but she soon discovered that it's illegal to cook outside at a well site. She then contacted the Beckham County Health Department and became licensed and fully legal to operate the food delivery business she calls Somekinda Catering.
Hinkle's business has expanded to 22 employees, including four crews that deliver food within a two-hour radius of her Erick headquarters.
One of Hinkle's first actions was to replace herself as head chef.
“I really don't know how to cook,” she said. “These girls will not even let me in the kitchen.”
Exploration and production companies often have food catered during the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, stage of a well process because that is when the most people are on site at the same time. Depending on the size and depth of the well, the process can require between 25 and 90 people on site at any given time.
And companies are willing to pay as much as $18 to $32 per person for their workers to have a decent meal.
Having food on site is beneficial to the rig hands and the companies they work for, said Rickey Tarbet, a consultant for Apache Corp. who oversaw a Somekinda Catering delivery near Sweetwater last week.
“They're out there in the heat working all day, and they appreciate having meals available instead of having to grab something during the day. If you keep them fed, they try to do a good job for you,” Tarbet said.
Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. also often uses Somekinda Catering and other catering services to feed crews working on its rigs.
“Pressure pumping services require near-continuous oversight and most of our job sites in western Oklahoma are in very rural areas, so bringing food to the location improves efficiency and, because it eliminates distractions, enhances employee performance and safety,” Chesapeake spokesman Jim Gipson said.
All in a name
Hinkle, 44, first moved to western Oklahoma — from South Carolina — to open a ranch in 2008. She didn't know whether she was going to have a hunting ranch or a cattle ranch, but decided only that it would be some kind of ranch, which she named Somekinda Ranch.
When she began the catering company, she didn't know what she would specialize in, so she carried over the name and called it Somekinda Catering.
The company provides more than 30 entrees and is constantly adding to its menu.
“If they request it, we cook it,” Hinkle said.
The oil field clients can be particular about what they want and how they want it prepared.
“Sometimes the guys in the oil field will write me out a recipe they want us to try,” she said. “We'll make it, and they say, ‘Add this,' or ‘Try it like that.' They're not at home, so they can't prepare it themselves. But they know how they like it.”
Hinkle is not alone in the field catering business. Oklahoma City-based Swadley's Catering expanded into the oil field business about a year and a half ago.
The company has nine vans dedicated to the oil patch, where it serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and often a midnight meal.
Swadley's oil-field catering service at first was hired as a reward for a successful well.
“If it was a good find and the wells were producing, they'd bring us in to reward the team and keep the guys going,” owner Brent Swadley said.
As the oil and natural gas has led companies into more rural areas, catering has become even more important, Swadley said.
“They don't have the ability to go down the street to a restaurant,” he said. “They work all hours, often getting off at midnight. A lot of them have had to survive on gas station sandwiches and powdered doughnuts.”
The energy companies also are increasingly focused on nutrition. And Somekinda Catering, Swadley's and others have tailored their menus to accommodate the trend.
“We're working hand-in-hand with them to keep the guys healthier and to reduce the amount of cholesterol and sodium they're taking in,” Swadley said.