Mike Fisher in the Baler Barn. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Mike Fisher in the Baler Barn. Photo by Robert Eliason.

This season, visitors at Baler home football games will be in for a new experience as culinary arts instructor Mike Fisher and his Hollister High cooking class students take over the operation of the Baler Barn, the school’s football field concession stand.

“The culinary program has formed a new partnership with the athletic department,” said Fisher, who also owns Fisher’s Catering. “We will prep all the food and maintain production in our classes and then use that prep to manage the concessions at the football stadium.”

Fisher took over the Barn at the request of Hollister High School Athletic Director Todd Thatcher after David Clay, who had been handling the concession previously, decided to retire.

“We were uncertain as to who was going to take over the snack barn,” Thatcher said. “And to be able to get someone like Mike Fisher, a professional chef and restaurateur, is really exciting.” 

Thatcher’s request was not expected, but Fisher was ready for the challenge.

“People are not scared of asking me to get involved in things,” Fisher said. “And I usually entertain the thought. But it made sense for us to take this on. Todd and I both knew that what we were talking about would have great obstacles in terms of schedules and timing, but we knew it was possible and sustainable.”

Fisher had seen the Barn in operation while attending games and was familiar with similar large-scale food vending operations. 

“I am always enthralled by any food service operation,” he said. “So I loved the operation of it.  How to do things quick and smooth like a well-oiled machine. So I definitely have a learning curve ahead of me, but my goal is not to go backward. We want the lines to move faster—that is the first priority—and we want the food to have more of a special touch to it.”

During football games, the Barn serves over 600 tri-tip sandwiches to the spectators and over 300 hotdogs to the coaches, players and cheerleaders. 

“Cooking 300 hotdogs is enough work in itself,” he said. “But the challenge is not so much the scope of the work; it is giving the tools to the volunteers and paid student employees. You need to put the tools in front of them and give them the education to be successful. I would not say, ‘you guys go get the 300 hotdogs and cook them.’ I would take them through it step by step three or four times, and then I could say, ‘make me 300 hotdogs,’ and they would not have to ask any questions.”

It will take Fisher’s students the entire week before a game to prepare the food.

“We will develop a dry rub seasoning mix in the class, creating a consistent measurement,” he said. “That in itself is a big operation. Then every week, we will dry rub the tri-tips, let them marinate, then pack them over to the barn. That is only one of 10 things we need to do, not including cleaning up—80% of cooking is setup and cleanup. We also need to prepare the fresh produce for the hamburgers, and we are making our own chili in-house—that’s a big one.”

While Fisher expects to remove a few items from the menu and vary it by adding occasional specials, the fan favorites are guaranteed to stay.

“People come from outside games, and they are not used to having such a high-quality menu,” Fisher said. “I have been told by several people, ‘You can’t mess up our tri-tip sandwiches—that’s our thing here,’ and I want to maintain items like that and add to them. I like the idea of crispy chicken sandwiches and carnitas tacos, too, but we will see what the demand is for things like that.”

With the first home game rapidly approaching, a non-league matchup against Valley Christian High School on Sept. 8, Fisher is looking forward to the experience.

“I want to be able to do this every year,” Fisher said. “I want this to be the new norm for the cooking class. And I want to listen to the feedback from customers so I can bring it back to my students and say, “The ball is in your court; how do we give the people what they want?’ I just hope it is amazing.”


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