Mangia bene!

Paul Lema

Photo by Vic Cantu

Paul Lema has always loved cooking. As a boy, he enjoyed his Italian family gatherings, where he helped make huge quantities of ravioli and salsiccia (an Italian sausage). Later, he devoted himself to organizing and cooking for church groups traveling in Mexico. This eventually led to the creation of his Italian Guy Catering business, which he started 10 years ago. Now 63, Lema moved to this area to play football for Chico State. He graduated in 1974, met his wife here and worked as a P.E. teacher at Bidwell Junior High for 25 years, the last 15 of which he spent teaching special education P.E. (he retired three years ago). Aside from catering, Lema also hosts events at his Italian Guy Warehouse (28 Bellarmine Court), which opened in October. Contact Italian Guy Catering 345-5633, visit online at or find it on Facebook

How did you start catering?

I had no formal cooking background, but used to cook for local church youth groups, which I’d take to Mexico to build homes for their impoverished citizens. My cooking became so popular that nearby charity groups there wanted to eat with us, so I had a “cook wagon” made to serve hundreds. Over the years, many of the kids asked me to cater their weddings and other gatherings, so I started a business. When I bought this location 10 years ago, it was just a shell of an empty warehouse. I built several buildings, which house the kitchen, storage, freezer, coolers and the Italian Guy Warehouse facility center, which holds indoor and outdoor gatherings. I couldn’t have done it without my two sons, Kyle and Erik, who set up, cook, shop and deliver.

What types of events do you cater?

On weekends, we do weddings, and during the week, we cater corporate luncheons for groups like Enloe’s cancer survivors’ Celebration of Life, PG&E, Hignell and a twice-a-year fundraiser for the Jesus Center. We also make and deliver balanced meals to individuals who don’t have time to cook for themselves.

What’s the setup at the event space?

Our Italian Guy Warehouse holds up to 80 people, indoors and outdoors. It’s got a bar and dance floor inside, and lights and big heaters outside. Not many local places can host small corporate and group events with the privacy of not being part of a restaurant.

You also offer your kitchen for rent?

Yes. We’re mainly caterers, but many groups and food trucks rent from us, such as Chico State, Truck-a-Roni, Tacos El Pinolero and the Weiner Man hot dog cart. They use our stoves, barbecues, coolers and freezer.