A man walks into Katie’s Kitchen in Germantown with hearty greetings all around and proceeds to select mass quantities of the take-out home-cooked meals in which the restaurant specializes.
Katie Oelke, owner of Katie’s Kitchen, prepares a batch of strawberry cakes in the kitchen of her Germantown business, which she opened in 2010.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“We love that man,” said owner Katie Oelke. “He comes in here all the time and always buys so much food. And he’s so nice!”
Just a few minutes earlier, Oelke had been talking about one of her favorite aspects of her job: getting to know her customers. And judging by the warmth with which she greets those customers, combined with inquiries about their children and families, it’s apparent that she walks her talk.
Since it opened in 2010, Katie’s Kitchen has been serving up premade, homemade dishes ready to pop in the oven and serve. The concept has saved countless harried mothers from headaches and provided relief to single professionals and elderly customers who are too tired to cook.
That convenience, combined with the kitchen’s flavorful menu of comfort food, has helped the establishment develop almost a cult following in the Germantown/Collierville/East Memphis area.
It’s a far cry from where Oelke once envisioned herself. Several years ago, the former Memphis schoolteacher would never have guessed she’d be running a business, let alone a food business.
“Looking back now, I can see I just really took the plunge,” Oelke said. “I had never taken a business class. I didn’t have a managerial background. My dad owns his own business, and he gave me a lot of guidance, but I pretty much had to jump in and learn fast.”
When she decided teaching wasn’t for her, Oelke started working part time at a local casserole company. It was such an inspirational and valuable learning experience that she decided to branch out on her own. Cooking had always been a hobby of hers.
“We’re kind of a big food family,” she said. “My uncle worked for Nestlé Carnation, my mother is a home economist and my aunt’s sister is a food scientist.”
Additionally, her Italian grandfather Tony was raised in New Orleans and the rest of her family is from South Mississippi. So you’ll see a little bit of all those influences on the Katie’s Kitchen menu.
“Our most popular items are shrimp and grits and our chicken pot pie,” Oelke said.
Other items include veggie burritos with sweet potatoes, black beans, corn, onions and peppers wrapped in a flour tortilla with cheese; Rotel chicken spaghetti with white meat chicken mixed in a cheesy, Rotel sauce over spaghetti noodles; and poppy seed chicken with white meat chicken in a sour cream sauce, topped with poppy seeds and buttered cracker crumbs; to name just a few.
She also has daily specials, which she communicates to followers through Facebook, on her website – katieskitchengtown.com – and through her email newsletter.
Some of Oelke’s recipes are family recipes. Others are recipes she’s pulled out of magazines and tweaked. Some are combinations of recipes she finds and still others come from friends and acquaintances.
“Sometimes I’ll have an idea for the kind of food I want to eat myself,” she said. “So I’ll search for that recipe and then adjust it and add to it until I like it.”
She also partners with local businesses such as Aunt Lizzie’s Cheese Straws and Las Delicias to offer more local variety in store. She’s particularly excited about partnering with Ultimate Foods of Memphis in 2014.
“They’re each individually portioned and they’re gluten-free so now we’ll be better equipped to handle our customers’ special needs.”
Her New Year’s Resolution?
“We really need to get more innovative with our food and try new things. I want to try some new items for Christmas and Easter,” Oelke said. “I really want to concentrate more on food development for 2014.”
Oelke is constantly striving to up her game and better her business. She gets the most enjoyment out of the camaraderie at the store and working together to make good food and watch people enjoy it.
“Life is too short to eat bad food,” she said.