Tell us a little about yourself. Where were your born, raised and where do you live now?
“I was born and raised in Manistee, Michigan and came to Nashville in 1983, first working at the airport Marriott. I now live in Donelson Hills.
Family? Married, children?
“After were together for years, we made it official in December 2018 at FiftyForward with an unbelievable ceremony and reception. We have been blessed with two sons, John, 25, and Bobby, 17.”
Where did you graduate high school?
“I graduated high school from Manistee Catholic Central and attended college at Lansing Community College, where I received an associate’s degree in business culinary.”
I understand you are the chef at Donelson Café and Catering that operates out of the FiftyForward facility. Please tell us the history of your career as a chef.
“I began my career working in a country club in Michigan shortly thereafter traveling to Nashville where I began working at the Marriott. Someone mentioned going over to Opryland and putting in an application. At that time, the hotel was only about 300 rooms. I was hired there spending close to 20 years most of my culinary career there working with many culinary greats and learning so much about cooking, preparation and service. I worked under the leadership of people like Siegfried Ensigeburger, Richard Gerst and other notables.
“During my career, I also spent time with a catering company at Starwood Amphitheater, TomKat's, and their leader, Tom Morales, who now dominates the restaurant scene here in Nashville. There again, I soaked in so much knowledge, techniques and skill. I worked on movies with national and local entertainers – too many to mention – concerts, huge events and things that began to shape our city like the Broadway Dinner Train, Dancing in the District, the Sara Lee Golf Classic and so much more.”
Have you always loved to cook?
“Yes, I have always loved to cook and the creation of taste and dishes through experimenting with ingredients.”
How did you come to work at Donelson Café?
“The owner of what was then named the Palm Tree Café called, and I worked a catering event. The passion that drives me is making people feel good and happy with the food.”
Tell us all about Donelson Café. I feel people don’t realize you have a full-blown restaurant there. What are the hours, and are you open now after restraints related to the pandemic?
“It surprises me. Usually several times a week when a customer will say I never knew you were here. Or we will tell a customer we are located at 108 Donelson Pike inside FiftyForward Donelson Station, and they will ask, ‘Where is that.’”
You are open to the public, right?
“Yes, our cafe dining room is open to the public once again. We have seen an increase in pick-up orders and curbside. We are open Mondays through Fridays from 10:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. for luncheon café.
About how many people do you serve each day?
“This number thankfully seems to be trending up once again. We serve from 15 to 30 people a day.”
Do you consider yourself a hidden gem in the middle of Donelson?
“Most definitely since we still struggle with people finding us and knowing where we are located. Then add very reasonable pricing, always fresh, top quality, local ingredients, good cooking, great service, and it sounds like the type place most, if hidden, would want to search out.”
Old timers you love who come to savor your food?
“I have had the honor and pleasure of feeding so many and like so much hearing the stories of our city and community from years’ past. Hearing a story from people like Willie McDonald, Jane Eakes or Phil Ponder is an honor.”
Tell us about your day there.
“Days there are filled with the things one might think such as planning, preparing, cooking and cleaning. But early on, we decided to always try to spend time giving back and helping others, as well.”
What is your bestseller menu item? Please indulge us with recipe.
“Chicken and dressing. The recipe is easy. You take a chicken and dress it. Share the recipe? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Your personal favorite recipe?
“I like the church cookbook ones or ones passed down in the family with a pinch of this and dash of that are always some of my favorites.”
If you shut down completely, how did you navigate your time?
“We have not shut our doors one day. We have to thank FiftyForward, which has been closed, but since our business was an essential service, we have been able to remain open. When the tornado hit in March, and we had a huge event the next day, lost power, our community devastated, what would we do? We emptied our refrigerators and freezers, made a plan, gathered volunteers, started making sandwiches and items for those who needed help, the first responders and others. Delivering them out into the streets and neighborhoods hit. Then the pandemic drove people into their homes, and businesses shut down. Again, we stopped only long enough to figure out what could we do to help. So, we set out to identify those with needs. Once we had identified them, we began to deliver, with the help of volunteers, Mondays through Fridays and more when needed. We had one delicious cooked and prepared meal for them. In the weeks that have followed, the list has grown.
“Our first drive-through feeding was Easter Sunday. This was supported with contributions, donations and love offerings of those within our neighborhood, community and city. We have now created a GoFundMe page in hopes to be able to continue to identify those with need and to serve all.”
Who is your mentor? Why? Are you a mentee to anyone?
I lost my mentor last year, a dear friend, Larry Keeton, who also was a great storyteller of the past. He had a life filled with service to his country, state, city and community. He spent his life helping others and giving back. I was so blessed to be able to spend time with him during the years, months, weeks and final days of life. He was Santa and friend to so many and will be missed forever.”
“To relax, I like to garden, and travel, as well. I like to thrift store shop and do still collect way more than I should. Have collections of Waterford crystal and Hummels. Still collect way more than I should even though the market on antiques and collectibles is very soft.”
What would surprise us about you?
“I never cook at home.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“I always wanted a cafe with a component of gift shopping within. Let's say put it near a beach, and I am there. I love the seniors we feed here at FiftyForward Donelson Station and fit right in being one myself.”
“You heard about her I guess. Yes, a beautiful young female terrier mix named Nellie.”