What didn’t fit : ChowgirlsPosted: 07/26/2012
Didn’t get your fill of Amy Lynn Brown and Heidi Andermack of Chowgirls from the “Sneak” peek you read in the July issue of redshoes news? I understand! Devour the full interview, below. (Not yet a subscriber to redshoes news, my monthly email? Sign up here!)
Hey Amy and Heidi! Tell us about your backgrounds.
Heidi Andermack: We were both English majors! I went to a small college in suburban Detroit. I was really into the Detroit music scene, so as soon as I had my driver’s license I would go into the city and sneak into clubs and dive bars. As I began to develop my freelance writing career, I started to feel a glass ceiling in Detroit, and I needed to spread my wings. I craved a more vibrant city life, so I went on a road trip to Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, and Seattle; places where music was really happening in the early 1990s. Minneapolis was the perfect fit.
Amy Lynn Brown: I grew up in Paducah, a small town in western Kentucky. I moved to Lexington for college and then made my way up to Chicago, where I worked for Random House Publishing, marketing their titles in Chicago, St. Louis, Madison, and Minneapolis. Some Kentucky friends were living in Minneapolis, and they always showed me a great time whenever I was here on business. Since I traveled as a Random House rep, I could easily live in any of the places in my territory. The restaurants and cultural activities in Minneapolis were a big draw, as were my relocated Kentucky friends—including the cutie from Lexington who eventually became my husband.
How did Chowgirls start?
AB: We started in 2004, about a year after we met. Heidi had similar tastes in food and styles of entertaining, and we would toss around restaurant and catering ideas for fun.
HA: Then one day Amy called me and said Random House was laying people off, and she wanted to have a fall-back plan in case she lost her job. She asked me if I was serious about this catering thing. So we went out to lunch at Gardens of Salonica and brainstormed.
What’s the story behind the name?
HA: During our lunch, Amy said Chow Baby (or was it Ciao Baby?). I threw out Chow Chicks. Amy volleyed with Chowgirls. And we stopped right there. I went home to register the domain name, and Amy mocked up some logos.
What are each of your roles?
HA: Amy’s the CEO and I’m the reluctant CFO. I had experience with running my husband’s small business, chank.com, and bookkeeping was a big part of that, so it naturally fell into my area of expertise.
AB: We both have marketing backgrounds, so we work on developing a strong brand through marketing and partnerships. I work on proposals to get on venues’ preferred catering lists.
What kind of staff do you have?
HA: Smart, beautiful, and hard-working.
AB: We have about a dozen folks in the kitchen, a few office ladies, four event specialists, a bar manager, two equipment managers, and one general manager. Plus another 40 or 50 servers.
How involved are you with the actual making of the food?
HA: We don’t work much in the Chowgirls kitchen except for special projects. I don’t think either of us really wants to cook for 300 or 500 people.
AB: We develop recipes at our homes and then we work with our kitchen staff to execute our visions.
What sets Chowgirls apart?
HA: Local and organic sets us apart from most corporate catering.
AB: Extraordinary, yet approachable food. We take the snobbery out of gourmet dining so that your aunt and uncle from small-town Iowa can enjoy their eating experience as much as urban hipsters.
What kinds of clients do you have?
HA: We got our start in the arts community and, eight years later, we still find a lot of our business comes from those connections.
AB: Yes, we cater for a lot of arts foundations, as well as professionals in creative industries such as photography, film, architecture, advertising, and graphic design.
HA: And we do a lot of weddings. Our brides and grooms tend to be creative types and/or eco-conscious.
Have any good stories?
AB: I brought fruit salad to Jon Stewart when we catered for The Daily Show during the Republican National Convention! (Fun fact: He doesn’t like cantaloupe.) And Andrew Zimmern reviewed us and then hired us for his wife’s birthday party.
HA: Mayor R.T. Rybak has had our food at a number of events, and always has high praises for what we’re doing to support local and organic farming.
What are your specialties?
AB: Delicious food!
HA: Amy knows all about Southern cooking. And she has great tastes in Irish and Chinese food, too. I’ve really dug into Sicilian, Indian, and Thai cuisines.
Where does your recipe inspiration come from?
AB: Everywhere! When I’m dining out at Bar La Grassa, or my neighborhood Mexican restaurant. When I’m reading a novel or flipping through a magazine. I’m always in tune with food.
HA: Seasonal ingredients at farmers markets and co-ops.
How often do you change your menu?
AB: We add new items every season. Some items will only stay on for that season, while others may get integrated into our full menu.
What are some popular items?
AB: Our roasted and grilled organic vegetables make their way onto almost every menu. We create a beautiful, bountiful platter of perfectly crisp-tender veggies.
HA: They are delicious because of their simplicity; the veggies’ natural flavors are highlighted very nicely.
Tell us about the Parlor.
HA: The Parlor is our private dining room. It’s available for rent for meetings, showers, rehearsal dinners, business lunches, birthday parties, or whatever kind of event that requires an intimate party room.
AB: And we frequently host pop-up restaurant events with seasonally driven menus. Our St. Patrick’s Day dinner featured beautiful whiskey-glazed salmon, shepherd’s pie with local lamb, house-cured corned beef made from Thousand Hills brisket, and 2 Gingers cocktails. Our Mother’s Day brunch was a gorgeous buffet that included vintage tea cups filled with Jell-O made from our grandmothers’ recipes.
HA: Our next dinner will be Sept. 29, honoring the Harvest Moon.
What’s next for Chowgirls?
AB: We have all kinds of ideas for packaged products, cookbooks, and Chowgirls-branded merchandise.
HA: Also, stop by the Parlor on First Thursdays! In August, we’ll feature food photography by local artist Sarah Whiting and her students. In September, we’re opening our Local Food & Beverage Poster Show. We promote Parlor events on our .