The Story of Café TO GO

adapted from article by Lynelle Hamilton, used with permission from Rutherford Woman

I met Liz at Café at the Mall on a Tuesday afternoon. I had a few minutes to look around the dining room and gift area while she wrapped up some business details in the kitchen. I noticed the selection of local honey, homemade jams, specialty sugars, and the assortment of sea salt. I spent a minute gazing dreamily at the beautiful cakes in the bakery case. I heard the soft sounds of conversation, the tinkling sound of dishes, a fork on a plate or a glass being refilled. Immediately I sensed that this was a place that encourages people to linger over a meal, to talk and laugh and enjoy the food and the company. Liz met me in the dining room. We sat down with a cup of coffee and she began to tell me her story.

Liz Rose Berry grew up in Shelby, NC. After graduating from East Carolina University, she completed her Master’s Degree at Emory University and went to work in Atlanta at the Egleston Hospital for Children.

As a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Liz had to assess the specific nutritional needs of each child and then formulate a solution to meet their individual needs. Every aspect of the child’s metabolic condition was heavily monitored. Frequent adjustments were made to the solution in order to correct nutrient deficiencies.

When children left the hospital, Liz spent time educating the parents on the specific nutritional needs of their child and creating personal diet plans for them to follow at home.

After years of working in aseptic conditions in the hospital, Liz decided she wanted to approach food and nutrition from a more preventative point of view. “I’ve always been more interested in preventative, therefore you’ve got to deal with the food issues” she said. She enrolled at Baltimore’s International Culinary School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Liz’s eyes lit up as she told me about her culinary education adventures. In Baltimore, she had the opportunity to study with world renowned Chef Derek Spendlove. Chef Spendlove is originally from Ireland, and it just so happened that the culinary school had just purchased and completed the renovations of a large country club in County Cavan, Ireland. They transformed the old stables into a gleaming, state-of-the-art culinary school. Chef Spendlove took his Baltimore class with him to County Cavan to be the first to study in the new facility.

“Chef Spendlove,” Liz says, “gave us the royal treatment! He knew people all over that country! He knew duck producers. He knew cheese producers. We went to the big Dublin fish market at four in the morning. He had us everywhere. It was fascinating! I learned so much.”

Liz’s training in Ireland was steeped in the European tradition of creating “handmade foods that emphasize flavor.”

Armed with her Dietitian/Nutritionist degree and her newly earned title of Chef, Liz returned to Shelby, North Carolina. She went to work in her family’s business, a leasing company owned by her father since the 1970’s. Liz said that even with all of her culinary training and nutrition knowledge, she “still needed the common sense business training, which my dad definitely gave me.” She worked with her father for 10 years, and then “It came time for me to jump into something that I had always really wanted to do!”

In 1999, Liz opened Café at the Mall in Forest City, cooking everything she could from scratch. Her goal: Instead of telling people what to eat, she wanted to show them how to eat. “I’ve found out that people really want good food!” she exclaimed.

Much of the food Liz serves in the cafe comes from local and regional food sources. The selection “waxes and wanes with the seasons” she says, but she enjoys creating recipes that feature fresh, in season produce. Right now, for example, she is serving fresh applesauce made from apples grown in Hendersonville, and an abundance of sweet potatoes lend themselves to warm seasonal casseroles.

Only natural, hormone-free and antibiotic-free chickens are used, and Liz has three local egg suppliers who keep the café stocked with a great supply of farm fresh eggs. All of the milk and cream products are sourced from a farm in Julian, NC, where the jersey cows are grass fed. “Milk is richer from grass fed cows” Liz explains. The coffee comes from a local roaster, and potted herbs and fruit trees, supplied by a local nursery, compose the edible garden leading to the entrance of the cafe.

Liz also personally raises 100 percent pastured cows to be used for meat in the café. Shortly after opening Café at the Mall, Liz attended the King Arthur Professional Baking Center to learn artisan style bread baking and she opened The Café Baking Company. In keeping with the European tradition, the breads for the café are made using “naturally leavened doughs [such as] sourdough starters as opposed to added yeasts. Our breads take a minimum of 24 hours, and some up to 72 hours. This has both flavor and nutrient benefits” Liz says. The bakery provides the cafe with all the yummy cakes, pies, sweet bread, and sandwich breads. They also provide goods for wholesale.

Liz opened a second restaurant in Tryon, NC, the 10 North Trade Café Bakery. “All the food at both cafes are prepared when you order”, she says, “so it can take a while. Fifteen minutes. Sometimes twenty.

Liz recognized that although many people truly had the desire and intent to eat good food, busy schedules and time constraints left them turning to quicker and less healthy options. To meet the need, Liz opened Café to Go in 2006. The menu reflects her desire to provide plenty of delicious and healthy options for the busy, but conscientious eater. She also included a mini market area where people can pick up fresh eggs, milk, and a variety of Cafe-original recipe, ready to eat foods or prepared casseroles for warming at home. There is truly something for everyone.

“I asked Liz why she chose Forest City as home to the café. “ I started seeking God for His plan for my life about 25 years ago when I was living in Shelby and working in my father’s business. God led me to a wonderful church here that helped me get to the place to have faith and open a restaurant. Looking back, I know He was always in charge. . . It has been a blessing to serve the people who come here. . . I continually thank Him for His grace in my life and businesses.”

With four flourishing businesses, I wanted to know what’s next for Liz Rose Berry? People have talked with her about the possibility of opening a franchise, she says, but she doesn’t want to lose the sense of community, the personal interaction with her customers whom she’s grown to know and love through the years. Many of them even came to her wedding last year when she married “her best friend of 20 years”, Martin Berry.

Liz’s eyes twinkle as she talks about food. Clearly, she is doing what she loves. And clearly, her passion for putting a good wholesome, healthy, and delicious meal on the table, is a blessing for the people of Rutherford County.

As time went on, Liz realized that many people wanted the top-quality food served at Café at the Mall, but their busy schedules did not allow them time to be served in that more traditional restaurant setting. This presented her the opportunity to open up Café TO GO as a quick-service alternative to the original Café at the Mall. The commitment remains the same – to provide wholesome, delicious, excellent quality food at affordable prices in order to help people eat healthier and live better.

The ambiance of Café TO GO is a result of many things: our amazing team of servers, the local farmers and growers that provide much of the food we serve, and the regional artists and craftspeople that create the beautiful items adorning our restaurant. But most of all, we owe it to our wonderful patrons for helping us make Café TO GO into Rutherford County’s best quick-service restaurant. Thanks for spreading the word!!!