After living in Louisville for six years and writing about countless restaurants in town, it’s rare for anyone to mention an established Derby City restaurant that I haven’t at least heard of. That’s why I was surprised to learn that Crave Café & Catering was in business in Clifton, one of my favorite neighborhoods! – long before I even thought of living in Kentucky.
“We’ve been here 16 years,” owner Shannon Foster told the Courier Journal. “This is Frankfort Avenue’s best kept secret. There (are) people who (have) lived in this neighborhood for years and years (and) have just found out (we are) here.”
Foster tells me she was a hairstylist in the 80s, but after getting married and giving birth to her first son, her career took an unexpected turn.
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“I had a little side job at the waiting tables and ended up loving it,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Screw the hair.'”
She held positions in different restaurants and was part of the team that opened the first Outback Steakhouse in Louisville. After spending seven years there, she quit the business and started serving in her mother’s kitchen. Once that business took off, Foster expanded and began operating out of a downtown Louisville kitchen.
“(He) was very successful leading up to 9/11,” she said. “(But) in 2006, I got the itch again and opened this place (in 2007).”
As its name suggests, Crave Café & Catering thrives on its catering business. Foster and her team provide supplies for corporate and/or private parties almost daily, using two food trucks – which occasionally make appearances at public events around town – to transport the dishes.
But the brick-and-mortar location is also bustling throughout the day. Nestled between a car dealership and a home improvement company on Frankfort Avenue, the 900 square foot space can accommodate approximately 25 people. The café’s offering includes more than three dozen salads, sandwiches and wraps, as well as a rotating menu of nearly 50 soups.
“We (serve) three homemade soups every day that fly away,” Foster said. She adds that the most popular choices are the spicy cheeseburger, tomato gouda cheese, chicken tortellini and cheesy cauliflower, to name a few. “Any type of soup you can think of, we (prepare).”
Besides the soups, she says her regulars really enjoy the three chicken salads. There’s the cashew chicken salad; the Sweetie Pie Chicken Salad, which comes with red grapes, candied pecans and celery; and Granny Ruth’s Chicken Salad, which is made with green olives, pecans, chopped eggs, and celery, and is Foster’s grandmother’s recipe.
Some menu items offer fun odes to the region — like Lexington, Stockyard, and Zorn sandwiches — or other people, like Joe’s Special. The hot sandwich, featuring grilled chicken, Swiss baby and apple tree bacon over ciabatta, is served with honey mustard for dipping.
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“We created this for one of our very good early customers,” Foster explained. He had asked them for a sandwich with these particular items – and when he and his friends kept coming back with the same order, she decided to add it to the menu.
In addition to Crave’s extensive home-cooked menu, Foster offers a few other locally made items for purchase, including Mr. C’s cheesecakes, which are served in small plastic containers.
“He’s a local guy (and) he actually works at Norton,” she said. “He started this… side hustle (and also has) a little food truck trailer.”
Mr. C’s flavors include everything from Oreo to Red Velvet to Orange Dreamicle.
“Sweet 502 does all my bars and cupcakes and things like that,” Foster added.
Although she and her team have been busy recently, she says it was tough when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
“I had a kidney removed (this) February,” she recalls. “One time (it all started) we didn’t know what was going on, (and) I was at very high risk at that time.”
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Foster decided to shut down completely for six weeks. They slowly got things back on track, initially offering only takeout. The restaurant didn’t fully reopen until July 2021. Fortunately, most of its team stuck around — and Crave seems to be running like a well-oiled machine.
“I couldn’t ask for a better crew,” Foster said. “The five (employees) I have here right now have all been here for six years (or more, and) just when we reopened, everyone was pretty excited. They were ready to come back and get on with it. put it there.”
Foster adds that she helped all of her workers file for unemployment while they were temporarily closed; and once they were able to return, she offered a little extra with each paycheck.
“(For) the first month or so I gave a little bonus – like a hazard bonus,” she said. “I take care of my people, and they know it. I would never let anyone go hungry…or anything like that.”
She adds that her crew is strong, but adding another member to the team would be helpful. They currently operate during summer hours – which means Crave is only open on weekdays – but Foster also plans to open on Saturdays in a few weeks.
“Just come see us,” she said. “Worth the drive from Middletown or St. Matthews or anywhere. You’ll be back – I guarantee it.”
Given the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic, the focus of our weekly restaurant column will change for the foreseeable future. Each week, Lennie Omalza will interview restaurants struggling to adapt and survive while serving our community. Please send your cover suggestions to Managing Editor Kathryn Gregory at [email protected]
WHAT: This is a locally owned cafe and catering business that serves over three dozen salads, sandwiches and wraps, as well as a rotating menu of nearly 50 soups.
WHERE: 2250 Frankfurt Ave.
SERVICES: Indoor dining, outdoor seating, take-out and catering; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday; closed Saturday and Sunday
CONTACT: 502-896-1488, craveonlinelouisville.com