Sometimes old habits die hard. That’s OK by Cherie Hufford.
“I was a teacher for so long,” Hufford said as she stood admiring the wood, stainless steel and glass facilities that mark her new endeavor. “I remember I’d plan and organize the books. After awhile it was just like, ‘C’mon, let’s get the kids in here.’”
But this time, instead of Cherie’s classroom it's , or at least it will be as of Tuesday when New Town’s latest dining establishment opens its doors to what the ex-educator hopes will be a crowd of customers. So far, she said she’s seen positive signs from the community.
“They are just really happy that I’m opening,” she said. “Every day, somebody comes by and says ‘I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to coming by and having breakfast.’ People are just really excited to have a new place to hang out.”
That place is a former wine bar that Hufford has converted into an establishment specializing in serving breakfast, lunch and a variety of baked goods. The 600-square-foot facility seats about two dozen. When warmer weather comes, Hufford will expand to include outdoor tables set up in the shade of a retractable awning.
The concept is simple but effective. Breakfast will include a mix-and-match menu in which patrons can choose pancakes, waffles or French toast finished with a variety of sweet toppings such as blueberries, peaches or chocolate chips. Other traditional morning favorites like scrambled eggs, oatmeal and hash browns casserole will be on hand as well.
Hufford said she thinks the strawberries and cream French toast and the bananas Foster waffles will be the house specialties.
“I’ve tested them out and they’ve received quite a big round of applause,” she said. “One of my daughters doesn’t like bananas, doesn’t like cinnamon and doesn’t like French toast and I served it to her and she ate the whole thing so it must be OK.”
The menu doesn’t stop after breakfast. A variety of salads from Caesar to Mediterranean will be available as will soups, a cheese quesadilla, turkey on a croissant, roast beef on focaccia and “The Italian,” an assortment of provolone, salami, ham, lettuce, tomato and dressing on a roll.
For those who prefer bread products, there’s the baking side of the operation, in which cupcakes, homemade fruit and cream pies, cookies, muffins and fresh baked biscuits are the order of the day.
All items are on the menu anytime the restaurant is open, and Hufford said prices are meant to be affordable. The most expensive item on the menu is $7.99.
Hufford will keep the baked goods toward the front of the shop in a display case visible the moment customers walk in the door. That’s not by accident.
“That way they can save room before they start,” she said.
Hufford was a fan of the culinary arts long before she turned her chalk in for an apron. Sometimes she’d even combine the two.
“In college, I did the short-order thing for awhile,” she said. “Even with my students, I taught history for a long time, and we would do lessons on cooking throughout history. I would work it into my life.”
Returning to the Midwest was something of a homecoming for Hufford, originally a native of Wisconsin. Hufford taught for many years in Los Angeles. Her work aspirations changed, however her husband took a job in St. Louis. Upon arrival, Hufford found the pickings were sparse for someone with a master's degree in educational administration, particularly in a down economy.
"Someone with a master's degree and 20 years of experience, you have to pay them more, and people don't want to do that," she said. "Every day the newspaper seemed like it was talking about a school district firing a bunch more people. It just led me to think that this other thing that I've been wanting to do for so long, it was really the time to give it a shot."
She considered other locations for the new venture but eventually settled on New Town.
"The thing about New Town is you have a built-in clientele and a really friendly atmosphere," she said. "I also liked the location near industry, so I'm not just limited to local clientele."
Her husband Chris is a co-owner but will concentrate his efforts on the business side, she said.
"This is my baby," she said.
She said that in her new venture, she wants to always stay on the cutting edge.
“I know that things will change over time,” she said. “I know that you have to make your clientele happy and stay alert to the changing tastes of the nation, too.”
Hufford, an ex-assistant principal, said she has developed a philosophy of serving the public during the two months of hard work it’s taken to set up the operation.
“I just want to make everybody comfortable and happy,” she said. “That includes my employees. If my employees are happy, then I think my customers will be happier, so that’s important to me.”
She hadn’t originally planned on opening in New Town, but the moment she saw it, she said she fell in love.
“The whole point is that people want a small town atmosphere, so I’m hoping they’ll treat me like family,” she said. “So far everyone’s been really accepting and wonderful. I’m really appreciative of that.”
Hufford said that it was that family atmosphere that made her eager to jump at the opportunity.
“I want them to enjoy having a nice, clean, comfortable place to come where they can get some decent food, have good conversation and feel welcome and at home,” Hufford said. “That’s really my goal.”
Located at 3301 Domain St., Cherie’s Kitchen is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.