Hello frozen dinners and restaurant take out. Fast, yes, but not exactly healthy.
Kathy Katz opened Cooper Street 20/20 in 2012, its name giving a nod to the restaurant she operated inside the Southern College of Optometry for 25 years.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
But what if those frozen dinners actually are of the home-cooked variety, prepared with fresh ingredients that are often sourced at the Memphis Farmers Market and other regional producers?
Kathy Katz operates Cooper Street 20/20 from a storefront in the Cooper-Young District. Since opening at 800 S. Cooper St. in 2012, she quickly has become a staple in the neighborhood, in part because of the reputation and following she has built through her years of selling prepared meals at the farmers market.
“I do this for love,” Katz said. “I always tease and say I’m not here to make profit, I’m here to make friends.”
Katz makes a variety of entrees, sides, soups and more each week. She immediately puts them in large freezers that customers then come in and peruse for a selection that could be dinner that evening or for later in the week.
She typically makes 16 to 18 soups every week to go with a core menu of entrees such as chicken Newport, roasted eggplant lasagna, meat lasagna, tomato mozzarella pie, hot tamale pie and Greek chicken pot pie; starters that include hummus, pimento cheese and chicken salad; and a variety of sides.
The business had its start in the 1980s at Southern College of Optometry, where Katz operated a restaurant for 25 years. Operating a restaurant in a college, Katz often found herself heating up lunches for students.
So she advocated for the purchase of microwaves. The college listened.
Those students who brought their lunches often did so with eclectic lunchboxes that they would give to Katz. Today, those lunchboxes line the top of the freezers at Cooper Street 20/20.
Katz had an extensive menu at the college. Yes, she had a deep fryer and griddle – “You’re in a college; you’re stupid to not have chicken tenders and fries,” she said. But she also served soups and other healthy fare.
During her time at the college she operated another restaurant in an antique store for a brief time, catered on weekends and eventually settled on preparing meals to sell at the Memphis Farmers Market.
Today, she stuffs coolers full of her prepared meals to take from the store to sell at the market. As she sells those items and empties the coolers, she stocks up on fresh meats and produce from vendors at the market to bring back to the store to prepare.
The market business remains an important part of Cooper Street 20/20 while also serving customers in the Cooper-Young storefront.
Katz has fond memories of cooking as a child. She had a pink cardboard kitchen in her bedroom.
“I’d come home from kindergarten and my mother would say, ‘Did you know your father and you are having happy hour?’ I’d look in the fridge and see these little things. I’d go to my room and cut up the stuff so we could have a cocktail party,” Katz said.
“We never fried food at home but my mother would let me fry chicken in the house and for Sabbath dinner my brother and I would make the table pretty. She’d let me make mashed potatoes. I remember she’d make a meatloaf and she’d sit me on the floor with a little pan of meat. She’d say, ‘Go get your dad,’ then she’d throw it away because it had been all over the floor. She’d then make another little one and say, ‘Here’s Kathy’s meatloaf.’”
Katz’s mother played an important role in her business growth.
The transition from the Southern College of Optometry restaurant to the space in Cooper-Young came in 2012. Katz’s mother had been sick. And before she passed in July 2012, Katz was able to share her business dream.
“I went to my mother and said this is my dream, to open a shop and leave the college,” Katz said. “I’m glad she knew what would happen. … I miss her but I didn’t want her to suffer.”
Katz gave a 90-day notice at the college, setting in motion the business transition. The long notice eased the transition for the college as Katz began looking toward taking over a space that previously had been occupied by Muddy’s Bake Shop.
She took the keys on Halloween night at midnight and moved in on Nov. 1, 2012.
“When I walked in this place there was AstroTurf on the floor and a water fountain. Nothing else,” Katz said. “Twenty days later we had put everything in and passed inspection. When the last man came I said, ‘What do I do now?’ He said, ‘Cook.’”