Kathy Katz is moving the farmers market indoors.
A veteran restaurateur and staple of Memphis area farmers markets set her sights on a brick-and-mortar location for the new year.
"It was a scary time to open this place, but people are coming in and buying my stuff," said Katz, owner of Cooper Street 20/20. "Hopefully people who know me from the markets will follow me here. It's basically a commissary. You walk in the door and you pick out your food."
Katz took possession of the approximately 2,000-square-foot bay in a strip shopping center on Cooper on Nov. 20. The space had previously been a commercial kitchen, but Katz spent the end of 2012 moving in equipment and resolving code enforcement issues.
Shoppers at the Memphis Farmers Market and the Memphis Botanic Garden Farmers Market know her as "the soup lady" for her homemade African peanut, tomato basil, and potato leek soups, as well as a number of spreads and sauces sold in pints or quarts.
But the new space allows Katz to delve into entrees like roasted eggplant lasagna, meatloaf, and stuffed chicken roulades. All of the dishes are kept in refrigerators or freezers at the front of the shop.
Katz operated the 20/20 Diner inside the Southern College of Optometry for the last 24 years. During that time she also spent three years operating a cafe at Palladio and another three years running the Unknown Café at the Cotton Exchange Downtown.
Before opening the 20/20 Diner, she worked for Tennessee Blind Enterprises, helping launch food-related businesses for visually impaired vendors.
But business for the 20/20 Diner slowed over the last few years as online courses at the school became available and class schedules changed.
"It was a kind of captive audience, but you couldn't raise your prices that much," Katz said. "Back then (students) were stuck at school from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. Now the students might come in from 9 to 10:30 and not have another class until 4 p.m. So why would they stay all day?"
The space on Cooper Street came open the same month that Katz closed the 20/20 Diner. Besides keeping the vision-theme, she decorated the new space with antique metal lunchboxes from former optometry students.
She invested $18,000 in the renovation including custom-made stainless steel work tables and a new Vent-A-Hood.
Eventually she plans to use the front walls to sell local art.
If all goes as Katz plans, there is some money to be made in prepared foods. Food Business News reported in July that 2012 sales of prepared foods had already reached over $32 billion, rising 8 percent over 2011.
About 60 percent of that market share belonged to major supermarket chains, and another 15 percent belonged to Wal-Mart Stores. The report also suggested that prepared foods were more of an impulse buy rather than a primary reason for visiting a store.
Still, Katz believes her products will appeal to busy families who want healthy, homemade food but have no time to cook. Orders can be called in in advance and eventually will be available via her website.
The month of December involved a learning curve of figuring out how much food to make and when. Some of her best sellers are her spanakopita, European chicken salad, and eggplant caviar.
In the meantime, Katz isn't giving up early morning at the farmers markets. She plans to continue operating at both and has applied to a third as a way to direct traffic to her store.
"Farmers markets are a full-time job," Katz said. "My husband and I do the Saturday market with two pickup trucks, 11 coolers, and tons of ice all summer long."
The grand opening of Cooper Street 20/20 will take place on Jan. 10 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Cooper Street 20/20
Owner: Kathy Katz
Address: 800 South Cooper St.
Source: Commercial Appeal
by Jonathan Devin