Fifteen years of catering and owning a restaurant in California’s Sacramento area couldn’t erase Tori Duke’s longing for the neighborliness she enjoyed while growing up in Prospect. Last May, she moved almost all the way home: She unpacked her bags in St. Matthews and opened The Neighborhood Café at 119 St. Matthews Ave.
“It just felt right to come back. I wanted to downsize, and I have great friends here,” she said. “St. Matthews has the same kind of small-town feeling as Prospect, yet it’s more centrally located. I looked at this building for several months before deciding it was right. It’s a nice little spot on a busy road, so I think it has great potential.”
With considerable help from friends, she turned the Sixties-vintage space into a cheerful home-away-from-home for her customers. Green and purple – her favorite colors – dominate the décor.
“It’s called the Neighborhood Café because I want it to be a fun and playful version of a house,” she said. “At most restaurants, the goal is to ‘turn tables,’ but as long as I can pay my rent, I’d rather make friends than money.”
To make it a place where people want to hang out, she has tucked in a cozy living room, a mini-library with free Wi-Fi and a play area. The café has its own book club, although other clubs also are welcome to meet there; and there is a singles’ mixer called It’s Just Coffee, which meets on the first Saturday of every month. Preschool children can enjoy a story time called Tori’s Stories on Thursdays, while their parents eat.
Like other cafés, this one has an espresso bar which serves beverages ranging from chai tea latte to pumpkin cocoa. But it’s the food Tori dishes up that sets her eatery apart.
Her sandwiches are served in waffle cones, not on slices of bread.
“I’ve eaten in my car a lot, which makes things like tuna salad challenging,” she said. “I thought a cone would be a good solution, and came up with recipes that are gluten-free and dairy-free, so everyone can enjoy them. They’re savory, not sweet, in Classic, Southwestern and Herb flavors.”
Vegetables, meats, cheeses and dressings are scooped into cones and given names such as “Never Better Ham & Cheddar.” A savory-sweet pork creation is called “The Spicy Pig” and “Chicki Vicki” blends chicken, golden raisins, celery and cashews in a mayonnaise-mustard dressing.
“My name is Victoria,” she said, “but ‘Chicki Vicki’ sounds cuter than ‘Chicki Tori.’”
She and her assistant, Annie Playforth, also make two soups daily, one of which is meatless. They will soon offer bread bowls for soups and scoops alike, as well as variations on the “Hatch of the Day” – a breakfast cone with layers of egg casserole and hash browns.
“I dream of one made with artichoke, feta and red peppers. Everything here, from the menu to our activities, is adaptable,” Tori said. “If enough people want Tori’s Stories on another day, for example, we can move it. Our goal is to be part of the neighborhood, so we’re always open to suggestions.”
The Neighborhood Café (119 St. Matthews Ave.) is open Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
For information, visit www.the-neighborhood-cafe.com or call 502.893.4434.
Category: Business Profile