Regina Davis wants to bring made-from-scratch savory dishes and tasty desserts to Maplewood. She's already leased a space and has written the menu. There's one problem: 7310 Manchester Road doesn't have a kitchen. It was previously an interior-design firm, and renovations are costly, so Davis turned to Kickstarter to make her dream a reality.
"It's just been such a hard journey, and every time I think about packing it in, God just keeps showing me not to," Davis tells us.
Davis has never owned a restaurant, but she has been cooking for years and started her own catering company, 7 Ladies and a Spoon. She's currently a food-bar manager at Schnucks, but she's only working there part-time until she can leave for Cafe on the Park.
"I have done a lot of traveling, and I'm really good at talking myself into a lot of different kitchens. I even talked myself into [Gordon] Ramsey's kitchen in New York with the help of my daughter," Davis says. "I love to go into people's homes from different countries and see how they do things, because that's where you find the heart and the soul."
Davis plans to make everything from scratch -- applewood smoked bacon, pickles, compound butters, banana bread filled with banana liqueur and cognac. She even makes her own crackers, though her staff is trying to talk her out of it. They say she has to buy something. The one pickle she will be importing is a whiskey sour pickle from Brooklyn Brine Company.
Other menu items include the Cubano sandwich with pork shank and Davis' own Cuban spices; her grandmother's fruit cake with dried apricots, apples and whiskey-soaked raisins; and Beaujolais duck wings that will "set you on fire."
"I kept trying to think, 'What would make me different?' I have nothing against soul food -- I love it -- but I'm not going do soul food. I'm going to do the things that I know I like, the things my friends like me to do for them," Davis says. "Like for brunch, I make green eggs and ham. I won't tell you what's in there, but it's really, really good."
Davis found the space in Maplewood by chance. She looked near her job in Brentwood, which had the right feel but no available storefronts. She drives through downtown Maplewood every day, and one day she saw the for lease sign in the window of T. Rohan Interiors. Because it wasn't a restaurant, there has to be extensive kitchen construction, plus plumbing and electrical work.
"When you mention food or restaurants to a banker, they get out the garlic spray," she says. "It's almost like you're Dracula trying to suck their blood. They ain't giving you no money for that. They tell you to come back when you're open and you've been profitable for six months."
It's a risk, to be sure, but Kickstarter has helped others get started. Davis is aiming to raise $7,000 by April 23. If all goes according to plan, Café on the Park will be open in May. You can check out her Kickstarter page here.
"My grandmother always believed that food was a great way to communicate. You show people how much you love them through food," she says. How many people knew their grandparents or mother loved them because of the food they put on that table on Sunday afternoons? Oh my goodness, every day is going to be Sunday at Café on the Park."