“Now is the busiest time of year for us for catering,” said Will Sprague, owner of Louie’s Cafe, which is known for its grilled panini sandwiches and cranberry chicken salad. “We’re a full-service caterer. It’s strange because I didn’t grow up eating this but our most popular dish right now is our made-from-scratch lasagna. I’ve got 10 of them going out tomorrow. It’s just the most popular item that we have right now. But we’re [also] doing turkeys and hams. We do a lot those between Thanksgiving and Christmastime as far as catering. And then, if there’s any left over we bring it home, but very seldom does that ever happen.
“People always joke with me, [for example] the other night I delivered [food to] a Christmas party at a doctor’s office. We had beef tip stew and ... all this nice stuff and they asked me if I saved some for me. And I said, ‘No, actually I’m probably going to Moe’s before I go to choir practice.’ It happens that way, I guess, all the time. We were here till 6 [p.m.] making them dinner then went to Moe’s.”
Along with spending time with friends and family, Sprague also enjoys cooking on Christmas, which will be celebrated this year at his in-laws’ residence in Atlanta.
“We always have a party here at the store on Christmas Eve for staff and friends and family,” Sprague said about he and his wife, Mary Elizabeth. “We usually have anywhere between 15 to 30 people here, and we’ll cook hams and turkeys and different casseroles, sweet potato and stuff like that. We always celebrate with family and we’ll be closed the entire week of Christmas. We always close and give everybody a week off to spend time with family and get caught up on the year, do their after Christmas sale shopping. ...
“My favorite [holiday dish] is my mom’s lemon meringue pie. I can’t make it like she can. That’s a [must-have dessert]. We’ll be cooking everything this year [for Christmas]. We’ll do a spiral-sliced ham and sweet potato casserole, probably creamed corn — I’m a creamed corn-oholic — and we’ll make some cornbread dressing. And you’ve got to have cranberry sauce, and then my mom better bring lemon meringue pie,” he joked.
For Evelyn Waters — who has been offering Southern-style cooking daily at her business, Food for the Soul, since it opened in 2011 — Christmas is a time to meet the needs of her fellow Bartow Countians.
“This time of year, I cook for all of my family, of course, but also in the community we do a lot of catering,” Waters said. “So we have a lot of the local people in the community that we actually do their holiday meals for them.
“... One of the things that we’re going to do here at Food for the Soul [is] I’ve been in contact with a couple of organizations and we’re going to sponsor a needy family here in the Cartersville area. And we’re going to provide their whole Christmas meal for them — turkey and dressing and all the sides. My employees got together and they’re all buying a gift so that each member of that family will have a gift for the holiday.”
While her favorite Christmas dishes are honey-baked ham, red velvet cake and peach cobbler, Waters will not be preparing holiday dishes at home this year. She currently is actively searching for a local shelter, where she can volunteer by serving or cooking their Christmas meal.
“The one thing that I enjoy about cooking [at] this time of year is it brings joy to so many,” Waters said. “For the families to get together and sit around and enjoy that special meal this time of year, it just adds a special touch. It just really gives me that holiday spirit to see the joy that it brings to other people. [Christmas] is a time to serve others.”
As the owner and chef of Moore’s Gourmet Market, Cortney Hultman is constantly on the go this month. Opened in 2002, the Cartersville restaurant is known particularly for its burgers and grilled chicken tenders.
“It’s crazy,” Hultman said. “We do a lot of catering and so forth. So between company parties, private parties, gatherings here at the restaurant, it’s pretty much nonstop. We’ll do occasional casual dinners at the house for friends but then I always go to Illinois for actual Christmas to see my parents. Everything tastes better when somebody else cooks it.
“[Our menu] changes every year,” he said, adding he always looks forward to his mother’s baked goods. “One staple is we always do a pickled shrimp. But everything always changes from — we’ve done beef tenderloins to soups and sandwiches to goose Christmas Eve. And we do Christmas Eve and Christmas Day [celebrations]. One side of the family is one day, the other side of the family is the other day.”
Like the other restaurateurs, Alisha Wilbert of Alisha’s Kitchen enjoys serving others during the holidays. Over the past two years, the Cartersville resident and her husband have been operating a barbecue food truck and catering service. While her husband, Larry, serves as the pit master for the walk-up restaurant, she creates the recipes for their business.
“We do all gather at my house for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, for instance, I have both my parents and my husband’s parents over,” Wilbert said. “We all get along real good so that’s a plus. And then on Christmas, my parents will be coming over and we’ll be cooking. Sometimes we like to do something different because after Thanksgiving we’re tired of the turkey and all that. So I think we’re going to do some grilled flank steak and stuffed mushrooms and salad, things like that, instead of the traditional [holiday dishes].
“Then again, I believe we might also try a smoked ham for ourselves. I always do that for other people but we don’t [ever] get to have one for ourselves. ... The appetizers are another fun thing to do as well. That’s when you really get to experiment and try new things. I do a lot of different things. There’s a bruschetta that I like to put together on a little toasted baguette bread with tomatoes and Parmesan and a little lemon juice and just whatever I have in the house that [I] can throw together, too.”
Along with revisiting her favorite family recipes, such as her great-grandmother’s dressing, Wilbert is delighted to have the opportunity to create holiday dishes for people this season.
“I do love to cook,” Wilbert said. “I enjoy catering and cooking for other people. I love for people to enjoy my food. So anytime that I’m able to set out a table full of great food and watch people eat it and enjoy it, it just thrills me and warms my heart, especially at the holidays because there is so much of it.”