Getting to Know: Freedom a la Cart

When you can devour cookies for a cause, what’s not to love? In this segment of the Columbus Culinary Chronicles, I’m getting the scoop on Freedom a la Cart. If you aren’t aware, Freedom a la Cart is a local charity supporting human trafficking victims by teaching them skills in the food service industry. They have a wonderful catering menu, and also have a mini cafe in the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library selling baked goods. Learn more about this wonderful organization, with responses from Executive Director Paula Haines and Head Chef Jessica Levy below.

Paula Haines
Photo Credit: Freedom a la Cart

Can you tell us a little bit about Freedom a la Cart and how it got started?
Paula: Absolutely. In 2009, our founder, Julie Clark, established Doma International as a community-based support program for adult survivors of human trafficking. Two years later we expanded the program to fill the void between restoration and economic independence, and purchased a food cart as a workforce training tool for survivors. While Doma offered supportive services toward restoration, the Freedom a la Cart social enterprise gave survivors a job and means to live. Freedom a la Cart became the vehicle – literally – through which survivors began the ever-important first steps to self-sufficiency.

In 2014 we dropped the Doma International name and now operate both our supportive services program and our thriving catering & box lunch business under one name: Freedom a la Cart.

In the past two years alone, Freedom has provided supportive services to 326 survivors of human trafficking – an annual increase of over 80%. 55 survivors received workforce training and 20 survivors transitioned from our program into sustainable employment in the community. 85% of survivors that have been in the program experience no new criminal charges.

The majority of your employees are human trafficking survivors. How has working for Freedom a la Cart benefited them?
Paula: I would love for you to hear a response to this questions from one of our survivors! They are beautiful, strong woman who work hard to keep their life on track; and it’s exciting for us to watch them transform before our eyes. Freedom helps them see their worth, find their voice and become more confident, and self-sufficient. These women are getting their driver’s licenses, buying cars, paying taxes, attending college, moving into permanent housing and regaining custody of their children. They are gaining employment as office assistants in law firms, as treatment assistants in recovery programs, and as chefs in restaurants. Life changing, generational impact.

Freedom a la Cart’s Instagram account (@freedomalacart1) features lots of delicious baked goods. What’s your favorite treat to make?
Jessica: Thank you. That is always such a difficult question for me, the ‘favorite’. I have such a deep love for making pastries. I enjoy making them all and getting to practice different techniques and methods. Bringing new items to the menu is my probably my favorite time because it is all about the research and development. It means I get to play!

I know I’ve made plenty of kitchen blunders. Do you have any cringe-worthy kitchen disasters you’d like to share?
Jessica: Haha, I actually don’t have any super crazy stories. About 7 years ago, my family asked me to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving. which I had actually never made, but I wanted to go all out and make the most amazing dinner rolls in all the land. So I researched and found the best recipe by a chef I idolized and thought they had to be the best. So I got home the night before Thanksgiving from working a very loooong shift and started making my rolls. The first batch did not turn out, so I tried again.. Well, batch two wasn’t going well either and I was sitting on the kitchen floor staring into the oven cry-begging my little rolls to rise and bake in the oven. It just wasn’t happening. So long story short, it ended with me buying good ol’ Sister Schuberts frozen dinner rolls Thanksgiving morning at Kroger with dried tears still on my face.

Which Columbus establishment do you frequent more than any other?
Jessica: Kroger! You can literally find me there everyday. But that probably wasn’t what you were looking for. I live in German Village, so I typically stick to my little bubble- South Village Grill, Skillet, Club 185, The Blind Lady Tavern, Fox in the Snow are a few of my go to spots. Vernacular for shopping.

Jessica Levy
Photo Credit: Freedom a la Cart

What is your favorite locally made product?
Jessica: Hmmm.. there is that ‘favorite’ question again. That is truly a tough one, there are so many great locally made products. Columbus really is such a wonderful city and it is continually growing and expanding especially with new talent and products. So I will give a shout out to a non-food place that I love which is Honest Carry Goods. They make such beautiful products, love their bags.

Can you share your go-to recipe to make at home?
Jessica: I am pretty simple when it comes to cooking at home. I try to prep my food for the week on one day. So typically I just chop up a bunch of veggies to have throughout the week. I just have them cut up in the fridge and ready to cook throughout the week for whatever meal I feel like making that day. But I do eat a lot of roasted vegetables for dinner. I grill or bake chicken and put that over greens for salads or with rice and beans to have for lunches throughout the week. And I medium boil eggs to have for breakfast with either yogurt, a granola bar or a protein shake. I genuinely enjoy hosting people, so that is when I like to go all out.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?
Jessica: Commercial stand mixer, rubber spatula and bowl scraper…these are a few of my favorite things.

Rumor has it that there is a Freedom a la Cart cafe in the works, in addition to the Columbus Metropolitan Library location. Can you give us the scoop about what’s coming up in the future?
Paula: Well, we’re not ready to announce a location quite yet. But we are currently raising funds, and talking with property owners for a near-future Freedom a la Cart cafe. In the meantime, we’ll be expanding into wholesale business this year. And you may even see a Freedom a la Cart pop-up cafe.

Tell us about any major fundraising events supporting Freedom a la Cart.
Paula: Our annual fundraiser – Eat Up! Columbus – was on Saturday (February 10th) at St. Charles Preparatory School. We have a talented team of 10 local chefs, led by the amazing Catie Randazzo of Ambrose & Eve [and Challah food truck!] who collaborate to prepare a 5-course dinner with drink pairings. Master mixologist Cris Dehlavi crafts a signature cocktail and selects the drink pairings. It’s such a fun night! Everyone tells us it’s their favorite event of the year! And of course, we agree. Eat Up! Columbus raises over $100,000 to support our work to empower and employ survivors of human trafficking.

Photo Credit: Freedom a la Cart

What else can people do to support this cause, whether through donations or volunteering?
Paula: Friends of Freedom can support our mission by:
1) donating online at freedomalacart.org/donate-now/
2) order our delicious box lunches or catering at freedomalacart.org/menu
3) visit our mini cafe located on the lower level of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Northside Branch at 1423 N. High St.
4) volunteer to be a personal mentor, bring a meal to CATCH Court or assist in the Freedom kitchen. Visit freedomalacart.org/give for details.

Have you tried Freedom a la Cart’s cookies or catering yet? If not, make sure to pick up some goodies soon and keep up with them on Instagram (@freedomalacart1)!

Keep Connected,

Caroline

*All photos courtesy of Freedom a la Cart

Getting to Know: Mollie and Kelly of Kittie’s Cakes

The Columbus Culinary Chronicles continue with a feature of one of my favorite bakeries in the city, Kittie’s Cakes. I’ve had an obsession with Kittie’s for a few years now, especially their cupcakes and biscuit breakfast sandwiches. When a second locale opened in Bexley even closer to my house, I was even more hooked on their brand. As a result, I was very interested to learn more about the owners Mollie and Kelly, as well as the pair’s dog Linus.  Give Kittie’s a follow on Instagram (@kittiescakes and @kittiesbexley) or check out Linus’ account for cuteness overload at @linus_the_golden_retriever. Mollie and Kelly met while on tour as professional golfers, and later made the leap to open Kittie’s together. Learn more about this baking duo below, from Mollie’s perspective:

What motivated the two of you to start a bakery? 

We always enjoyed cooking and baking together during our time off from playing on tour. Opening a bakery seemed like something we could take on just the two of us. Or at least we thought!

How did you make transition from professional golf to being a small business owner?
We just kind of jumped right in. The day after my last golf tournament we came home and started experimenting with my mom (Kittie) and grandmother’s recipes. We knew that we wanted to differentiate ourselves by making our baked goods fresh every day and from scratch.

Photo Credit: Kittie’s Cakes

What’s it like working with your significant other?
We love working together! Kelly was my caddie on tour for 5 years and we really worked well together on the golf course. We were able to make it work in the kitchen as well. We really balance each other out and we naturally fit into our different roles in our business. We have a really strong respect for each other which helps from having those petty arguments.

What is your favorite food item on the Kittie’s menu?
That’s a tough question! Kelly’s favorite is our new maple egg sammie and the chocolate chip cookie. My favorite is the cinnamon roll, biscuit & jam, Micky-O [a sandwich cookie] and the peanut butter cookie.

Can you tell us about your worst kitchen disaster?
When we first opened just the two of us, everything seemed like a disaster! We were really struggling trying to make enough baked goods and then wait on customers throughout the day without any employees. We’ve been lucky to not really have any disasters.

What cooking tool can you not live without?
Mollie definitely can’t live without a KitchenAid Mixer. Kelly can’t live without a good offset [spatula] for icing!

Which Columbus establishment do you frequent more than any other?
Man, we have some core places we love to visit! Paulie Gee’s is definitely a visit for us a couple times a month. We really love Rockmill Tavern’s chicken sandwich. The Service Bar has a killer burger! Land-Grant [Brewery] is one of our favorite places to hang out with Linus outside.

What is your favorite locally made product?
Favorite locally made product would be the Bourbon Maple Syrup from Middle West Spirits. Also, the nut butters from Krema are killer too!

What is your adult beverage of choice?
We both love beer and old fashioned’s!

Can you share your go-to recipe to make at home?
Our go-to recipe to make at home is either pizza or pasta.

Do you have a favorite local charity that you love?
We love working with The Humane Society of Columbus.

Photo Credit: Instagram – @linus_the_golden_retriever

Your Golden Retriever Linus is also your brand ambassador. How did you teach him to do so many tricks, like balancing a cupcake on his nose?
Linus is just a really good boy! We worked with him in puppy classes and then Therapy Dog classes for the first year we had him. We like to think all the cupcake tricks just come naturally.

Last winter you opened a new location in Bexley. Are there any plans for further expansion in the works?
Kelly and I talk a lot about expansion and we are both in agreement for now. No more locations for Kittie’s. Kelly and I really love being able to be around our employees and customers. One of the reasons we wanted to open Kittie’s in German Village was to be a part of our community. We are afraid if we opened more locations we’d lose that experience with everyone.

Make sure to follow Kittie’s Cakes on social media to catch up with Mollie, Kelly, and Linus’ bakery adventures. Have an idea for who I should interview next? Shoot an email to caroline[at]columbusculinaryconnection.com and let me know!

Keep Connected,

Caroline

Getting to Know: Jana Douglass from Jana Lee’s Bake Shop

One of my absolute favorite things about blogging so far has been connecting with the interesting folks behind the Columbus dining scene. With this new series, I will be getting inside your favorite maker’s minds so we can soak up a little of their greatness. Plus, let’s face it – we are all a little nosy! So without further ado, the launch of the Columbus Culinary Chronicles begins with Jana Lee’s Bake Shop.

You’ve likely seen the pristine cut-out cookies from Jana Douglass on Instagram, presented in themed sets ranging from cheeky sayings, Disney characters, baby showers, and everything in between. Jana has managed to build a following of over 45k in just a few short years, and has some exciting things in her future. Learn more about Jana Lee’s recently launched bridal line (so much monogrammed cuteness!) and how to order your own treats by clicking on her contact info below, then scroll through to get the scoop on the cookie queen.

Web: https://www.janaleesbakeshop.com/
Instagram: @janaleesbakeshop
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janaleesbakeshop/
Twitter: @Jana_Lees

What motivated you to start a cookie-making business and how did you transition into full-time baking?
I was about to graduate from The Ohio State University in December of 2014 without a job lined up. I was feeling uninspired and I picked up cookie decorating as a creative outlet. Let me tell you… they were awful! But I fell in love with the creative process and kept at it. I started posting pictures on my personal Instagram and within 9 months I had created a separate cookie Instagram and had enough business to do it full time.

You bake so many shapes of cookies; how many cookie cutters do you own? How do you keep them all organized?
Wow! I would guess I have about 700 cookie cutters. You would think that would be plenty but every week we get new requests with cutters we do not own! We keep them organized by category on a peg board. Even with all the different shapes and options I would say we still reach for the same basic 20 shapes week after week.

Photo Credit: Jana Lee’s Bake Shop

What is your favorite themed set you’ve ever made?
How am I supposed to choose?! The amazing part of this business is the creativity around it. My favorite sets always end up happening when clients provide the theme and they trust my creative process.

Can you tell us about your worst kitchen disaster?
I was wrapping up a great day in the kitchen and was going to make it home at a normal hour which was pretty rare at the time. I had just finished up 6 dozen purple cookies (which is a difficult color to make) and quickly checked on them before heading out the door. The icing was still wet, not good! I instantly knew I did something wrong… I over whipped the icing!

I had to toss the cookies and start from scratch. My early evening home turned into me leaving the kitchen at 2 in the morning!

You’ve had the opportunity to work with high-profile clients like Draper James. How did this come about and what actions did you take to make it happen?
Honestly, I just ask! I am fairly brand loyal and decided to start reaching out to companies I love and for the most part have had great luck. What’s the worst that can happen?! They say no and you move on.

Which Columbus establishment do you frequent more than any other?
I enjoy my morning walk for coffee to Cafe Brioso downtown. I am addicted to their coffee! It is also a hidden gem for lunch, the turkey pesto sandwich with a lemonade is Ah-Mazing! We enjoy brewing their beans at home as well.

Photo Credit: Jana Lee’s Bake Shop

What is your favorite Columbus-based product?
Lately I have been addicted to Darista Dips! You can always find a container or two of their sweet potato coconut curry hummus in my fridge. The best snack!

What is your favorite adult beverage?
Hendrick’s martini, dry and dirty! You can usually find me sitting at the bar at Hyde Park with one in hand.

Can you share your favorite recipe to cook at home?
To be honest ever since starting a business my home cooking has been a little pathetic. Somedays the only time I spend in the kitchen at home is making bulletproof coffee in the morning. However with fall right around the corner I have been craving soups and chilis. This curried potato soup from Minimalist Baker (talk about a girl crush!) is a staple!

Curried Potato & Lentil Soup (1 Pot!)

Do you have a favorite charity that you would like to promote?
Columbus is great city full of wonderful charities and nonprofits. We personally love working with Ronald McDonald House; kids and cookies are the perfect fit! I encourage everyone to do a little research and get involved in something meaningful to them!

I see that you recently launched a bridal line. Can you tell us more about that and what else is coming up for Jana Lee’s Bake Shop?
Jana Lee’s Bridal Line launched in June! We are thrilled to be included in so many bridal events across the city.
There is a lot happening behind the scenes here, mostly things we can’t share with you just yet! Stay tuned!!

Make sure you follow Jana and see what’s next – fall=lots of Halloween themed deliciousness.

Keep Connected,

Caroline