BLOOMFIELD, Ky. – A coma couldn’t stop Catrina Hill from starting her Kentucky Proud business.
Or acute kidney failure. Or a heart attack. Or 12 surgeries.
“You gotta push past it and keep going,” Catrina said. “I tell everyone, just because you’re sick, don’t stop following your dream.”
Louisville-based Catrina’s Kitchen makes three products from Kentucky-sourced flour: all-purpose Southern seasoned flour, fish and vegetable seasoning, and an all-purpose spice called “A Little Somethin’ Somethin.’” The latter was named from Catrina’s coy response when an inquiring reporter asked what ingredients were in her spice blend.
Catrina’s Kitchen’s three products are among the 125 from 34 Kentucky Proud businesses that are being sold in 88 Kroger stores across Kentucky. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced the Kroger-Kentucky Proud partnership Nov. 6-7 at Kroger stores in Lexington and Louisville, respectively.
“She’s having the best rookie start of any Kentucky Proud member I’ve ever seen,” said Roger Snell, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s farm-to-retail liaison. “She was voted No. 1 in her very first Kroger demo. That’s just amazing.”
Catrina’s Kitchen’s booth at the 2014 Buy Local Kroger Food Show in July in Louisville was visited by Kroger store managers from all across Kentucky. Even though she couldn’t display her products at the show, Catrina’s bubbly personality and tasty samples of her Southern cooking won over the managers, who voted Catrina’s Kitchen their favorite vendor.
“We didn’t even have our boxes yet,” Catrina remembered. “Man, the business has steamrolled since then!”
Catrina made her first sale at the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show last month in Lexington. A last-minute cancellation by another vendor allowed her to get into the popular show, which was fully booked months in advance.
Catrina was taken aback when customers recognized her likeness on the boxes and asked her to autograph them.
Catrina’s Kitchen plans to add more products to its line, such as a seasoned corn meal.
Catrina and her daughter, Corenza Townsend, traveled Oct. 22 to the Blend Pak mixing plant in Bloomfield, which blends and packages Catrina’s Kitchen products.
“The flour is made right here in Kentucky, which helps Kentucky farmers,” Catrina said.
Catrina’s title is founder of Catrina’s Kitchen, while Corenza serves as president. Corenza, a nurse, manages three medical practices in Louisville. Catrina’s sister, Lesia Hill-Driver, is co-owner of the family business.
Catrina was a successful manager for an insurance company in Minnesota when she moved south to take a similar job with a Louisville company. Two months after moving to Kentucky, her company was bought by another one.
The new company wanted Catrina to move to Baltimore. Opting to stay in Louisville, she made a decision to go into business for herself, remembering what her late mother told her: “You only live once. Follow your dream.” Her mother died while Catrina was writing a business plan for a restaurant.
“I asked myself, ‘What would make life easier for me?’” Catrina said. “I thought, ‘It would be nice if my dinner was done every night.’”
So Catrina named her restaurant and catering business Dinner Is Done. During its 12 years of operation at three locations in suburban Louisville, the restaurant’s most famous catering client was Allan Houston, a professional basketball player from Louisville. She decorated a vacant office next to her restaurant and hosted 150 guests at a birthday party for Houston’s wife.
Catrina’s kidney failure and heart attack forced her to close her restaurant in 2010. While in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries, she slipped into a coma for 12 hours.
“I was found on the floor after my blood sugar dropped after one of my surgeries,” Catrina said. “It’s been an interesting ride. God has blessed me over and over.”
“She grew wings,” Corenza said.
While Catrina was sick, one of her life insurance policies was canceled. Wanting to leave an inheritance for her daughter in the event of her death, she thought the only way she could do that was to start another business involving something she did well, food.
But this time, instead of Catrina doing the cooking, she packaged her unique seasoned flour and spices so others could make Southern-style dishes for themselves.
“Catrina’s Kitchen actually started 15 years ago when I opened my restaurant,” Catrina said. “I used to buy a seasoned flour that didn’t have everything I wanted, so I added ingredients to it, like buttermilk. People would come in and ask, ‘Can you put your seasoning in a bag for me?’”
Now, thanks to Kentucky Proud and Kroger, you can pick up Catrina’s Kitchen products at most Kroger stores in Kentucky.
“We could’ve sold it in local stores or online, but this is big with Kentucky Proud and Kroger,” Catrina said. “Kentucky Proud helped us get the connection with Kroger.
“Kentucky Proud helps us grow our business,” Catrina said. “It introduces us to Kentucky.”
Catrina plans to write a cookbook someday.
“My mom and dad taught me how to cook,” she said. “People used to bring food to my parents to cook for them. I come from a family of cooks.
“Being an entrepreneur also ran in my family. Both of my grandparents owned stores, and Dad had a corner grocery store. I wasn’t afraid to start a business because I’ve seen it done.
“The Bible talks about having faith the size of a mustard seed. Well, mine is the size of a watermelon!”
Catrina grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. Her parents, Augusta and Mamie Hill, moved there from New Albany, Mississippi, and passed down their Southern cooking to Catrina.
“I wish my mom could’ve lived to see this,” Catrina added. “She’d be right in there working with me.”
For more information about Catrina’s Kitchen, go to www.catrinaskitchen.com.