LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Moss doesn’t grow under the feet of a go-getter like Catrina Hill of Louisville.

Consider May 7. Hill, founder of the Kentucky Proud business Catrina’s Kitchen, had product demonstrations scheduled at two retail chains in the Louisville area, Save-A-Lot and ValuMarket, that recently started selling her company’s mixes.


It’s just another day for Hill, whose flavorful products and compelling story shared center stage when Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced in early November that Kroger would sell 125 Kentucky Proud products in 88 supermarkets throughout the Commonwealth.


The Catrina’s Kitchen products have been selling so well at Kroger that she’s been dubbed Kentucky Proud “Rookie of the Year.”


“There are five or six on this [Kentucky Proud] rack that have been the top performers, and Catrina’s is amongst that,” Tim McGurk, public affairs manager for Kroger’s Louisville division, told Louisville television station WDRB.


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 products are mixed and packaged at Blend Pak, a Kentucky Proud plant in Bloomfield.


Hill said two new products will join the Catrina’s Kitchen line-up later this summer – a sweet sour cream cornbread mix and a candied yam mix. “I’m waiting on my boxes right now,” Hill said.


The cornbread mix originated from a friend who used to make it frequently. “It’s soooo good,” she gushed.


The yam mix is a family recipe handed down to her from her late mother, Mamie.


It still amazes Hill to walk past the Kentucky Proud kiosk at Kroger stores and see boxes of products bearing her likeness smiling back at her.


“I’d dreamed of doing that,” she said. “Kroger has been really great to work with. It’s made a huge difference in our business.”


Catrina’s Kitchen is featured on a current Kroger commercial, with Hill speaking.


“It’s been a learning experience, having products in a major store,” she said. “But all big companies had to start somewhere, so I figured, if they could do it, I can, too.”


Hill credited “God’s timing” for putting her business in position to benefit so greatly from the Kentucky Proud-Kroger partnership.


“It was the right people at the right time, and this was our time,” she said. “Kroger didn’t have to do what they’re doing, but I appreciate we’re one of the people they chose. I really hope we can go nationwide with Kroger someday.”


Kroger store managers from across Kentucky were introduced to Hill at the 2014 Buy Local Kroger Food Show last July in Louisville. Even though she couldn’t display her products at the show, Hill’s bubbly personality and tasty samples of her Southern cooking won over the managers, who voted Catrina’s Kitchen their favorite vendor.


“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.”


Hill made her first sale at the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show in October in Lexington. A last-minute cancellation by another vendor allowed her to get into the popular show, which was fully booked months in advance.


“Kentucky Proud helped us get the connection with Kroger,” Hill said. “Kentucky Proud helps us grow our business. It introduces us to Kentucky.”


Catrina’s Kitchen products are also sold at Liquor Barn; ValuMarket, Paul’s Fruit Market, Garden Gate Fruit Market, and Kingsley Meat and Seafood in Louisville; and at several groceries in Wisconsin. Hill grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, and her sister, Lesia Hill-Driver, still lives there.

 

Hill-Driver is co-owner of the family business, along with Hill, and Hill’s daughter, Corenza Townsend, serves as president. Townsend, a nurse, manages three medical practices in Louisville.


Hill is no stranger to nurses. But acute kidney failure couldn’t stop her. Neither could a heart attack or 12 surgeries. After one of those surgeries, she slipped into a coma for 12 hours.


“God has blessed me over and over,” Hill said.


“She grew wings,” Townsend added.


While Hill was sick, one of her life insurance policies was canceled. Wanting to leave an inheritance for her children in the event of her death, the former restaurant owner thought the only way she could do that was to start another business involving something she did well, food.


But this time, instead of Hill 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,” Hill 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?’


“My mom and dad taught me how to cook,” she added. “People used to bring food to my parents to cook for them. I come from a family of cooks.”
Hill’s parents, who moved to Wisconsin from Mississippi, passed down their Southern cooking to Catrina.


For more information about Catrina’s Kitchen, go to www.catrinaskitchen.com.