Here’s a toast to incredible food, great service and even more, to passionate people that help give back to the community one customer at a time. After one extraordinary year, owners David and Andrea Snyder, of this local favorite are already opening up their second location at The Summit later on this fall. This isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s stepped inside and experienced the Urban Cookhouse family. Perched on the main strip in downtown Homewood, you can guarantee the most popular place to get lunch will be booming. Serving an average of 300 customers every day during lunch, not including the other 250 that have their catered orders delivered by Urban Cookhouse, David, Andrea and their staff, or what they refer to as their “family” are quickly getting used to success.
Swiftly gaining respect from the community and local farmers for their motto “buy local, eat urban”, Urban Cookhouse supports many local farmers and businesses by purchasing ingredients from the locals for some of their most popular items. One being their famous strawberry lemonade, just the perfect duo of sweet and tart. In the peak of strawberry season, Urban Cookhouse purchases 450 gallons of strawberries from Harvest Farms, a local farmer, purees and freezes it. This will last them the entire year’s supply of strawberries for everyone’s favorite lemonade. Another local business they’ve had a hand in expanding: Millie Ray’s Rolls. These rolls were introduced to David and Andrea when they were first creating the menu for U.C., and they decided Ms. Millie’s orange roll, a croissant-like pinwheel with an orange glaze, would be one of their signature items. How could it not be, it went perfectly with the entrees and salads. From the day the doors opened to about six months ago, Ms. Millie would hand make each roll and her son would make the drop at the restaurant each week. Today, Millie has five employees and is distributing thousands locally, of which 2800 are just for Urban Cookhouse each week. Her famous orange rolls caught so much buzz, they are now being distributed in Piggly Wiggly and Brunos supermarkets. Some of my other favorites on the menu that are made with local produce: the homemade slaw (green apples, cabbage, sunflower seeds, secret dressing) and the broccoli salad. I slapped my momma the first time I tried it.
For every carnivore out there, all of the protein on the menu is cooked in a Kamado Joe cooker, a ceramic kamado-style cooker that gives the meats a tender, juicy texture, and flavor you won’t find in any other eatery around. Of course, without the masters behind the grill, the teamwork between the chefs and other staff, your experience just wouldn’t be the same. It helps when the “family” works like a family, because that is what makes your experience so unique here.
Maybe the “family bond” between the staff comes on their annual family tubing trip “Fiesta del Rio” down the Cahaba River, or the annual Christmas party.
“We want to build a bond with our staff, because we consider them “family”. We aren’t a team, we are a family and we try to think of creative and fun ways to build those relationships. We want to make sure everyone feels a part.”
Whatever it is, they have created an incredible concept not only to provide their customers with delectable food and excellent service, but support the locals and build a family to help run it that way.
Late next month, owners David and Andrea are being honored at the annual Harvest Luncheon for Cornerstone Schools here in Birmingham where Andrea is on the Junior Board. This award is for their efforts in going above and beyond in the community. Not only have they impacted an incredible number of kids in the inner city with their weekly flag football outreach in the Avondale and Kingston area, but they have teamed up with a few of the parents to get these children enrolled in Cornerstone School. They believe in a hand up, not a hand out, and to them this is how you truly help others succeed. Every Tuesday, early evening, David gets in his pick up truck, Andrea in her Honda Accord, and they head down to what many would consider the most crime-ridden area in the city. Anticipating his arrival with excitement, boys from the ages of six to sixteen make sure to stand outside their apartment waiting to be a part of the weekly festivities. "At first we weren't sure how the parents would feel about this. We weren't sure if they would be offended if we came in and tried to help or be appreciative that we were reaching out. The reactions from the parents are very grateful," Andrea explained. Within a few minutes both vehicles are slam packed with hopeful smiles as they head to the fields around the corner. Sometimes there are so many who want to participate that they have to make multiple trips back and forth. David brings equipment to set up the field for a flag football game, and for the next hour and a half focuses on building teamwork and good sportsmanship. The rules include no cussing, no fighting, and no pouting. After the football game, the boys are fed dinner and led in an inspirational devotion. Most will read this and not thing another thing about it. It's a sweet gesture, but to actually go down into the "ghetto" and make an impact in a young person's life isn't reality for most of us. We like to say we would do it, but we'd rather just give money to a child on a TV commercial. It's so much easier. But as the Snyder's have learned by seeing a child's self-esteem and grade point average rise, the sacrifice os spending hands-on time is what is changing lives. Seeing hope in a child's future, and actually taking time to reach out--this is what motivates them. Having a successful business is great, but making an impact in the lives of others is what makes it all worth it. This is what drives their business and keeps their hearts in a spot where they remember that good food isn’t nearly as delicious until you’re changing the world.
Haley Hunt Castille writes about life’s inspirations for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.