CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jen Pettigrew-Burns' son's food allergies prompted an interest in from-scratch cooking that eventually led her to open Ms. Groovy's Cafe & Catering in a storefront on Charleston's West Side.
"My middle son has an allergy to corn. When you really start looking at labels, you see that corn filler and syrup is in so many foods," said Pettigrew-Burns, who is the single mom of four children. "I really got into cooking then and enjoyed it very much."
Pettigrew-Burns catered intermittently since 1996 under the Ms. Groovy's moniker, a nickname she acquired from her former husband, whose friends called him "Groovy."
She didn't make a full-time career of it until about a year ago when she left her position as a preschool teacher at Christ Church United Methodist to devote her time to catering. Last January, she moved into her current location at 709 Washington St. W., where she serves lunch and dinner.
Previous jobs also included retail sales at the Diamond and airtime sales for a radio station. In fact, she was on a sales stop downtown at the former Café de Paris when she met her right-hand man Clifton Crow, who serves customers in the petite dining area and bakes his special cakes.
Her catering clients kept her busy from the start. She eased into dinner service by offering Tuesday take-out specials last year. When Crow joined her in January, she opened up her dining service to lunch and dinner Tuesday though Saturday.
The menu includes a variety of quesadillas served with freshly fried tortilla chips and house-made salsa. The meal-sized quesadillas feature fillings such as fajita chicken or beef, shrimp and brown rice or vegetarian-friendly beans, corn, carrots, onions, peppers and mushrooms or Portobello mushrooms and feta.
She bakes pepperoni rolls and cinnamon rolls in house, and is experimenting with baking flatbread.
Chef, Cobb, shrimp, and fajita salads and club, turkey, ham, chicken salad and BLT sandwiches as well as a vegetarian soup and chili are always available, along with a special that changes weekly. Lunch prices range from $6 to $10.
Lasagna, vegetarian lasagna, chicken cordon bleu and pot roasts are examples of entrees that rotate as weekly specials and are often served with side salads and bread. Last week's special was red beans and rice, fried apples, cornbread and turnip greens. Dinner specials are always $10. Children under 9 years old eat free in the dining room.
"Families are struggling now. I understand that. I used to take my four kids out and they'd take two bites out of a meal and want dessert," she said.
Family baking traditions figure high in the making of the popular desserts at Ms. Groovy's. Pettigrew-Burns' 90-year-old grandmother, Kathleen Hill, and mother, Carolyn Withrow, provide homemade pies, usually pumpkin, pecan, apple or rum pecan.
Her grandmother urges her to take over the pie making, but she said it doesn't come as easily to her. "But then, I haven't been doing it for 75 years," she said.
Crow's passion for baking originated with his mother. He was baking cakes from scratch when he was in fifth grade. Today, his specialties are red velvet, brown sugar cake with brown butter icing, chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream icing and carrot cake with raisins in the icing.