Granny Chefs cooking comfort food at Café Vonore

New restaurant offers food the way you wish you could cook it at home.
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 5:40 PM EST
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VONORE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Mixing and patting out biscuit dough by hand comes naturally to Edith Seaton. She’s been cooking since she was 8-years-old when her mother had twin babies and she learned to pitch in. Now, Edith is pitching in as one of the first Granny Chefs at the newly opened Café Vonore.

Seaton knows how to make several foods that people just can’t resist. “Cornbread, biscuits, gravy dumplings...stews and soups,” she said.

Businessman Brian Chamberlain, who recently opened Café Vonore in early 2021, cannot resist these dishes, “Edith’s chicken and dumplings; Edith’s ham hocks, beans and cornbread.”

Chamberlain has volunteered for several years to support foster parents and has a special soft spot for grandparents like Seaton who are raising their own grandkids. Seaton said, “I just tried to help the family out and get the kids back on the right direction.” After raising several others from the youngest generation of her family, she is still raising two young school-aged boys during her 70s. Flexible hours at Café Vonore are a helpful way for her to provide more for the children, such as tutoring or sports lessons.

Chamberlain currently takes reservations for take-out meals, even delivering. He will be seating limited-sized groups at the café site at 1130 Highway 411 South in Vonore. He is limited in numbers as he matches experienced cooks with foods they make best. “Even if they only cook one thing well, I want them to cook it for me,” said Chamberlain.

Instead of touting a large menu, Chamberlain wants to offer a few dishes made exceptionally well, that families or business groups will want to order in quantities. Of his unique talent pool of Granny Chefs, Chamberlain said, “I will rent their talent and then sell their food. And I’ll have more money to pay for tutoring and car repair and things like that. And it just seems to work out. Everybody loves their cooking. And we’re gonna be serving it family style here.”

Long before Café Vonore opened, Chamberlain, who is a credit counselor by trade, was fundraising with church and community members to help families in need, often dipping into his own pocket to help. One of his biggest fans is Susan Spalding, who leads the Blount County Foster Parent Association. She said she is not surprised to see this café project happen. “Whatever a need is, he is there 365 days a year,” said Spalding about his efforts to help with basic needs, birthdays and Christmases for kids with challenging family lives. “People do want to help any way they can. And to get food, really good food back in return for it, it’s a bonus.”

Chamberlain said, for now, his challenge is to match up grandmothers who are raising kids with flexible work hours so they can prepare great Southern food for East Tennessee. He hopes to expand the scope of how many people they can feed, as he hires, even more, Granny Chefs. “A lot of these kids are winding up with family members who are ill-prepared. All they have is a big heart.”

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