Kansas City chef Terry Mille responded to the call for help after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
As a mass feeding coordinator, he helped to feed hundreds and heard their stories, including tales of how they harvested sweet potatoes and pecans for extra income. They gave a special tip to the chef: Louisiana’s Steen’s 100 Percent Pure Cane Syrup.
Mille returned to his catering job in Kansas City and later became a backstage catering chef for the Sprint Center, serving such stars as Garth Brooks. But he couldn’t forget the folks he met in Louisiana, so he created a special sweet potato cheesecake with gingerbread crust and praline topping that he served at Thanksgiving.
That was the start of Cowtown Cheesecake Co.
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Mille sold the sweet potato flavor, along with a traditional one, just by word of mouth. But it has been a successful online business since 2008. A year ago, he competed on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, in an episode that continues to air, to help promote the business.
Then in late January, Mille decided to try a brick-and-mortar location, opening Cowtown Cheesecake Co. Bakery & Caffè in downtown Bonner Springs, just a couple of blocks from his home.
“I wanted to brand the product really well, brand myself really well, so when I opened my business it would be a destination location that people would want to come to,” Mille said. “And this is a great little area that is coming back to life.”
The shop sells such distinct cheesecake flavors as sweet potato, crème brûlée, Meyer lemon curd/blueberry, green tea/blackberry, and cheesecake with a carrot cake crust.
“Cheesecake is such a great palette for playing on,” he said. “I’m always playing around with different flavors. A Nutella one. I’m putting out a chai tea flavor later this week. That’s just the chef in me.”
Now he’s expanding the Cowtown menu beyond cheesecakes.
He recently added biscuits and gravy on Friday and Saturday mornings, and a BBQ Breakfast Bomb Sandwich and Cronuts (croissant-doughnut pastry) with Bourbon Maple Glaze on Saturday mornings. He soon hopes to expand breakfast from Tuesday through Saturday. Cowtown, at 133 Oak St., is closed Sundays and Mondays.
Later this month he’ll offer three or four panini sandwiches and a couple of soups for lunch, just two or three days a week. He uses local produce and meat vendors, except for the sweet potato cheesecake, which gets many of its ingredients from Louisiana, including Steen’s syrup.
“I don’t want to have a lot of food waste, and that’s why I’m doing things in baby steps,” he said.
His wife, Leslie, and mother-in-law, Linda Losier, help out, cutting down on labor costs, Mille says with a smile.
Starting this summer, he plans to offer monthly pop-up dinners under the 10 Top banner, seating 10 people in the back of the restaurant and testing the response to see whether Cowtown could be expanded into a full-service restaurant.
“My passion has always been to feed people,” he said. “It’s the gift I have always had, from my great-grandmother and I honed it over the years. It gives me a lot of pleasure.”
To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC.