Couple offers custom meals to go in Clarendon Hills
Michael and Wendy Howe in their Village Gourmet Cafe in Clarendon Hills. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 8, 2013 6:04AM
CLARENDON HILLS — Master trainer Lewis Balentine noticed some of his clients had a difficult time maintaining the diets he helped them develop to lose or maintain weight.
Balentine asked if they would stick to their nutrition plans if he could arrange for advance meal preparation. They said they would.
“Hands down, the single biggest complaint when someone claims not to be able to do it is they don’t have time to make the meals,” he said.
Passing by the Village Gourmet restaurant a short while later, he stopped in and proposed the restaurant prepare the meals. Clients order from eight different menu seasonal items on Friday and pick up on Tuesday.
And it’s not just Balentine’s fitness clients who take advantage of fresh, homestyle meals.
“We have customers who come in and load up shopping bags full of stuff. They come in once every few weeks to stock up,” said Michael Howe, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Wendy Howe.
He also is co-owner with a former culinary school student of the Grey Plume in Omaha, Neb., which for several years held the distinction of being “the greenest restaurant in America” and was featured in Bon Appetit magazine.
The Howes met while attending the culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. They bought the Village Gourmet in 2008, maintaining some of the previous owner’s concept, but have added and removed menu items to make it their own.
For instance, the restaurant is becoming known for its gluten-free cooking, partially because of the dietary requirements of Balentine’s clients and in part because of the desires of other patrons.
“It’s not as difficult as it used to be because of the availability of the flours,” Michal Howe said.
Special requests sometimes become the daily special.
“Sometimes, it’s just a customer saying, Hey can you make pot roast next week. I think well, if one customer wants it, may the other will,” Wendy Howe said.
The Oak Lawn native said her interest in cooking and baking started as when she was a child.
“I guess growing up it was a passion being in the kitchen with my mother and grandma,” she said.
Her family also influenced the way she runs the business. As a teenager, she worked in retail at Archer Avenue Big Store, a Sears-like department store owned by her grandfather, a Czech immigrant.
“I learned a lot from him. I worked hard there. I learned if you’re a good hard worker, you will succeed,” she said.
But her first love is the kitchen.
“I’d rather not be in the office. I’d rather not be at the desk. I’d rather be in the kitchen creating something new or talking to the customers,” she said.