Cathy Boulden opened a third Café Eclectic this summer, a corner oasis on Highland Street where the charm of a family-run business is apparent at first glance. She introduced the original café in 2008 on North McLean, followed by Little Café Eclectic’s 2009 arrival in Harbor Town.
All three cafés serve a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner specialties, and Cathy insists on amazing customer service from a knowledgeable staff. She recently turned a former dry cleaning business (next door to the Midtown café) into a central warehouse and bakery to accommodate the growing number of locations.
Welcome Cathy Boulden, today’s Face of Memphis!
When did you begin on a path towards the restaurant business?
We used to do a lot of entertaining at our house. We raised our kids across from Overton Park, and they were constantly running around with their friends and having lemonade stands. I’d bake cookies and make lemonade to sell. It was quite lucrative for them during the summers! And, when they were little, there was nowhere to go walk or bike to get something nice to eat—you had to drive everywhere and I always wanted that walkable neighborhood gathering place. We were missing that. Then the kids grew up and everyone was moving on. We also went through some hard family times, and I realized how important it was to have a safe place to go, escape and hang out.
Describe your family and how you balance home, work and other interests.
If you make all your family work with you, then that’s how you balance seeing them! I’ve had so many lessons to learn—it’s been quite consuming. It’s so hard to balance, and I’m still working on that. I’m lucky to have good friends who are patient with me and who understand how crazy life in the family restaurant business is.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The people, all of our customers who have been so kind and forgiving towards us. Lots of them come in every day, several times a day even! There’s been so much to learn, and we’ve made lots of changes trying to better ourselves and the cafés. Those customers are like family now.
What goals did you have for making Café Eclectic stand out as unique?
We just try to be ourselves. A customer described us as quirky the other day. We want to do our own thing and simply do what we can do well.
What are some of the key ingredients that create a comfortable atmosphere at Café Eclectic?
All the locations are different, and they all have a different feel. I often think it’s funny that the atmosphere at the locations ever even works! We’ve always been very tight on funds and have bought very few things “new.” The word “Eclectic” saves us! I think the stores have all been lived in a lot and had a great deal of love and thought poured into them. We’re constantly trying to figure out how we can improve each location and become even warmer! It’s funny how we buy furniture from all of these different vendors and then we put it together and it usually works! I love the Mr. Walrus paintings at Highland (Look closely to spot them in the background of today’s images!), and all of our bars have been handmade by the same family friend. That makes them special … Maybe when you have to work so hard for something, that makes it feel like home.
What is your favorite coffee beverage on the menu at Café Eclectic, and why?
It varies depending on my mood. Today was a rainy foggy day, so the London Fog (An Earl Grey Vanilla Latte) was my beverage of choice. My usual is black coffee, but I also love the Cinnful Jim, a light vanilla latte with lots of ground cinnamon and not too sweet. When I need to be happy, the Karamel Sutra (a vanilla latte topped with caramel marked froth) is so pretty it’s impossible to be sad. A simple cappuccino is beautiful and sophisticated … a great way to test our baristas’ froth.
What are two or three of your favorite food items on the menu at Café Eclectic, and why?
First, the Commander Salad. If for no other reason, it was worth opening the café because Zinnies East closed and that was my favorite salad! I was so happy when Perry (at the former Zinnies) let us use it. It’s fried chicken chunks on mixed greens with roasted corn, chopped tomatoes and a little avocado. You have to get it with honey mustard dressing. That’s my usual.
Second, the Funky Salmon. Josh, our barista at Little named it. It’s light, refreshing and quirky! It’s an English muffin sandwich with smoked salmon, cream cheese, spinach, cucumber and tomato.
Third. The Chicken and Waffle is amazing! Growing up, I’d always put honey on my fried chicken, so this is a warm fuzzy for me. The waffle is made with buttermilk and it’s thin and light and a little tangy. Then add the crispy, salty fried chicken with sweet maple syrup … I’m nearly drooling describing it!
Explain your choice to serve illy coffee.
I never truly enjoyed espresso until I had illy. Our illy coffee is the only thing on our menu that we don’t try to get local. We chose illy for several reasons.
First, the company’s dedication to consistency in quality; it’s impossible to find that in another roasted coffee. Because of the way illy sources its beans from its growers to fit their signature taste profile, every cup tastes the same whether you’re at a café in Florence or in our Highland store. Second, illy was one of the first companies to use all organic beans. To them it’s just a dedication to quality. Finally, ethics and dedication to Fair Margin payment of their growers—Fair Margin takes fair trade one step further by guaranteeing that the growers are going to always make a profit, not just get a fair price. illy recently won an award for being one of the world’s ten “Most Ethical Companies” … we are really proud of that.
What must-have fashion item is in your closet for fall 2013?
A black shirt … and nonslip shoes? (i.e., the Café Eclectic uniform, of course! Flattering on everyone!)
Do you have a specific mentor? How has that person influenced you?
It’s hard to pick just one; there have been so many people who have helped us throughout the years, and I had never been in the restaurant business. Lauren McHugh at Huey’s has been amazing to us. She’s a very wise business woman … and Barry and Clay Lichterman a good family friend and chef.
How do you unwind and recharge your battery?
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chips and margaritas.
Do you have a playlist of favorite music for a dinner party or a workout that you can recommend? Perhaps Café Eclectic uses a playlist that you recommend?
We use Pandora Internet Radio and I love a combination. It depends on the mood. Lately, Galactica, Groove Armada, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, Sam Cook.
Favorite vacation or travel destination?
What’s a vacation?
Will the hours at any of the Café Eclectic locations change for the fall season?
Our Highland location will be open much later as soon as we get more baristas trained! Applications anyone?
Thank you Cathy!
Learn more about Café Eclectic here: cafeeclectic.net
And thank you to Whitney McNeill for her wonderful photos at the new Café Eclectic on Highland Street!