Food & Dining

Eatery takes whole food aproach

by Bradley Hartsell


Katy Lou's Cafe fills a niche in Senoia for barbecue on Main Street.

“People say it’s too much work to prepare and serve whole foods. Many ask ‘Why?’ The answer is always the same — that’s just the way we do it.”

Claudia Wood and her husband, Bill, could cut overhead costs by purchasing pre-packaged foods and cooking it — heating it — right from the box. Perhaps like many restaurants, the entrepreneurial couple could save time, money, and even continue the business without additional employees.

They could do all of this at Katy Lou’s Cafe in Senoia, but the easiest method wouldn’t meet the standards the couple has set for their business and besides, the Woods sense the changing food culture, one fortunately aligning with their own preferences for whole foods.

“Locally sourced, fresh foods made from scratch is the direction people want to go,” said Claudia Wood. “They want fewer chemicals in their food. And that’s the way we’ve always eaten at home.”

The Woods opened Katy Lou’s for business in December 2012, as a breakfast and barbecue joint. Bill Wood had been managing Bell South in Atlanta until 2008, when AT&T bought the company, moving his facility to San Antonio and effectively putting him out of a job.

“I didn’t want to quit working, so I looked at business planning. I looked at what it would take to open a restaurant. Being a numbers guy, I said, ‘Gee, we ought to do this,’” said Wood.

Wood says he looked in Peachtree City, Griffin, Turin and Senoia. It was difficult to find places for sale in an existing building. Until one day, when he drove down Main Street in Senoia and saw two buildings side-by-side, the former library and former barber shop, for sale. The Woods bought the buildings and began an intensive, hands-on approach to owning a small business.

“That was the first time I had done this, so the learning curve was steep,” said Bill Wood. “There’s a lot to learn when you open a new restaurant.”

He bought a slowcooker in 2010 and taught himself to smoke meats. He began honing in on recipes he and his wife had created together in their 40 years of marriage, with a little tweak or two from their chefs.

The couple developed their own salad dressings and barbecue sauces, one of which was inspired from Claudia Wood’s mother’s lemon barbecue. They sell it today and name it after her: Clara’s Sauce.

“She’s a great southern cook. I learned to cook from her,” said Wood of her mother. “I think Bill learned to cook southern food from her, too. She and my dad loved to entertain, I think that’s how we were inspired.”

As Senoia continues to grow, Katy Lou’s aims to be a staple in an increasingly charming downtown. The Woods stress making everything from scratch, fresh, and in-house, giving a community atmosphere to match the quality of the food.

After just over a year of business, the Woods are honored by the response they’ve received from the surrounding residents and feel like they’re making an impact in the community.

“People have been really nice and supportive, and you don’t know when you open a new business if people will support it or not. They have, and we really appreciate it,” said Claudia Wood. “It’s really fun to walk downtown and hear people say, ‘Well, I’ll see you at Katy Lou’s.’”

The Woods moved to Senoia 13 years after getting ensnared in the historic charm of the town.

“We moved here because we fell in love with one of the old houses. We’re old house people, and we just couldn’t pass it up,” said Claudia Wood. “I was working for a publishing company in Peachtree City and Bill had a long commute to Atlanta, now we can both walk to work and we love it.”

Katy Lou’s got its name from the middle names of Woods’ granddaughters. “They think they own the place,” said Wood of his granddaughters.

“They do,” added his wife.

Family is scattered throughout Katy Lou’s, from the name to their daughter, Jenny, running the front of the house, to the memorabilia of their son, Rutledge Wood, who’s on the History Channel and Speed Network.

“It’s very much a family affair. Jenny runs front of house, and it’s really fun to have one of our kids working for us. But we also want people to feel like they’re coming in our home and they’re guests,” said Claudia Wood.

“We want them to feel at home,” she continued. “Entertaining has been our chief hobby our whole lives. There’s something gratifying about giving someone a good meal, so that’s the same feeling we try to give to people here.

“I think we have a really great staff, too. This isn’t something just one or two people can do, it takes everybody, and I think we have a special group of people making Katy Lou’s feel like home.”

On this day, a group of women enter, as they weekly, to enjoy breakfast and chat about the community. They’ve become regulars — family — to Katy Lou’s. Claudia Wood joins them for a plate and a chat.

“There’s a welcoming attitude from [Bill and Claudia Wood] when you walk in,” said Katy Lou’s regular, Suzanne Helfman.

“It has a family atmosphere, people with young families can be comfortable coming in here,” added Gail Downs.

“It gives people in Senoia a different option for food from what else we’ve got,” said Melinda Garver.

The Woods are finding success for both the atmosphere, and because they won’t cut corners to save a few dollars. They know people are getting too smart these days to settle for food filled with preservatives and from unknown origins.

“I think people are coming to the point where they’re really concerned about what they’re putting in their bodies. It’s going back from the way it used to be, from convenient foods to more whole foods,” said Claudia Wood.

All of these factors are culminating for Katy Lou’s as a winning spot in an emerging downtown scene.

“The response has been very positive. It’s been nice, people have been really welcoming,” said Claudia Wood. “Each restuarant in Senoia is different, and we certainly didn’t want to compete with one another. But people will say to us, ‘This is great because you’re filling a niche.’”

The Woods embraced Senoia and the town has, in turn, embraced Katy Lou’s. Bill Wood and his wife may be running a restaurant for the first time, but beyond facts, figures, overhead and recipes, he knows his business is about connecting with people and a community built so much on history.

“We’re about people, food-friendly and fresh. It’s a blend of old and old becoming new again,” he said.

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