At the corner of Apple and Chase, you’ll find the Kitchen Factory. Or the Lunch Box. Or the late-night pizza slice window, depending. But you’ll always find a friendly greeting and good food.
The Kitchen Factory feeds a mix of Northside regulars and new folks who happen by or wander in. On the weekdays, it’s the kind of place a busy mom can pop in and grab a slice for herself and her kids to fuel a hectic afternoon; the kind of place where two friends, one a dedicated vegetarian, the other a decided carnivore, can get cozy over sandwiches and salads for lunch and catch up. And on weekends, it’s the kind of place you can go at 2:30 AM when you just really need a slice. (Soon, it will be the kind of place you can go for dinner, too—starting August 1st the Factory will be open Thursday through Saturday evenings, offering their spin on Italian fare.)
I stopped in one recent lunch shift to talk to Melissa Cox Howard, the Factory’s proprietor, about the place, the neighborhood, the food, and her mission. While I’m there, a customer asks if he can “really” get vegan pizza. Melissa cheerily assures him, it’s vegan. (And, it’s good; it was voted “Best Vegan Pizza” by CityBeat). Another new guest says she’s always looking for good vegetarian-friendly places. She and Melissa chat about how healthy food can be enjoyed, not just endured. Of her dishes, Melissa says, “We all love mac & cheese—give me the flavor Grandma made, but give me the healthy version of it so I don’t feel crummy after I eat it.” The Factory’s “Crack & Cheese” (vegan mac & cheese) achieves just that.
Melissa opened the Kitchen Factory in 2012 with an idea to cook for people, and help others cook for people, too. The Factory is part restaurant, part new restaurant incubator. She rents the Factory to chefs who’d like to test the waters before taking all the risk of opening a new place. Outfits like Meatball Kitchen held successful pop-ups here, and are now full-fledged restaurants on their own. Melissa sees this as her mission—feeding people healthy food, nurturing small businesses, and passing on what she’s learned after thirty-five years in the business. She started as a dishwasher and worked her way up to chef. In between, she’s cooked for four U.S. Presidents, Prince Charles, and the Prime Minister of Israel; and famous musicians from Frank Sinatra to Stereolab. But who does she love feeding most? Northsiders. The Factory’s menu board reads, “We love cooking for YOU!” and when you see Melissa’s passion about her customers, her staff, her food, and this neighborhood, you know it’s true.
Opening the Factory in Northside was intentional. Melissa says that while managing the kitchen at Melt for five years, she fell in love with the neighborhood. She was running the vegan lunch counter at Park + Vine, and wanted to bring that concept here. She says of Northside, “It’s an open-minded neighborhood…. People here want new things, so it’s the best place for this restaurant to be. It’s a neighborhood that’s growing, a walking neighborhood…a good fit for what I want to do.” She counts the success of restaurants the Factory has helped to launch as her greatest success: “Because this is what we’re supposed to be doing—helping each other, not kicking each other back in the ditch. And my kitchen is the small way that I can do that.”
By Ericka McIntyre