Welcome to Impressions, a new series for The Seed & Plate. Impressions gathers thoughts, stories and wishes from people who inspire us. Open-ended prompts unfold glimpses into moments of influence and treasured memories along an individual’s path.
Mimi Maumus is a treasured member of the Athens, Georgia culinary community. She began her company, home.made, from her own home kitchen in 2006 and has since grown into an award-winning brick-and-mortar restaurant, bar and catering service. Her Southern staples like cheese straws and sweet tea caramels are the stuff our dreams are made of, so we talked with her about what fuels her own dreams.
Season: Set the scene, what marks this season for you?
I grew up in New Orleans and never experienced the fall season as beautifully as I have since moving to Georgia. I love seeing the leaves change color and the cozy smell of burning wood when I walk outside in my neighborhood at night. I was so enchanted by the color changing leaves that I sent a yellow gingko leaf to my grandparents when I first moved to Georgia — as if I had stumbled upon a space rock!
Food: Something that nourishes you this time of year or the view from your kitchen
I love North Georgia apples and pumpkins and suddenly want sage and rosemary in everything. Our menu shifts from grilled to braised meats with heartier sauces. I also can’t get enough of the firewood smell and find myself adding smoke to all kinds of menu items — we recently had a smoked applesauce and currently offer smoked sweet potato gratin.
Career: Doubts, sacrifices, inspirations or victories that marked the trail of your success
Home.made grew, quite literally, out of my home. I had been working in the restaurant industry for over 10 years and realized that I would never be able to afford my own restaurant. I started out as a personal chef, while still working 50 hours each week at other restaurants. My customers started asking me if I could cater events for them and I just dove in. Home.made started in 2006 and then in 2008 moved into a kitchen that I shared with two friends who were also trying to build their own food businesses. It was a struggle for sure! We drove all over Georgia buying equipment that we could afford. (I am very grateful to my neighbor, Maureen, who let me borrow her truck nearly every weekend!) I couldn’t afford actual platters for events so I got creative with serving pieces. I would often stand alone in the “tiny kitchen,” look around, and feel very proud of the growth that I had seen over those first few years — although I’m sure it didn’t look like much to anyone else. Every step of the way, I reinvested in the business — buying kitchen equipment and tools, embroidered chef coats, business cards, and hired an actual accountant (who I would bring manila envelopes of crumpled receipts to).
I worked the 50 hours at my restaurant job and grew home.made in the hours before and after that. I would check emails in the early morning and respond late at night. Working 90 or so hours weekly was exhausting, but I have always loved little sayings to motivate myself. I considered giving up on many occasions but was talked out of it by friends and family who knew that I had to stay the course — if I turned back I would never be able to start again. So I just kept going — one baby step after the next…
I set my sights on our Baxter Street location in 2011 but really didn’t think that I could do it. I couldn’t imagine getting a loan from a bank or juggling my job with such a huge endeavor. Miraculously, I was approved for a small loan and I was able to get the wheels turning. I moved my catering business to 1072 Baxter Street in 2012 and decided to leave my job to focus on home.made in early 2013.
I had been so afraid of leaving the security of my job but won Taste of Athens a few months later and felt like the universe was telling me that I was on the right path.
I have continued to follow the natural trajectory of home.made – we added lunch in the fall of 2013, developed a line of nationally available southern snacks in 2015 and, in 2016, expanded our dining room, built out a second kitchen and added dinner, beer and wine. We added liquor to our license just in time for Valentine’s Day this year.
There are still a lot of steps ahead for home.made — a better sign, a parking solution (if there is such a thing) and a separate bar space.
It has been an uphill climb but I am very thankful for every step of the way and for all of the people who have helped me get to where I am now.
Community: A moment when community or sense of place and role lifted you up
I helped cater the Harvest Moon Dinner (a fundraiser for the Athens Land Trust) when I worked at 5&10. I remember the buzz of the event – guests oohing and ahing over Hugh and the food, and my pride for being a part of it. I have always remembered that event — it was an earmark in my culinary journey for sure.
I was asked to be “the” chef at the Harvest Moon Dinner in 2015 and had a rush of emotion, fear and pride. I am a huge fan of the West Broad Farmer’s Market (shout out to Ms. Ethel!) and the Athens Land Trust and was incredibly honored to be asked to cook. I had a great time and have done it each year since then – and feel just as proud every time.
Impact: A vision, small or large, for your impact on the people around you
I have spent most of my life as an employee and am still able to relate to the dreamers and work horses on my staff. I try to offer a fair workplace that supports its people — giving people family time and “real life” time. When I worked in restaurants, I missed funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, weekend trips. And, while I am not resentful of my sacrifices, I do believe that they are not completely necessary. I try to always remember that the staff is made up of actual people with actual lives.
I also try to have a staff of people who enjoy their jobs. If we have a long term employee who seems unfulfilled, I try to support them in a direction toward their own life goals — even if that means that they will leave home.made.
Wisdom: What’s the one thing no one told you that you wished you’d known sooner?
Believe in yourself, but be honest with yourself too.
Photographs by Paige French