The moment you sit down with Jeff Carter and Nancy Kendrick, it is obvious that this culinary duo is a hand-in-glove partnership.
By the Tracks Catering, the name of the enterprise that has paired these two Knoxville talents, is going to be a lot of fun.
Randy Burleson of Aubrey’s Inc. brought the two together to head a new venture by the restaurateur. The catering company will be formally introduced at an open house today, but it already has clients and is operational.
Neither Carter nor Kendrick had much of a learning curve to master, so starting a new enterprise on the heels of a pandemic isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Carter is the corporate executive chef of Aubrey’s Inc., where he oversees all things culinary for the Burleson brand – from the 14 Aubrey’s restaurants to Fieldhouse Social to Bistro By the Tracks. His previous resume includes Blackberry Farm and Dancing Bear Lodge.
Kendrick stepped out of a national sales job for a textile company years ago to follow her dream, first making a wildly popular chicken salad she sold at farmers markets as Ms. Cock-A-Doodle, and creating a successful catering business under the name Creative Catering. She also ran a restaurant, The Coop Café, on Sutherland.
“I have always had a love of food,” says Kendrick, “passed on from my mother and grandmother. I was lucky when I started catering to have some good support – Scripps Networks, a team of loyal and talented helpers and Neal and Susan Green with All Occasion.”
After partnering with All Occasion and then selling Creative Catering to the Greens, Kendrick says she was ready for a new chapter.
“Everything just aligned,” she says.
Carter says he and Burleson were constantly having “catering” discussions. Lessons learned from COVID brought plans together, and Burleson called Kendrick. There was also a space already in development on North Central that will serve as the catering kitchen as well as a venue for smaller events and gatherings.
“There are other plans for this space in the near future,” says Carter of 1123 N. Central St., admitting that having a full-service restaurant in the space is in the final planning stages. “Today, however, it is only our catering kitchen and a venue for intimate dinners and gatherings.”
The experience each brings to the table is what will make By the Tracks Catering a good fit for Knoxville, says Kendrick. “There is nothing cookie-cutter about our concept. We start every client conversation listening to what they see, what they love. Jeff’s expertise and knowledge of food and wine combined with my experience adds a new dimension to the catering scene.”
Carter agrees. “We will take advantage of what this area has to offer our clients in the way of farm-fresh and seasonal options,” he says. “Customization will be our calling card.”
The catering company is a full-service operation, including service staff, bar service and on-site chefs.
With the support of the Aubrey’s Inc. group, the chef and the director of catering say the sky’s the limit. “There is so much support and so much energy here,” says Kendrick. “It is going to be great.”
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987.