Chef and caterer Dave Linn won't be eating traditional turkey and trimmings this Thanksgiving. It's not because he dislikes the bird. It's just that after preparing approximately 50 complete turkey dinners for customers -- each featuring a 12-pound roasted bird with all the trimmings, he's looking forward to a nice pot roast prepared by his wife.
Linn, 41, owner of Secret Recipes Inc., fulfilled a lifelong dream in June when he opened his business in Chatham. He worked as a chef in the Executive Mansion for former Governor George Ryan for two years, which he says "was the best job I ever had." But when the administration changed, he knew it was time to follow his dream. Linn wanted to offer quality, home-cooked meals to busy people who preferred to have dinner at home but didn't have time to fix a meal. "That's the idea. There are no dishes. It allows a family to have a good quality meal for a reasonable price. They can go home and put on their T-shirts and shorts and eat dinner. Time is precious these days," he says.
Despite working 13-hour days -- including Thanksgiving and other holidays -- he enjoys it all. "This is my dream: A bakery, retail and take-out business. It finally came true."
Linn co-owns the business with Travis Schutte, 26, who is finishing his college degree while working full-time. They employ two other cooks, four part-time cashiers, and four employees who deliver food. "My wife Julie also helps out. She's my backbone," Linn says. The Pittsburgh, Pa., native spent 12 years as the executive chef at two country clubs before moving to Springfield to accept a job at a local sports complex. After that project failed, he went to work for the former governor, where he met Schutte.
Secret Recipes offers heat-and-serve lunch and dinner entrées, plus baked goods, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, soups, pastas, and sauces. But this is no ordinary take-out menu. Homemade chicken and noodle soup, made from homemade stock and filled with chunks of chicken and vegetables, tastes just like it came off your stove at home. And that's the idea. Besides chili and other soups, appetizers such as chicken wings and hot artichoke dip are also for sale. Sandwiches include pulled pork BBQ, hamburgers, grilled Italian chicken and Italian beef. Lunch entrées feature fettuccini Alfredo, vegetable lasagna, chicken Marsala, beef sirloin tips and specials such as chicken salad and homemade meatball sandwiches.
Dinner entrées include Dave's Three-Day BBQ St. Louis Pork Ribs, beef stroganoff, grilled salmon, cheese tortellini and fresh vegetables and chicken dishes. Each entrée comes with a vegetable and potato. Full meals, enough to feed a family of four, sell for $22.95 and include entrées like meatloaf or thick grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables, plus a large salad and two liters of soda. Encrusted prime rib is offered on Friday and Saturday nights. Eight-pound spiral hams, which feed about 12 people, will soon be added to the menu.
"I never dreamed I'd be selling prime rib at a take-out restaurant," Linn says. "But I sell between 20 and 25 [prime rib dinners] a night. The ribs are fantastic and prime rib is going over wonderfully."
You can also order custom-made pasta dishes, by picking a pasta and a sauce. There is also a menu for children. Police officers, firefighters and members of the military receive a 10 percent discount on orders. "My theory is that they are fighting for our country and that's the least we can do for them."
Orders can be called in and picked up, or delivered in Chatham for a $1 fee. Linn also delivers to Springfield and caters parties, picnics, luncheons and other events. "Instead of a pizza coming to your door, you can get good food coming to your door," he says.
The small business just off the main street in Chatham features a cooler filled with containers of items like Italian beef, chicken soup, potato salad, Alfredo sauce and chili. A glass case is filled with trays of cookies, pies, brownies, lemon bars, Texas sheet cake, carrot cake and cheesecake.
Secret Recipes is located at 114 W. Walnut St., Chatham 62629. Phone: 217-483-9500. Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Celebrating small business
Dave Linn, owner of Secret Recipes, is trying to bring some holiday cheer and good food to business professionals in Chatham. A Small Business Holiday Party will be held Dec. 12 at the Sangamon Prairie Reception Center.
Linn, who is catering the event, says it's a way for small businesses to be able to have a holiday party by joining other companies at one location. "It's also a way to meet other people," he says.
The event will include a cocktail hour, gourmet buffet, live entertainment and cash bar. More information can be obtained by calling Secret Recipes.
Reservations are required by Dec. 8.