By Ally Morrison
When she was 7 years old, Joy Smith jumped into her mother’s car for a Sunday drive in her hometown of Romeo, Michigan.
During the drive, her mother, Corinne, pointed out the car window at a nearby shed and told Joy that it would be the cutest restaurant. As they passed, Corinne explained that she would serve roast beef on Thursdays and chicken pot pie on Fridays. Both Joy and her mother have always had a passion for cooking.
From that moment on, an idea dwelt in Joy’s heart.
Years later, Smith found herself in her dream position as the owner of Sorelle Catering in Homewood.
After graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a degree in psychology, Smith worked in real estate and later became a preschool teacher at Creative Montessori.
Smith stayed with Creative Montessori for 10 years before deciding to devote himself fully to his passion for cooking.
“Six years ago, I quit my job as a teacher and told myself that I should focus on feeding people,” Smith said. “I started doing farmers markets like West Homewood Farmers Market and eventually Pepper Place, along with corporate catering.”
“Just before COVID, I started doing more takeout and baking to meet new people, try out recipes and serving sizes, and just learn along the way. When COVID hit, it was really inconvenient for everyone.”
When asked how he learned to cook, Smith attributed much of his knowledge to his mother.
“My mom was a single mother and she worked as a nurse at night,” Smith said. “Many times she would start dinner and she would tell me how to finish it. She peeled and cut the potatoes and I boiled and mashed them. I learned a lot from her.”
“I’ve been cooking for a long time,” he continued. “During my senior year of high school, I was in charge of our big arts festival. Usually a group or committee did the cooking and for some reason they didn’t have anyone that year. My art teacher heard that I cooked, so I took care of all the food for the festival.”
Smith’s joy in cooking continued well into his college career. She attended her first wedding alone at age 21 in the kitchen of a small apartment.
Smith’s fantasy of owning his own cafe came true after he noticed space for sale on Broadway Street in Homewood, a place he had driven by for almost 20 years.
“I saw that the space was available and I thought it was time to do it,” Smith said. But just four days before its opening, his chef quit.
The anxiety-inducing development worked in his favor.
“I met a guy named Daniel Gregory at Restaurant Depot and told him about my business,” Smith said. “He wanted to come work for me, but he had never worked in
a kitchen before I decided to give him a try and hired him, and he has been my knight in shining armor.
“She has learned so many recipes and lends an extra set of hands in the cafe. She jumped inside.
Now serving as both a caterer and coffee to go, Sorelle offers a plethora of options as Smith strives to please every customer.
“I love a buffet and I love having something for everyone,” Smith said. “When people walk in, they see a lot of options.”
Smith said there’s a lot of recipe research involved with having such a large menu, but it also incorporates an element of family.
“There’s a lot of research that goes into dishes that reheat well, and I always try to make my own recipes,” Smith said. “My mom taught me how to make spaghetti sauce, so to me, our marinara is all of her. There are many things that are her for me. I keep her roller in the cafe.
Incorporating a takeout cafe into the catering business has allowed Smith to make his menu and space versatile.
“Our cafe has comfortable seating for in-house coffee service, as well as items that people can walk in and grab for lunch, like salads and sandwiches,” Smith said. “For dinner, we have many take-out and bake options like roasted vegetables, chicken parmesan, and beef and vegetable lasagna. Our frozen favorites are soups and chicken pot pies.”
One service Smith offers in addition to formal catering is what she calls takeout catering, which allows people to call ahead and place large orders for weekend getaways or girls’ night out.
To welcome in the spring and Easter season, Smith plans to offer a vegetable quiche or frittata with toppings like asparagus, butternut squash, peas and goat cheese.
As for the Passover dinner, Smith knows he will be making apricot and thyme stuffed pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes, but other items will be announced before the holiday.