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Michelle Bartholomew is owner of the Cheddar Box Cafe.

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2021 Most Admired Woman — Food & Entertainment

Owner, Cheddar Box Cafe
Family: Husband George, Sons Logan and Garrett
Neighborhood: Middletown

To be a restaurant owner, a person needs three ingredients: a love of food, a love of people, and a desire to use food to make people happy. Michelle Bartholomew has used those ingredients for over two decades at Cheddar Box Cafe for both her regular customers who visit five days a week and customers who live several states away who order the Cheddar Pecan Torte to be shipped to them.

How did you come to own a restaurant?

I was paying for myself to go to college, and I got a job with Kathy Cary at La Peche. I worked for her for 13 years and just loved the restaurant business. I was the catering manager and did a lot of off-premise catering for a long time. I met my [former] partner through Kathy.

Who comes up with the recipes for Cheddar Box Cafe?

All of us. Even a customer will say “Why don’t you try this?” and we’ll try it. We have our traditional recipes that we’ve had forever, but we might come up with something new. Our entree menu changes daily.

What are the challenges of owning a restaurant?

Staffing. It’s worse because of COVID-19, but it was bad prior to COVID-19. You can’t work without staff.

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What is an important lesson you learned?

I could not do any of this, ever, without all the people who work for me — all the way from the dishwasher who has been with me for 17 years, to the baker, to the cook, to the busser. The majority of these people have been here 10-plus years.

What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

I cannot give you a printable answer.

Who were your mentors?

Kathy Cary would be one for sure. She was amazing, and I learned a lot from her. My grandmother [who] gave me the love of food. She cooked; she taught me how to cook. She lived in the country [Munfordville]. My mother, Ann, taught me how to live. And I had a teacher, Bonnie Downs, who saved my life and taught me values.

What recipe can you not get the knack of?

My grandmother made dressing every year for Thanksgiving. She made her own biscuits and cornbread [for the dressing] with no recipe. My mother and I cannot duplicate it.

What is something you’ve recently taken up?

I just started golf four years ago. It’s only competitive against yourself so what I do doesn’t affect anyone else.

If you could have a superpower what would it be and why?

To go without sleep so I could get more things done. There’s not enough time in the day. I was a single mother so to work and satisfy everyone here [at Cheddar Box Cafe] and then to go home and satisfy your children is hard.

Are you a reader?

I always have three books. I read one or two at a time, and I have a third one ready to go. I don’t watch television at night anymore, and I only read. I have trouble sleeping sometimes, turning my brain off. I have a couple books on my iPad in case I have to read in the middle of the night.

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

Israel to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Of all the chefs, who is your favorite and why?

Ina Garten. Every single recipe of hers is phenomenal. She cooks from the heart. She owned a restaurant and worked it. She’ll make a recipe five different ways and have her people vote.

Who would you most want to have a meal with and why?

I would like to sit down with my grandmother and have a conversation with her about how she did what she did. How she made buttermilk pie and pork roast and biscuits. And how she made her fudge.

P.S. Purchase your tickets for the revamped Most Admired Woman event, being held at The Gillespie. Be a part of history as former Today’s Woman owners Cathy Zion and Anita Oldham pass the baton to new owner Tawana Bain. You won’t want to miss this night of sisterhood!

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