Hannah Sattler didn’t take the traditional path to starting a catering business. She didn’t attend culinary school, and before she opened Hannah’s Kitchen less than three years ago, she was a stay-at-home mom. Before that, she worked in finance and accounting.
But Sattler grew up around Jewish food. Her grandfather was always cooking, she says, and not just what one would consider traditional kosher dishes.
"My grandfather was an avid cook with Asian food," says Sattler. "So when I was 8 years old, I would go to my grandparents' after school, and my grandfather would sauté mushrooms up in soy sauce as a snack for me."
Because cooking has always been a central part of her life – just try her challah – it didn’t seem like a stretch when she became the catering manager at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, a job that started out as a volunteer position.
"I cared about the community, and I saw a need," she says. "I’m good at organization and I do have a love for food. I had a knack for it, so it started off with me working with volunteers and training and menu planning, and I did well, and people started hiring us for fully catered jobs – and not just the little luncheons we were supposed to put out."
Fast forward to today: Sattler employs a head chef, as well as the temp staff needed to cater larger events. She can handle completely kosher weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and funerals, but also totally secular, non-Jewish events. She says she’s done events with up to 450 people. People love her compost cookies, which is her version of Momofuku cookies, she says.
"If someone comes to us for a non-kosher event we do what we need to do, so we've done your breakfast with bacon and sausage and all that stuff. But our typical food is your Jewish traditional food. We really like to delve into the modern take on Jewish food, as well as traditional Jewish foods that you don't see people doing a lot of, like chopped liver from scratch and gefilte fish."
Catering in a completely kosher-compliant environment brings interesting challenges, but Sattler is prepared. She rents a kitchen at Anshe Sfard Kehilat Torah, an Orthodox synagogue in Glendale. She also brings in a Mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, to make sure everything is, well, kosher.
Says Sattler, "Usually they check us in when we come into the kitchen, make sure all the food that we're bringing in is kosher, and is OK. Sometimes they'll cook with me."
Sattler says there’s room to grow in this market, because while there are no shortage of catering companies that service Jewish events, there are fewer who come from within the community. Sattler has spent her entire life in the Milwaukee area, except for college in Madison.
"I think there's a need in the community for more interesting food, more healthy food, more from scratch food. There is something about serving our own community and understanding our own customs and our own food and our own tastes, and that's a part of why I do what I do. There are sad times and happy times, but I know I've made (my clients’) lives easier because they gave me that one call, and they knew it was handled."
Sattler says that especially when it comes to catering funerals, she has to be ready 24/7. And as a single mom of three girls, that means that work is all-encompassing. But she loves what she does.
"I happen to be someone who likes being busy, and does better as a busy person, so I handle it well."
Now, she thinks her grandpa, who died earlier this year, would be proud.
"He told me in challah baking I'd surpassed him, and that was a big deal," Sattler recalls. "He went on and on about how he wouldn't use his recipe anymore. If you got a real compliment from him, it meant something."
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.