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Caterer opens petite dining room on West Side

Kenny Kemp
Jen Pettigrew-Burns and Clifton Crow apply a generous amount of cream cheese frosting to red velvet cake. She recently expanded her catering business to lunch and dinner service.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jen Pettigrew-Burns' son's food allergies prompted an interest in from-scratch cooking that eventually led her to open Ms. Groovy's Cafe & Catering in a storefront on Charleston's West Side."My middle son has an allergy to corn. When you really start looking at labels, you see that corn filler and syrup is in so many foods," said Pettigrew-Burns, who is the single mom of four children. "I really got into cooking then and enjoyed it very much."Pettigrew-Burns catered intermittently since 1996 under the Ms. Groovy's moniker, a nickname she acquired from her former husband, whose friends called him  "Groovy."She didn't make a full-time career of it until about a year ago when she left her position as a preschool teacher at Christ Church United Methodist to devote her time to catering. Last January, she moved into her current location at 709 Washington St. W., where she serves lunch and dinner.Previous jobs also included retail sales at the Diamond and airtime sales for a radio station. In fact, she was on a sales stop downtown at the former Café de Paris when she met her right-hand man Clifton Crow, who serves customers in the petite dining area and bakes his special cakes.Her catering clients kept her busy from the start. She eased into dinner service by offering Tuesday take-out specials last year. When Crow joined her in January, she opened up her dining service to lunch and dinner Tuesday though Saturday.The menu includes a variety of quesadillas served with freshly fried tortilla chips and house-made salsa. The meal-sized quesadillas feature fillings such as fajita chicken or beef, shrimp and brown rice or vegetarian-friendly beans, corn, carrots, onions, peppers and mushrooms or Portobello mushrooms and feta.She bakes pepperoni rolls and cinnamon rolls in house, and is experimenting with baking flatbread.Chef, Cobb, shrimp, and fajita salads and club, turkey, ham, chicken salad and BLT sandwiches as well as a vegetarian soup and chili are always available, along with a special that changes weekly. Lunch prices range from $6 to $10. Lasagna, vegetarian lasagna, chicken cordon bleu and pot roasts are examples of entrees that rotate as weekly specials and are often served with side salads and bread. Last week's special was red beans and rice, fried apples, cornbread and turnip greens. Dinner specials are always $10. Children under 9 years old eat free in the dining room."Families are struggling now. I understand that. I used to take my four kids out and they'd  take two bites out of a meal and want dessert," she said.Family baking traditions figure high in the making of the popular desserts at Ms. Groovy's. Pettigrew-Burns' 90-year-old grandmother, Kathleen Hill, and mother, Carolyn Withrow, provide homemade pies, usually pumpkin, pecan, apple or rum pecan.Her grandmother urges her to take over the pie making, but she said it doesn't come as easily to her. "But then, I haven't been doing it for 75 years," she said.
 Crow's passion for baking originated with his mother. He was baking cakes from scratch when he was in fifth grade. Today, his specialties are red velvet, brown sugar cake with brown butter icing, chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream icing and carrot cake with raisins in the icing."You want a big glass of whole milk to go with a slice of cake. If you're going to indulge, do it right," he said.
They keep plenty of homemade cheesecake, brownies and cookies on hand.Pettigrew-Burns said her sales positions prepared her to open her own business. "I learned what worked and didn't work in business. I could tell if a business would succeed or fail when I stopped on sales calls," she said.Both Crow and Pettigrew-Burns are passionate supporters of the West Side and nearby renovations and business initiatives. Ms. Groovy's Cafe & Catering sits alone in a narrow building just west of Edgewood Drive that most recently housed a bakery."It really feels like a neighborhood around here. The boys who live behind me come in most days after school. They race each other to get here first and take out the trash for me because I give them a treat," she said.Pettigrew-Burns lived on the West Side for 15 years, and Crow lives in his grandmother's West Side home. They both remember businesses that used to thrive along Washington Street West. He hopes other business sprout up along with longtime staples Charleston Department Store, Kelly's Men Shop, Young's Department Store, Pile Hardware and Fountain Hobby."I'm a true believer that people will travel for good food. I'm think this part of town is itching for good stuff," she said. "The West Side is a blank canvass at this point. Just a few people could make it interesting."
Mrs. Groovy's Kitchen, 709 Washington St. W., is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.  Call 304-400-4829 or visit Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230.    
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