Katie "Chef Red" Wimsatt opened Gourmet Meals to Go two years ago in a 1,000-square-foot building at 1230 Crabtree Ave.

Today, she's preparing 150 to 200 meals a day and making plans to open a sit-down restaurant in 2020.

"It's such a great feeling," Wimsatt said. "Going into business for yourself can be a very scary experience. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but mostly ups. I've built my brand on word of mouth. Somebody mentions me in a doctor's office while they're waiting for test results. Things like that."

But the road wasn't easy.

"I was a single mother at 20," Wimsatt said. "I started taking medical transcription courses at Owensboro Community & Technical College. Then, I got my CNA and worked at a nursing home for six months. But health care wasn't for me."

She was a line cook at chain restaurants.

"But I was too limited and I couldn't make a living that way," Wimsatt said. "So, I took a leap of faith. I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, for culinary training. I proved that I can be an executive chef. I found my passion in food."

The culinary program was 18 months.

But Wimsatt spent four years in St. Paul.

"The Twin Cities were great for me," she said. "I got to work with some of the greatest chefs in the country. I started this business about a year after I returned home. The corporate world was not for me. I like being my own boss."

"Chef Red" is a nickname picked up in culinary school because of her red hair.

"It was either that or 'Mouth of the South'," Wimsatt said with a laugh. "I chose 'Chef Red'."

Her building, across Crabtree from Mater Dolorosa Cemetery, has been a barbecue joint, a liquor store, offices and other things in the past.

"The outside doesn't look too pretty, but there's picture-perfect food inside," Wimsatt tells people. "You eat with your eyes first and then your taste buds."

She's sorting blackberries from her brother-in-law's farm while she talks.

He raises several types of vegetables, Wimsatt said.

"I have the vegetable world at my fingertips," she said.

Wimsatt said, "I have an email forum where I plan my menus. It gives customers direct access to my exclusive menu."

Her Facebook page -- Gourmet Meals to Go -- shows what she's offering each day.

"I offer 13 proteins and more than 13 side items," Wimsatt said. "Once they place their order, I text them when it's ready. They can drive through and pick it up."

She said, "It's convenient. The reason we eat fast food is because it's convenient. So, healthy food should be too. I target the community with food that's fresh, never frozen."

Most meals, Wimsatt said, are $7 to $8.50.

"People come from everywhere," she said. "I had a lady from Madisonville come in twice this week."

Wimsatt doesn't have printed menus.

"I only have a digital menu. so I can switch it frequently," she said. "I'm getting ready to launch two new menus now. The community has really taken to my passion. It really sets my heart afire. I want to make the average person's life better."

The store's Facebook page has reached more than 6,000 people, Wimsatt said.

"Had the cabbage rolls and the orange spiced muffins," one recent customer wrote. "Oh my word, they were delicious."

Wimsatt also has a Grab and Go cooler where people can drop by without ordering and see what's available on any particular day.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

On weekends, Wimsatt does private catering.

The first meal she prepared at Gourmet Meals to Go was "my Juicy Lucy, a low-fat gourmet burger with high-grade beef," she said. "I'm a Kentucky Proud store. I use Kentucky products. I believe like 'Field of Dreams', if I cook it, they will come."

Wimsatt said, "I work 16 hour days. But I go to sleep so peacefully."

Now, she's planning her sit-down restaurant.

"I found a partner who really believes in me," Wimsatt said. "This is my wildest dream -- a sit-down restaurant with drive-through. I'm not after the dollar. I'm after giving the community a healthier lifestyle."

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com.

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