A hallmark of modern times, the ubiquitous neighborhood coffee shop is too often taken for granted, Café Iz Owner Kay Reed will have you know. Kay, a pioneer in the Vestavia Hills business landscape, remembers a time when a cuppa joe wasn’t something locals could easily find outside of their own kitchens.
“People begged me to open for breakfast, so they could get a cup of coffee,” recalls Kay, then-owner of a white tablecloth tapas joint.
And so, she did. Nearly 20 years ago, Kay pulled the plug on her fine dining restaurant and set out to satisfy her community’s unmet needs—and caffeine cravings. That was the beginning of Everything Iz, the catch-all brand for Kay’s multiple culinary ventures, each created at her customers’ behest.
Over the years, Kay expanded from a dine-in café and bakery in Rocky Ridge to a catering and wholesale business. Now, café patrons can pick up dinner or dessert for later, even on holidays; the in-laws won’t know the difference. The café’s evening offerings change daily and rotate weekly, a blessing to her regulars who’d rather stop by every day than slave over dirty dishes. Some of Kay’s most popular items, like her Good Stuff Granola, Chicken Salad and Chocolate Mousse Bombs, are also available at local grocery stores.
Kay may appear to have her hands full, but as long as her customers are satiated, she’s unbothered by the workload. Her first event came by way of a customer inquiry, during Kay’s nightly table checks.
“When I say it happened by accident, I mean it. I was going around to each guest, asking if they enjoyed their meals, and one lady asked, ‘Do you cater?’ I said, ‘Yeah we do. Let me get my notebook, and I’ll be right back,’” Kay recounts.
A 600-person shindig would intimidate most catering novices but not Kay. Her team tackled the challenge with finesse, and quickly became accustomed to the high demands of the event-planning business. Preparations are already underway for the winter weddings she’s catering. “I know what brides need, as a caterer—and a mom,” Kay says, self-assuredly.
Veering into new territory is an inspiriting task, as Kay isn’t known to give anything other than her best effort. The dauntless chef will depart from her comfort foods and American favorites. All it takes is to ask.
“We did an entirely Chinese menu for a Chinese family for their wedding, and we learned at that point that we can do it. We research the recipes, shop at the Asian market, and we make it happen,” says Kay, who’s currently developing a total Vietnamese tasting menu.
Kay’s clients are often incredulous at her ability to recreate authentic ethnic cuisines, but she’s unfazed by their skepticism. “We’ll set aside several hours for the tasting, and they’ll love it. We’re very proud of what we cook because we take it very seriously. We’re not buying cubed cheese and frozen chicken fingers,” says the scratch-made purist.
Once sandwiched between a revolving door of neighboring tenants, Café Iz has stood the test of time, thanks to Kay’s abiding commitment to not cutting corners. Refusing to buy pre-shredded chicken, the Café Iz team does the deed themselves, cooking up to 200 pounds a day. Patrons may not understand the extent of the team’s labors, but they can taste the difference. That’s likely why they keep coming back, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
Boasting hundreds of recipes between her café and catering business, Kay won’t tweak her fan favorites, as long as they keep getting rave reviews. “We’ve adapted and changed the way we do things, but we’ve kept our Carrot Cake recipe for 19 years. When people come in, they know what they’re getting,” she says.
What they’re getting is thoughtfully made, locally sourced, flavorful dishes that have evolved into dinnertime classics for many families, some of whom don’t mind a drive for the Good Stuff. One determined customer makes frequent pilgrimages from Huntsville, cooler in tow, Kay says.
Kay is quick to share the credit though, gushing about her team—and son Stephen, who manages the store—with the café’s reputation for exceptional customer service. “They’re so special to me. They’re constantly thinking, ‘How can we do better?’ It was my vision, initially, but it’s not about me. It’s about the fact that we have people who share that vision and love to feed people,” Kay says, grateful for her work family.
As for the future, Everything Iz how it’s supposed to be, Kay believes. If a customer wants it, she won’t rule it out, save for an expansion. She’s already got a lot on her plate. “I’m not worried. This place will go on,” Kay says, knowingly.
Find menus, catering information, take-home dinner updates and more at everythingiz.com. The café is located at 2514 Rocky Ridge Road.
Iz Top Sellers
- Chocolate Mousse Bombs
- Chicken Salad
- Banana Bread
- Iz Good Stuff Granola