PROFILES: Chef Henry Butcher
The Madison-USA team sat down with the owner of The Creole Kitchen, Chef Henry Butcher. After opening on the east side over a decade ago, The Creole Kitchen has remained staple in Columbus, Ohio’s resurgent King-Lincoln District, serving authentic Cajun style dishes.
We had the honor to talk to Chef Butcher about growing up in the bottoms of Shreveport, Louisiana, moving to Columbus at age 14 & the journey that his passion for the culinary arts took him.
TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU GOT STARTED, HOW LONG YOU'VE BEEN AROUND COLUMBUS?:
"I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana but my grandmother lived in New Orleans, so I went back forth from Shreveport to New Orleans. Shreveport is very different than New Orleans, Shreveport is more country. In New Orleans, everything was allowed coming up as a kid. I moved Columbus at the age of 14. My father came to Columbus looking for a job; on his way to Detroit to work at the automobile factory, he stopped in Columbus to see a friend of his and got a job at the City of Columbus."
I started washing dishes, pots and pans, in a hotel on the west side. We came up on the Hilltop, I Played football for West High School. Then I start working at a branch of Allen Pitt hotels on the west side of Columbus doing pots, pans and dishes. That area is now where Hollywood Casino sits."
HOW DID YOU GET INTRODUCED TO THE CULINARY ARTS?:
"I got introduced to the banquet and catering at a young age. I used to work for a German that got shot, his name was Jacque.... Jacque was a master chef when I met him, even though I was on the pots and pans as a dishwasher I would always wash the pots and pans as quick as I can so I could hang out with Jacque."
"Coming out of high school I went to culinary school, started culinary school at Century High School. I was able to test out the first year because I had nice skills, I had the clean oven, stove, deep-fryers, I was already familiar with it so I was able to test out and go over into advanced cooking. I'll never forget that because all of the older students got mad at me because I was the youngest but could cook better than all of them. I’ve been in the business since I was 16. I had two years, and they had just started, so they had to come to me and ask me questions. Coming out of culinary school, I start working in the Italian restaurant. Believe it or not, I was the best Italian chef in the city of Columbus. I remember an article that said the best Italian chef in Columbus is not Italian. I was sent to Venice to learn, I was there for 30 days. It was the first time I'd seen Black Italians, it was definitely a big experience for me."
"I kept growing in the business, I started working for the Hyatt. I went back to New Orleans, worked at the Super Dome, left there and went to Peachtree Hyatt in Atlanta, Georgia. Left there, went to Seattle, then I came back to Columbus when they did the Regency, Hyatt-Regency downtown. Got married, started my family, and that was the end of the traveling."
HOW DID THE CREOLE KITCHEN COME ABOUT?:
I lived in Delaware for 15 years, 30 minutes outside of Columbus. I was ready to leave the hotel at that time. I sold my property in Delaware and moved back to my old house in Columbus. I talked to my sister and my son, Henry Jr. and we put the business plan together for the Creole Kitchen. It was a unique time when we opened and I think timing had a lot to do with this because hurricane Katrina was in New Orleans, people were leaving New Orleans in droves. A lot of them would come to Columbus, they were going all over the United States as matter of fact. Then we opened up the Creole Kitchen, the Carry Out has been here for over 13 years.
When we opened up, there was a lot of headaches. We had a guy who came in and did a bid for us. The architect came in and put it together for us, then they came in and put the whole plan together, blueprints and everything. But it took them a year to do this, it started out $60,000 to do this, that's $60,000 went to $100,000. Man, I was frustrated and wondering when the door was going to open up. People were asking, when we were gonna open up. It finally happened and the doors were open. We were struggling at that time because a lot of the operating capital that we had was put into this. The struggle is still going on today, but its coming up, its coming up a lot faster than what I anticipated it to do. We have a show, we did Fat Tuesday for Mardi Gras and the place was packed. We got a beer license, now we have a wine license, the wine license just came a couple of weeks ago.
WHAT'S YOUR FEELING ON COLUMBUS' GROWTH AND THE KING-LINCOLN DISTRICT IN GENERAL, THROUGHOUT THE YEARS SINCE YOU'VE BEEN IN THE AREA?:
When I first came to the area in 2006. I walked this area, every week, for about 7 days, just standing and looking. And just looking at the whole area, it wasn't my first choice. Drug-infested, people standing on...it wasn't really what I was looking for to open up a restaurant but they gave me a deal that I couldn't refuse. Mayor Coleman said he was going to do some things to this area to really bring the area up, so we were a big part of bringing the area up. After we opened up the Carry Out, Lincoln Theater opened up shortly after, so that brought more traffic into the area. Then, they started remodeling the homes and stuff. You start seeing the community change, the Kings Center was growing. Urban League started doing things.... We’ve seen a lot, we’ve seen the area start looking better and better.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MADISON-USA?:
Quality; I can just feel the quality of it. To be able to stay in tune with the young people and what they're wearing now is the biggest part about this, that's really impressive to me. Young blacks coming to together and putting their money together to build is very important because when I started this, it was “Anybody want to invest, Anybody?” “No, no.”
Now they want to take a picture with you. But you know, its always funny because once you build it, then people see that you keep building it and they see what it's done, then they want to come back, like “can I invest?” I don't need you now. I don't need you now.