Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local chefs.
After finishing off another busy lunch rush at Orange Clover Kitchen & More, Rachel Smallwood Hall sits down to talk with Insider, her 6-year-old son Davis by her side.
Hall talks about how her father, Mike, helped inspire her to make a living in the dining industry, how much she loves cooking and more, but she seems most happy when talking about her regular customers, most of whom she and her staff know by name.
Heck, she knows most of the orders her loyal customers will place before they place it.
“You always know what Miss Mary wants,” Davis interjects.
“I always know what Miss Mary wants,” she repeats to him, smiling.
Miss Mary, Hall explains, is a woman who comes into the Jeffersonville restaurant and catering business for lunch every day. And every day, Mary sits in the same seat, which now has a plaque bearing her name over it.
“We’re family to her, I think,” says Hall, who opened her business in 2011. “When Mary comes in, everybody takes a turn to go sit down next to her. I could give you names of 100 people that were here today. That’s what makes us most successful. We create those personal relationships with people in our community.”
At the award-winning Orange Clover Kitchen, it’s about much more than sandwiches, soups and salads — it all begins with family. Her dad had a career in the hospitality industry when his kids were growing up, so they learned at an early age to appreciate a variety of cuisine.
It’s no surprise, probably, that Hall’s brother Ian Hall — who was eating escargot by age 8 — also is a restaurateur, having opened The Exchange Pub + Kitchen, Longboard’s Taco and Tiki, and Brooklyn and the Butcher, all in New Albany.
Not that Dad encouraged such behavior.
“One of my father’s first things was, ‘Don’t ever go into the restaurant business and don’t ever own a restaurant,’” Hall says. “Now we’ve got four restaurants in the family. We basically gave him the middle finger and said, ‘We’re doing it.’”
Hall’s first professional experience in the restaurant business was working for Buckhead and Rocky’s Italian Grill in Jeffersonville.
She later went into nursing, but when her brother opened the original version of The Exchange, she helped out, running the kitchen at one point.
She simply fell in love with it, and Orange Clover Kitchen was the ultimate result.
And, despite her father’s advice to avoid the restaurant business, he plays a key role at Orange Clover — if you go, you’ll know him as “Frank.” The staff were making up nicknames for each other, Mike Hall’s middle name is Francis, and he was dubbed “Frankie.”
Have lunch at the restaurant, and there’s a good chance Frank will clear your table and get you a refill, not to mention stop by your table to make sure everything is to your liking.
“My father is instrumental in this,” says Hall, 36. “He’s the face of the business.”
The truth is, when she was a young child, she was routinely helping out at her dad’s restaurants. One of her earliest memories is folding napkins at a Hyatt Regency restaurant. Her mother, meanwhile, was Polish, and much of her cooking came from family recipes.
“I think we were groomed to become restaurant industry people,” Hall says. This is also why it’s no surprise that her kids help out sometimes while she works. (Davis earned $2 in tips the day we visited.)
Another aspect of what Hall and her staff do at Orange Clover Kitchen is to work with a variety of community charities, from Exit 0, a homeless charity, to Southern Indiana Animal Rescue. She does dinners and events for the American Cancer Society, and every year shaves her head as part of St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a childhood cancer research organization.
Not surprisingly, her family joins in. Says Davis, “When I shaved my head and went to school, everybody said, ‘Who is that guy?’ I said, ‘It’s me.’”
When you boil it all down, Hall treats her employees, customers and neighbors like family. All for one, one for all. When a new restaurant or bar arrives in Jeffersonville, Orange Clover is quick to send a “welcome” bouquet. She believes in promoting her neighbors and the community.
There’s an interesting relationship with the business next door, Insty Prints, in the form of a friendly rivalry. It’s positively sibling-like.
She tells the story of one of her three kids’ toys going somewhat haywire, prompting the family to dub the toy “haunted.” She brought it to work and it ended up in the dumpster behind the restaurant.
Sometime later, it arrived in a box as a surprise package from Insty Prints. Smallwood and staff retaliated by having 50 McDonald’s hamburgers delivered to Insty Prints.
The next move? Insty Prints smashed, laminated and framed one of the burgers. It now sits on the Orange Clover Kitchen counter under the words, “Best burger in town!”
The competition has since gone into a truce: “We’re too busy,” Hall says, chuckling.
In her rare spare time, she loves reading, and she loves cooking for her family even after cooking all day at work.
Now, the family also has a pair of puppies, providing another commitment. But commitments — and being a busy restaurateur, wife and mom — are what her life is all about.
“I’m one of those people who could be notoriously lazy if I didn’t have anything to do,” she says. And so she has committed to all of it — the relationships, the restaurant, the customers, the charities. All of it.
“I’m committed to this dream that came to fruition a little over seven years ago,” Hall says. “I’m committed to my kids — they are my everything.”
And that goes for the community, too. Hall feels that commitment in turn, noting that every road around the restaurant was closed at one point or another during the building of the new bridges, but people didn’t stop coming. That meant a lot to her and her staff.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but we make consistent, fresh, healthy food every day of the week,” she says. “Everything we do is based on ‘What do we believe in?’ … I think it’s that desire — that want, that need — to be part of the community, to know people like Mary.”
Orange Clover Kitchen & More is located at 590 Missouri Ave. in Jeffersonville.