Stories by Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Life in the food business is not easy. And it’s certainly not glamorous. For most, it’s not even that lucrative, no matter if you’re running a small-town cafe or a Michelin-starred restaurant. Hours are long, work can be tedious and you’re bound to pick up some bad habits, if not crash and burn. We talked to three people who have fought the good fight against alcoholism, overeating and incredible emotional pain. All speak frankly about their battles and how life still tries to trip you up every single day.
The Battle with Booze
Katie Schma, 61, celebrates two things each December: her birthday and another year of being sober.
Last month marked 31 years since she has had a drink. Maybe even more amazing is that she never relapsed after her stint in rehab.
After a busy lunch shift at Local Foods Kitchen, we talked about her journey. A few people linger at her popular Fort Worth restaurant and catering company; it’s cozy and filled with wooden tables along with cases of prepared foods and desserts. “I was inspired by the Silver Palate,” she says, referring to the Upper West Side food shop in New York that spawned several successful cookbooks and ignited a passion for entertaining in the late ‘70s and early to mid ‘80s. Schma grew up in Carmel, California, attending all-girls schools for 12 years. “Of course, we snuck out to drink and smoke. Like most young kids, I drank to fit in with my peers.”
She went to Michigan for college, and majored in advertising and marketing, but Schma always gravitated toward the food industry. “In 1976, we moved to Dallas. I worked in many restaurants over the next 10 years honing my skills in hospitality be it in the kitchen or in the bar. I also became a functioning alcoholic.”
One of her final jobs was at Petaluma on McKinney Avenue. “I was drinking and doing drugs. My day would start with me opening the restaurant and drinking wine. And I would end it with shots of Grand Marnier. My assistant manager one day called me out for the way I was behaving, and on Dec. 13, my boss told me I should think about detoxing.”
Schma didn’t realize they had already called her mother, nor was she aware about much of anything else. “I had a black eye from falling down, and the next day, Dec. 14, 1988, I went to a treatment center in Tioga, Texas.”
By then, her mom, Mardi, already was a big deal in the Dallas restaurant world. Clean and sober for the first time in 10 years, Schma went to work for her. She also blossomed as a chef and left Dallas to work in Paris under Alain Passard at L’Arpège, which opened in 1986. She returned again to Texas to help Mardi at the popular City Café. In 2001, they both moved to Oakville in Napa Valley to open Nest, a deli and take-out restaurant which became an instant success.
And she remained sober. Schma attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, listening to celebrities in California talk about the same issues and problems she had been dealing with. “We’re all just people when you get down to it.”
At one of her first meetings, a man gave her his 30-year chip. These sobriety coins are given to AA members to mark special anniversaries, be it one day or several decades. “It was a talisman,” says Schma, who still has the coin. “I wish I could tell that man how much it meant to me.”
She opened Local Foods Kitchen in 2015 after moving back to Texas and opting to work in Fort Worth instead of Dallas. “I looked at a lot of locations, including what is now The Flying Carpet Turkish Café in Fairmount. I happened to drive by this location off of Hulen and near the Tanglewood neighborhood. It was for lease, and practically signed the papers on the spot,” says Schma. “My brother helped do the build out.”
LFK has been a success since opening, despite the somewhat hidden location. And yes, she serves and sells wine and hosts pairings dinners. “I read the tastings notes and ask the sales reps about certain wines to plan the menu,” she says.
If she had more time off, she would paint and garden and play with her dogs. “That would be a perfect day,” she says with a smile.
Local Foods Kitchen 4548 Hartwood Drive, Fort Worth, 817-238-3464, localfoodskitchen.com
In the chef world, if hard work paid off in dollars and cents, Toby Tindall would be a millionaire.
Cooking was in his genes, as he grew up in the kitchen with his grandparents and parents.
“Mom had six favorite meals she could make perfectly. And then on Sundays, we ate out,” says the 53-year-old.
It’s midmorning, but he already looks ready for a nap, as catering gigs have taken their toll on the owner of The Beignet Bus. Deep-frying pillowy squares of dough and making cafe au lait for 500 people inside a food truck is no small feat. He powers through a cup of black coffee and shakes off the tired, knowing he might be able to grab a nap later.
We talk about food and being a dad. And how the death of his daughter Le’la affected how he looked at both roles.
Tindall, like many in the business, did early time in the fast-food industry. It’s boot camp for everyone from cooks to general managers. And he learned to work a fryer at Zeke’s Fish & Chips, a Fort Worth institution. It’s a skill that has come in handy making beignets.
“After a few years in the Navy, I was ready for a challenge. I found it thanks to Jean LaFont.” The French chef who helped create Dallas’ fine dining scene in the early ’80s, opened Seterry’s, a white tablecloth restaurant in Fort Worth, when he moved to Cowtown in 1990. “He put me through my paces, and I learned what cooking was about,” says Tindall, who also waited tables and bartended as part of his training. Tindall later helped open Bistro Louise and worked at Cafe Aspen and Sardines Ristorante Italiano, all classic Fort Worth restaurants.
He transitioned into hotel kitchens after his daughters were born, looking for more routine and fewer hours. “I suddenly found myself working longer hours, and there I was a single dad living in a hotel. More than once I had to set my kids up in highchairs in the kitchen while I worked.”
Tindall eventually remarried. “Rachel thought being a chef meant I’d cook her gourmet dinners every night. On an early date she found out that it meant three kids in car seats and Whataburger.”
He found himself in an even more demanding job, running the kitchens at two properties. More than 15 years go by, and Tindall is working 90-hour weeks running two hotel kitchens. When he was home, he tried to focus on oldest daughter Le’la and Baylee, his youngest, due to their struggles with severe depression. All he really wanted to do was eat and sleep. “I knew I had to make some changes in my work life to deal with my family,” says Tindall.
Then his world crumbled. Le’la took her life on May 3, 2016. She was 16 years old and a junior in high school. Tindall gets a faraway look in his eyes as he recalls yelling at her to wake up and get out of bed.
“For six months, I barely moved,” says Tindall. “We all hurt.”
Then Tindall met a man who happened to own three Fuzzy’s Taco Shop franchises and was looking for someone to do some consulting work. “He hired me and, even better, he paid me. I knew I needed to make more changes in my life and this was the push I needed.”
Tindall was browsing Craigslist when he spotted a little bus for sale. “The previous owners had been making wings and fries, so that thing was covered in grease inside, but everyone in the family pitched in to clean it up. It felt like Le’la was telling me what to do.”
Tindall developed his recipe for classic beignets, and a new career was born. The first gig for The Beignet Bus was an event at the Montessori school Le’la had attended.
Today, Tindall stays busy with private events, but he likes to do pop-ups near his home in the Fairmount neighborhood. He feeds his creative side by tinkering around with savory beignets and specialty coffees. Middle daughter Tatum, now 18, works alongside Dad, including cleaning and prepping the bus.
“She’s a mini-me,” says Toby. “ She’s all about the entire experience, from prep to guest relations. I’ve told her I will be the hardest boss she’ll ever have but that she’ll learn some valuable lessons for life. I tell both my daughters that I do this because I love it, and that I want them to love whatever they choose to do.”
Baylee is on the autism spectrum, and Toby and Rachel have worked hard to find her the right school and encourage her artistic talents. “The loss of her sister hit her hard,” says Toby. “But she has learned to smile again, and she has my creative gene. She recently made a tiramisu pie with crust from scratch.”
In addition to a full-time job and volunteer work, Rachel also handles social media and helps her husband keep up with bookings.
If you’ve ever bought beignets from Toby, you know he always greets you with a smile and conversation. “While we do a lot of caterings, on the street we get to know people and develop relationships. So many people have struggles and they want to share their pain and their joy. I listen and develop another friendship, even if it’s only for a brief time. It’s that whole NOLA vibe … what better way to get to know someone than with a pastry and a good cup of coffee.
“What happened changes the way you see everything; family definitely comes first now. I’m more emotional, but I definitely smile more at the customers. Life on the bus is good.”
The Beignet Bus Call 817-881-4814 for catering; follow them on Facebook and Twitter @beignetbus for pop-ups.
On her journey to get fit and shed more than just a few pounds, Jodi Maria puts herself out there.
And we mean way out there. We know women who won’t be photographed unless they have the time to strike the perfect pose: angled body, hand on hip, one knee slightly cocked, and head perfectly tilted. “Don’t make me look fat,” they tell the photographer.
Not Jodi. She joined Instagram in January 2018 as #fortworthfatmom to document the ups and downs of her weight loss. Jodi takes selfies of herself naked (yes, she is careful about what she shows) to document her shrinking body. On Fridays, she posts #fattofat before-and-after progress photos.
The 31-year-old also documents her trips to the dentist and the foot doctor, both results of her obesity.
She offers Instagram viewers photos of not only her healthy meals but of cake, which she loves and still enjoys on occasion and, of course, photos of pie.
Jodi is part of the Sweet Lucy’s Pies team, sister to Lindsey Lawing, the head pie baker. “She’s the master of crusts; I mainly deal with the fillings,” says Jodi with a smile. A small business without a brick and mortar, it means long hours during the busy season, with the team on their feet for hours at commercial kitchens they rent out for baking. They cranked out close to 700 pies over the holidays. That’s tough to do when you’re carrying a lot of extra weight.
“I’ve been in the service industry all my life,” says Jodi. She and her sister both worked at Reata, the downtown Fort Worth restaurant. “You work long hours, and you work late; it’s easy to develop bad habits such as drinking. I also smoked a lot.”
When she left, she knew she had to make some lifestyle changes. “I replaced alcohol with food to the point that I would sit in my car and eat candy bars I had stashed away.”
Not even her approaching wedding slowed down her weight gain. “Most women diet to look good in their dress. Not me.” Jodi continued to put on the pounds to the point where doctors were making serious noise. She had a hernia but wasn’t healthy enough for surgery.
“My rock bottom was when my daughter wanted to go to the museum, and it took me forever to find something to wear that actually fit me to where I could go out in public. It was a horrible moment.”
Jodi, then a size 4X, was following some other women on social media who were on weight-loss programs, and she decided it was time. “I found an old pair of tennis shoes that still fit me and starting walking in Trinity Park. That was it. I didn’t jump on the latest fad diet. I just started walking.”
Despite her cheerful and positive demeanor on social media, Jodi admits she also was in a deep depression. “With Instagram, I found overwhelming support from people I had never met. A woman in California started checking in on me and has been helpful in giving me tips on how to use the gym equipment, something you’re scared to ask about when you’re overweight and feeling out of place.”
Her gym, which recently became part of the Blink Fitness chain, has helped change her life. “The general manager reached out to me after seeing the Instagram account and has been very supportive. I’m comfortable there,” says Jodi, who understands gyms can be a judgmental place if you’re overweight.
She treats herself to good running shoes, joking that walking to the fridge and back never required any special footwear. It’s part of what makes her Instagram so appealing: She has an amazing sense of humor.
As far as food, she started cooking more with the understanding that veggies were better for her than chocolate. She is a big fan of her HEB grocer for time-saving items such as precut veggies and proportioned snacks. “I’m not really on a diet, but I understand the importance of what I’m putting into my body. I also know that sometimes you have to eat the cake. It’s so important to treat yourself.”
Jodi has experienced some backlash, too, as the weight has come off. “Some have been critical of me using the word ‘fat.’ People need to realize I’m only judging myself. This is real and raw for me. I’ve cried, and I get scared and, yes, I’ve tripped on the treadmill.”
She continues to reach milestones. A big one was when she didn’t eat any of her daughter’s Halloween candy. While she’s now a size 12, she still shops at Lane Bryant and one time took a pair of its size 24 jeans into the dressing room to put them on. That’s the size she used to wear, but now she can fit her body into one leg.
She also took the exams to become a police officer. While a past DWI disqualified her, she wanted to see if she could handle the physical test. “I’m super proud to have done that. My goals in life just keep getting clearer.”
In mid-December, she celebrated weighing in around 175. She decided to go blond, too, because why not. And she and the Sweet Lucy’s Pies team successfully fulfilled all their orders.
“It’s been a good year. I’m ready to take on the new one.”
THE HIT LIST
Jodi loves vegetables and salmon and says frozen grapes and peanut butter on a spoon are two of her go-to snacks. Here are some of her splurge-worthy items.
- Sweet Lucy’s pie, of course
- Stir Crazy Baked Goods cinnamon rolls
- Fried pickles at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
- Ellerbe Fine Foods dulce de leche cookies
- The Paris Hilton from Hot Box Biscuit Club