by Terry Rogers
Michelle Mills says that Etta’s Catering, located at 319 South Rehoboth Boulevard in Milford, will provide more than just delicious comfort foods. After months of renovations, the building now houses a beautiful gathering spot for groups as large as 130 people.
“We have been in the food industry for over 40 years,” Michelle said. “It is a gift God gave us, the ability to make good food. We have been catering for years. One of the meals we cater is for over 6,000 people for the Delaware Electric Co-Op. We knew that Milford needed a place where people could hold events and we wanted to create a space with a touch of home.”
Michelle’s vision took her seven weeks as she and many assistants, including Borden Smith, who owns the building as well as the auto body shop next door, completely remodeled the former restaurant space over a seven week period. Some of the décor are items that have been in the Mills family for generations. A butter churn on the floor belonged to her grandmother and one Michelle’s mother used to churn butter as a child. A red lamp on a hutch was a fixture on her grandfather’s desk and a framed cloth hanging on the wall over a mantle was a tablecloth on her grandmother’s table. When she had the cloth framed, the framer asked if Michelle wanted it washed before it was framed.
“I told her she was not to wash it because it is stained with love,” Michelle said. “I learned a lot in this process. I learned how to make doors that were not wood look like wood. I learned a lot of refinishing methods. The fireplace mantle came from the Windsor Hotel and it was a mess when I got it here, but now it looks beautiful.” Etta explained that the cloth came from feed bags that they used to purchase. Women would use the bags to make aprons, tablecloths and even clothing. The one framed in the catering hall was made in the 1950s, Etta believes.
There is a dining hall that seats up to 130 people as well as another room that is designed for conversation, according to Etta Mills, Michelle’s mother, and the one who the business is named after. Etta said that although she loved going to parties and events with her husband, Eugene, loud music made it difficult for them to hear. When they set up the event location for the catering business, they created an area separate from the dining area where music would play to give people a place to have conversations. Hanging on the wall in the dining hall are 100-year old barn doors that Michelle refinished taken from a farm that was owned by the family of former City Manager, Richard Carmean.
“Almost all the decorations in this building came from Milford,” Michelle said. “We are also partnering with as many Milford businesses as we can and are trying to focus on women-owned business. We are partnering with EasySpeak to handle all our alcoholic beverage needs and with My Sister’s Fault for all our breads. Our goal is to eventually offer a one-stop-shop, especially for weddings, where you can come talk to the photographer, caterer, cake baker, all at once. No need to run around all over the place finding what you want.”
Etta says that every dish they serve is handmade and from her own recipes. Some of the recipes she uses have been handed down through generations. Michelle said she never remembered her mother making food from a box.
“My mother had seven children,” Etta said. “We never bought cookies when we were growing up. If you wanted cookies, you pulled out the flour, sugar and other ingredients and you made them. My mother had a garden that was probably more than an acre. She began canning with strawberries and she didn’t stop all summer until she canned pumpkin. We had our own livestock, so all the beef, pork, chicken and other meats were fresh, slaughtered on the farm. We lived in Ellendale and every two weeks, Mom would come to Milford to do her shopping at the A&P. She had a $15 budget that she used to buy all the groceries we needed for two weeks. That doesn’t sound like much, but remember, almost all the food we ate, we grew on the farm. We come from a long line of good cooks and everything you get here is fresh, home-cooked comfort food.”
A grand opening is planned for April 21 with a ribbon cutting at 10 AM. Michelle says that the grand opening will celebrate all three businesses in the area, including Six Deuces, which is across the street, and Borden Smith’s shop next door. There will be classic and muscle cars on display, food samples and other fun activities. A catering menu is available although Michelle says the menu only has a small sample of the items they can prepare.
“The cover features our prime rib which is prepared by Eugene and Michelle,” Etta said. “It is so good, it melts in your mouth. I make homemade pies and am well-known for my sweet potato pie which is more of a custard-type pie than traditional sweet potato pie. We also have our fried chicken that we sold at Mills Brothers. When we sold Mills Brothers, we knew we weren’t quite ready to retire. The catering business gives us a little more freedom as we can plan events around our own schedules.”
Michelle says that the busy season for catering is quickly approaching and their calendar is filling rapidly with weddings and other events. Etta’s Catering can be reached at 302-242-8429.
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