It was such a great loss. When Gerard Cace, longtime proprietor of the iconic Longview restaurant Johnny Cace’s, named after his father, died unexpectedly in 2012, he left his wife, Cathy, a widow. He left his daughter, Chelsea, as well, along with her sister, Jenni Cace Woerndle.
But she wasn’t alone. They weren’t.
They had Gerard’s legacy and enough moxie to reinvent the inheritance they were bequeathed from the Cace family and redefine how they marched forward into the future.
The Cace Kitchen, at 415 N. High St., manifested itself in the rebirth of Gerard’s legacy.
“After the restaurant closed, we still had customers wanting some of our signature ingredients,” Cathy Cace said of her family’s decision to close the full-service restaurant in 2015.
Johnny Cace’s closed in March. When the holidays rolled around, Longview residents were aching for the cheese croutons and other Cace favorites from the restaurant.
The mother-daughter duo set up shop in St. Mary’s school cafeteria, with licenses from the health department and the willingness to work when the school didn’t need the space. Another vendor joined them and immediately they were filling orders for croutons, relish and pimento cheese.
The pair, armed with a business model, had researched the “grab and go” concept and were confident that their beloved product, with a new face, would be a hit.
They were right.
“We wanted to keep it a lot more manageable,” Cathy said. “We wanted our evenings and weekends off while providing our longtime customers with the treats they wanted.”
The Cace Kitchen blends the take-and-bake concept with the grab-and-go, giving Longview fans the flavors they crave with the ease of preparation that benefits both parties.
They brought longtime Cace employees on board to fill the gaps.
“We weren’t the ones in the kitchen,” Cathy said.
But under the tutelage of women who had spent decades with Johnny Cace’s, Cathy and Chelsea learned the kitchen ropes and transformed the sit-down eatery into a concept easily accessible for East Texans on the go.
“We took a leap of faith,” said Cathy, who has also parlayed her longtime love of jewelry-making into an offering at Cace’s Kitchen. “God put it all in place and we ran with it.”
From 2016, when the offerings included croutons, relish, okra and pimento cheese, to 2019 when Cace’s Kitchen cooks up Shrimp Creole, Chicken St. Charles and many of the original Cace’s favorites — all to go, Chelsea and Cathy have maximized the Cace name while putting their own twist on family favorites.
“My dad wrote recipes like ‘One cheese bucket,’ or ‘Shake real good,’” Chelsea said. “We kept working on it. We developed the gumbo, the etouffee.”
In addition to the signature recipes, the pair caters events, with creations such as seafood crepes, tomato zucchini casserole or custom hors d’oeuvres.
“If you have an idea, we can execute it,” Cathy said. “We love the challenge.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea makes Cace favorite gumbo two to three times a week.
Recently, the duo added back chicken and dumplings on Thursdays, a Cace’s tradition. In addition, they prepare meatloaf, pot roast, Irish beef stew and other favorites on a rotating basis.
“Mom loves to cook and entertain. That’s how we’ve moved this forward,” Chelsea said.
Both give credit to the Cace recipes for their success. As of March 10, a Cace has been cooking for 70 years in Longview.
“We have our heritage and our history,” Cathy said. “We incorporate all of that into Cace’s Kitchen.”
For her part, moving the business forward into the future, Chelsea is confident in the past while building on the future.
“I took from my mom. From my dad. I put it all together to help us move forward with the new concept,” she said.