The face of food service in southwest Louisiana has been changing over the past couple years. Take for examples the proliferation of food trucks and the popularity of Waitr app. Some local purveyors of prepared foods have creatively found alternatives to the traditional restaurant. Heather Hamilton, along with help from her mother Laurie, started her business at the Tuesday Cash and Carry Farmers’ Market in 2012. She sold soups, quiches, and her ever-popular chicken salad, among other items. Her reputation as a go-to table for Tuesday evening dinner grew, so she expanded her business in 2014 to include Lunch at the Shack inside Lake Charles Memorial Hospital on Thursdays and Fridays. Her changing menu of sandwiches and salads has been a hit with hospital workers and visitors.
More recently, Heather brought her boyfriend of ten years Ryan Tharp into the venture. They formed a LLC and began renting commercial kitchen space inside the Historic Calcasieu Marine Bank. They serve lunch in the building’s adjacent courtyard on Wednesdays. In inclement weather, diners can enjoy lunch inside the grand marbled historic landmark.
Heather’s menu changes weekly and it is likely this variety of fresh foods in season that keeps patrons coming back week after week. Her menu regularly includes vegetarian and vegan items, and she will work with people who have allergies. "We want to offer something for everyone regardless of diet, mood and taste,” she says. "I’ve been reading and experimenting with North African spice blends recently. I guess I just enjoy variety of flavor and am always excited to try something new.”
While Heather is reluctant to pick a personal favorite food because there are so many she loves, she says their go-to meal at home is spicy purple hull peas and smothered greens with cornbread. She is also hesitant to call herself a chef because she hasn’t gone to culinary school or apprenticed under a chef. But she and Ryan can cook! "I learned a huge amount of what I know about cooking from my mother, starting as a small child atop an old wicker barstool so I could reach the counter. My mother loves to try new things and take risks in the kitchen and I definitely take after her in that respect. As an adult, I have discovered and taught myself about global cuisines. I am constantly seeking and learning new flavor profiles and techniques. I read about food online in my free time and watch food documentaries. I enjoy cookbooks, though I never follow recipes or measure.”
Heather believes food brings people together. "I am happy to share my passion for cooking and grateful for the wonderful people that it has brought into my life. My personal joy is when people discover through my cooking new things they never knew they loved.”
To experience Garden Path Groceries for yourself, find Heather and Ryan at the Tuesday Cash and Carry, corner of Enterprise and Broad, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m., Wednesdays for lunch in the courtyard at the Historic Calcasieu Marine Bank, 11:00 – 2:00, 844, Ryan St., at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for lunch Thursdays and Fridays, and on Facebook.