Cooking has always been a part of Liz Victor’s life, even when the timing wasn’t right to make it her world.
It started when she was a girl, seeing her Northern grandmother blend spices and herbs to make dishes of roasted duck and lamb. Her other grandmother, from the Deep South, would steam collards and make fried chicken and gravy Victor can still taste today.
After college she worked at a family-owned restaurant but left the food business for a job at a newspaper and then public relations.
“I didn’t stay (at the restaurant), but I learned more from them sitting on a flour barrel, peeling shrimp in their kitchen, than I did in four years of college,” Victor said.
After working and staying home with three children until they were school age, Victor knew she was ready to get back into the restaurant business.
This summer, she opened About Thyme Cafe in North Augusta, aiming to bring homemade food to the mix of restaurants in the area. Her employees know
the customers by name, which has helped create a loyal following in just five months.
“Cooking, to me, there’s a great deal of love that comes from being in the kitchen and having girl talk and skinning onions,” said Victor, 44. “People come in and enjoy what you do, and it’s a really neat feeling.
“I don’t think a lot of people get that in their jobs.”
After landing the building on Georgia Avenue just past the municipal building, Victor and her family ripped up carpet and demolished walls to get the feel of the restaurant just right.
They painted the walls a calm orange and decorated them with works by local artists.
Victor’s husband, Bill, the treasurer at Dogwood Stables in Aiken, took over the bookkeeping – and occasionally washed dishes.
“It’s been a learning process,” he said. “I know horse racing, but I didn’t know restaurants until now.”
In designing the menu, Liz Victor used family recipes she shared with her 10 employees, and she adopted dishes from them.
The only recipes that stay a secret are for the desserts, called T’s Famous Cakes, baked at home every morning by Victor’s father.
The menu above the counter is written in chalk, part of her plan to use whatever ingredients are in season and match the weather.
They started with pimento cheese sandwiches, casseroles, chicken salad and pot roast, with red velvet, caramel and chocolate cakes for dessert.
When hiring her staff, Victor wanted people just as passionate as she was about food. One day while having lunch with friends at a local chain restaurant, she struck up a conversation with her waitress, a friendly woman with a degree in restaurant administration.
“We just kind of clicked,” Victor said. “At the end of the meal I gave her my number and thought I was never going to hear from her again.”
The waitress, Michelle Bales, called two days later and became the cafe’s manager.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this place,” Bales said. “Everybody here is like a family. I think the customers can really pick up on that.”
In looking to the future, Victor can’t help but look at the past and realize it was all about timing.
When she got pregnant in 2004, she and her husband decided she’d stay at home for one year to take care of the baby. When it turned out she was having twins, that timing changed a bit.
When her third child was born, she knew she was needed at home a little longer.
Victor said the time will come when her children can work in the restaurant before they go to college.
As for now, they are all where they want to be.
“I always knew what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted a cafe. I always knew what I wanted to serve and what it should look like,” Victor said. “But everything in life is about timing. That’s what About Thyme means.”