When you grow up in a family which loves food, being in the restaurant business seems very natural. Kellye Foss and Tomye Schilling, sisters who grew up in Pennsylvania, are the owners of Tellico Kats Deli. (The name KATS comes from Kellye And Tomye.) Their childhood kitchen was always a gathering place, creating lasting memories of comfort and contentment for both sisters. Kellye learned the love of baking as a child, alongside her grandmother who had owned a pie shop and baked delicious foods without recipes. Tomye has worked in various food industry positions, and widened her personal food horizons during the years she lived in California.
As young women, each sister was busy raising her family, working hard, and living thousands of miles apart from one other. Fast forward to the 1990s, when Kellye and Tomye rendezvoused for a vacation with their mother in Montana, and conjured up the idea of owning a restaurant together. “We were staying and dining at a fishing lodge on a lake, and we began to envision how we might create our own restaurant someday,” Kellye recalls. “So we added it to our bucket lists,” Tomye adds. Eventually the sisters ended up living near each other in Florida, and both working with food. Tomye had worked in a New York deli many years earlier, later joined the corporate world and worked for a division of McCormick & Company. When she found herself laid off, she decided to work at a country club – to help pay for her golfing! She wore many hats while working there, including cooking and tending bar, and gained valuable experience in the restaurant business. Meanwhile, Kellye was working for the US Post Office, but pitched-in on busy weekends at the same country club as the grill chef. The sisters’ dream of owning their own restaurant was beginning to gel.
Eventually Kellye and Tomye moved to Tennessee, building side-by-side houses in the lovely mountain community of Coker Creek. Their children were grown and gone, and they were ready to reinvent their lives. The sisters began to search for a great restaurant location. They had decided a deli-style shop would be ideal for a two-person operation, while they built up the business to a point where they would need additional help. In August 2008, Tellico Kats opened in a fabulous spot, right on the Tellico River. The building’s back porch and deck was ideal for al fresco seating, and picnic tables would be added on the grassy river bank. This location – right on the scenic Cherohala Skyway, and at the gateway to the Cherokee National Forest – offered easy access to the area’s year-round outdoor activities. Perfect!
The sisters developed a sandwich menu around the meats, cheeses, and side salads featured in the deli section of Kats. The sisters share the tasks of planning, procurement of ingredients, food preparation, and management, each injecting her own talents and creativity. The desire to provide sweet treats for the customers has turned Kellye into the chief baker, and each day’s homemade dessert offerings vary with pies, cakes, squares, cookies, puddings, and candies. Tomye, who describes herself as “quasi vegetarian,” loves the challenge of incorporating fresh seasonal local vegetables and fruits into the “daily special” sandwiches, soups and salads. Of course, one of the most important ingredients for the continued success of Tellico Kats is that Kellye and Tomye are always there, insuring that the quality, taste, and presentation is always up to the highest standards.
Today Tellico Kats has established a reputation for consistent good food in a friendly, fun atmosphere – and in a beautiful location. The sisters enjoy meeting and feeding people from all over the world, some who are visiting the area to tour the mountains on motorcycles, others to hike the trails, those using the rivers to kayak and canoe, and others visiting Bald River Falls and other local landmarks. Locals are quick to recommend Tellico Kats as their favorite lunch spot, friends often meet for social lunches at Kats, and orders “to go” feed local business people. Church groups, auto clubs, motorcycle groups, and big families converge on the restaurant, too. For custom prepared, delicious, fresh food, Tellico Kats is a winner. Kellye and Tomye’s dream of running their own restaurant is reality – and everyone benefits from their success!