Magnolia Natural Market and Cafe
Photo by Chris Thelen
As a forensic engineer, Cindy Gingrey spent much of her life meticulously examining the substance and structure of things to determine why they fail. Using that same precision, chef Gingrey now carefully pours over savory ingredients of soups, salads, paninis and more at Magnolia Cafe to determine what makes them succeed.
So what persuades a self-employed forensic scientist to go from nitty-gritty investigative documentation to the grits-oriented operation of a hometown eatery?
She wasn’t swayed by the former owners themselves who doggedly tried to convince Gingrey, a volunteer at the organic farmers market, to buy the place. And she didn’t cave to family pressure. Despite months of encouragement from her husband and in-laws to take the opportunity, Gingrey did not budge.
To say that she came to her decision reluctantly would be an understatement. “I absolutely did not want to do it—kicking-and-screaming did not want to do it,” Gingrey says. “I had reasons. I was adamant. I could not do it.”
But an evening prayer catapulted the recalcitrant engineer into becoming a cafe owner. It went like this: “My kids are getting ready to graduate, God. I want something different to do...I don’t really want to work for someone else. I want it to be a service, something happy, something joyful, something that I love. And, oh, by the way, you’re gonna have to put it in my lap....Oh no!”
Once Gingrey recognized her answer had landed in her hands, she jumped into the venture enthusiastically. Though she used the original menu to start, she and her team of friends and family have continued to expand the selection, including things like natural turkey, local pasture-raised beef burgers, grilled chicken wraps and homemade hummus with feta and cucumbers.
Using natural, mostly organic ingredients and all locally grown foods, Gingrey sees her mission as serving “joyful food,” a task that originates in the family-like work atmosphere she designs for employees and her commitment to not serve anything she wouldn’t serve her own family. The once reluctant chef now dreams of a second location and recalls a few lessons she has gathered along the way. Like the distinction between knowing the mechanics of cooking and possessing an innate ability for cuisine. “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit,” Gingrey says citing a favorite quote. “Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a smoothie.”