Making a family dinner has never been as easy as pulling up to Neat Eats’ purple and light blue drive-through shop off Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville.
Nicole Kempker started the business in October 2013, offering half-baked meals in an easy-to-carry dish. The Gainesville woman started the business while looking for employment with more flexible hours as she was the mother of twin 7-year-old girls, Annaclaire and Emmerson. And although Kempker's not a trained chef, the self-taught cook always enjoyed spending time in the kitchen preparing meals with her family.
“I remember sitting with my grandma on the stool in the kitchen at her farm,” she said, recalling other fond memories spent with her own mother and aunts at that farm house. “That’s where I think I found my love for food.”
Many of her recipes at Neat Eats stem from family recipes, but Kempker said she likes to change them from time to time to make something new.
Her decision to run a drive-through eatery rather than a full-service restaurant allowed her the flexible hours and shorter schedule she wanted to care for her daughters.
“We thought that this was a niche for this type of business, to-go food that’s not to-go fast food junk,” Kempker said.
She hopes her choices inspire her daughters to do what they love in life.
“I also wanted to do something to show them that I’m a woman, I own my own business, and you can do whatever you want,” she said.
Now, Annaclaire and Emmerson help her with some of the cooking.
“Spending time with mom is fun anyway, but they love to put their hair nets on and go to work,” she said.
At work each Monday, Neat Eats posts its weekly menu via social media and its website, neateats.net. While the menu varies, the company typically offers oven-ready casseroles, soups, sides, dips and desserts. Special orders are available upon request with prior notice.
Kempker said she tries to use as much seasonal and fresh ingredients as possible.
“That’s what’s so nice about what I do is that I don’t like to get stagnant and do a fresh menu each week,” she said. “So that means finding fresh ingredients and trying to find something new to make with them.”
And while the menu changes weekly, Kempker tries to rotate a few favorites more frequently into the menu. Selections include chicken pot pie, shrimp and grits and beef stew.
But her food service is not only to feed families on the go.
“People use us a lot for if someone is ill, or had a death in the family,” Kempker said. “Those are nice types of items that everybody will like.”
Neat Eats is also allergy friendly, frequently offering dishes that are gluten free, vegan or dairy free. Vegan options are usually done by preorder.
“There are a lot of people who are gluten free that you didn’t realize,” Kempker said. “It’s scary going out to a restaurant and getting the gluten when you don’t want the gluten.”
She makes the food in a kitchen in her basement. Then she totes it to the small Neat Eats facility in between Animal Medical Care and a package store.
“We thought there was a need in town for something like this,” she said.
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week and the girls made dinner for their teacher all by themselves.
So far, Kempker said she’s gotten many of her customers because of word of mouth — and for her that means a lot.
“The biggest compliment is that they told their friends,” she said.
Laurie Weber of Gainesville has been getting meals from Neat Eats since it opened.
“We love her food,” Weber said. “The biggest help to me is delivering meals to people who have been sick or had surgery. You can literally just pull in there and she’s got soup, she’s got ready-made meals. I’ve done a lot of delivery of her meals to friends who have had babies or are elderly.”
Weber said she likes just about anything that she’s picked up at Neat Eats, but some of her favorite dishes are the chicken enchiladas and chili.
“She’s filled a wonderful niche in the community,” Weber said.
Tom Reins also has been a regular customer since Neat Eats opened. The Dawsonville resident who works in Gainesville said he goes by about once a week and picks up meals for the rest of the week.
“The food is out of this world. I have yet to get a meal that I did not like, everything she does is just excellent,” Reins said.