Kiss the Cook is not a short-order cook kind of restaurant where catching a quick bite is all you need. Instead, it's a homey, comfortable diner where each dish is prepared from scratch and to order.
The restaurant opened in July at the corner of Taylor and Durand Avenues because the timing, owner and Sturtevant native Kookie Niemiec said, was right.
"My dream was to open a coffee shop with four or five tables," she explained. "But one morning I was taking my grandkids to school and this building had a 'for rent' sign so I thought, 'Well, why not?' I didn't want to say 'shoulda, woulda, coulda' in a few years."
Kiss the Cook is a family affair where the proprietors want every customer to feel like family. Almost every position manned at the restaurant is staffed by a family member from the waitresses to the bus staff and even sometimes the cook.
Niemiec worked and ran food service for years at St. Sebastian's School so she thought she knew what she was doing and would have a pretty good handle on opening her own restaurant.
"This is a whole different world," she chuckled. "At school, it's a controlled environment and you know exactly how much of anything you need. Here, I never know because I don't know what will be a hit with people."
Customer traffic is another variable Niemiec is trying to better understand. Weekdays are hit-or-miss, but weekends are packed, she said. Because all dishes are made from scratch and to order, getting food to tables quickly can be a challenge.
"We know people have a hard time with how long it can take to get their meal so we are working on a more efficient system," Niemiec recognizes. "But, we think the food is so good that people will come in, sit down and feel at home."
All menu items are named for family members' favorite dishes and then given a gourmet spin.
Take the Gaige Grilled Cheese, for example. Gaige is one of Niemiec's grandchildren who happens to love grilled cheese. At Kiss the Cook, diners don't just get a regular grilled cheese, though; this sandwich is made with seven different kinds of cheese.
Other Kiss the Cook signature dishes include Kayla's Cuban and the Crabby Ben Omelet made with crab and lobster, named for Niemiec's recently deceased father.
But Niemiec said folks really should come in for their pancakes.
"I think we have the best pancakes in Racine," she nodded. "New customers get a small sample to hook them in. We are really proud of our pancakes."
The secret is the orange zest, and Niemiec plans to offer special flavors to go with the seasons and special holidays; pumpkin spice for fall and Thanksgiving, egg nog for Christmas, and red velvet for Valentine's Day.
Despite Kiss the Cook being the fifth or sixth restaurant at that location, Niemiec is optimistic.
"I hear all the time from people who say this place used to be this restaurant or that, but you don't know if you'll like us, until you try us," she said. "So, just try us. We're friendly and really good. We do make everything from scratch so there might be little wait, but give us a chance."
Kiss the Cook is located at 2920 Taylor Avenue in Racine. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday with a Friday Fish Fry from 5 to 8 p.m. every Friday. Call 262-619-0500.