Attention to detail, determination, and adaptability are just a few of the key ingredients that helped Angie Montroy, chef-owner of Angie’s Pantry, achieve 10 years in business this month. She credits a steady, but manageable growth trajectory for the long-term success of the food-focused business she officially started in 2011. Thanks to perseverance, creativity, positive word-of-mouth, and a few pandemic pivots, business is booming at Angie’s Pantry, 809 South Blvd.
Angie’s Pantry started when Montroy offered her personal-chef services to four clients in the mid-nineties and grew to include small catered events. In time she started operating out of The Nineteenth Century Club before moving into the brick-and-mortar on South Boulevard where the bulk of her business now revolves around providing a vast array of heat-and-eat meals for individuals and families.
“I have to be careful about taking on catering orders now because the weekly meals are just jamming,” said Montroy. “The weekly meals are my baby.”
Montroy has spent nearly a decade building her recipe repertory while steadily increasing her customer base. Today, Angie’s Pantry has a client list of more than 1200 people and offers a weekly menu of healthy ala carte meals and devilish desserts for pre-order and pick up. Angie’s Pantry prepares 200-300 meals a week featuring signature dishes like parmesan crusted chicken and light tomato cheese pasta, spicy basil chicken with veggie fried rice and roasted salmon salad, spiked with parsley chives and dill relish.
In the kitchen Montroy sticks to an 80/20 philosophy. 80% of Angie’s Pantry offerings are prepared with health and wellness in mind while 20% are designed to be a true indulgence. All dishes at Angie’s Pantry are free of preservatives, artificial ingredients and trans fats, but Montroy admits she is a baker at heart and lets her “devil horns” show when she makes dessert. Massaged kale salads and “creamless” cream soups are an easy way to justify enjoying a slice of Montroy’s decadent streusel-topped apple bars or signature “baby cakes.” The three-layer cakes are just six inches in diameter, serve eight and come in festive flavors like mint, Oreo, and peanut butter.
Montroy learned to cook in her mother’s kitchen and recollects cutting herself “a million times” as she learned to cut potatoes using a steak knife. Though her skills have improved over the years, her mother’s recipes still hold a special place in her heart and Montroy strives to have a personal connection to her recipes. Her mother’s fried chicken remains her favorite meal and Montroy treasures a handwritten recipe card for the applesauce cake she enjoyed as a child.
An insatiable love of flavor, respect for global cuisine and curiosity about cooking methods form the foundation for the Angie’s Pantry menu. However, it’s the diversity of dishes that has aided Montroy in keeping her customers satisfied.
“I have spoiled my customers because I do everything I can to make them happy, said Montroy.
Angie’s Pantry was traditionally open on three days per week, but COVID made it logical to eliminate a pickup day. Demand for meals had not waned, but Montroy opted to close on Thursdays to minimize contact with the public to keep her staff of five as safe as possible. During the pandemic, Montroy and her staff added more a la carte options to the menu to create more options for customers to customize their orders despite limited business hours.
“When COVID hit our biggest problem was actually getting food here,” said Montroy. “Unlike other businesses the pandemic really increased business for us. I was running with my hair on fire to get everything done.”
Additionally, Montroy added an ala carte option to donate to Beyond Hunger or Housing Forward on her online order form. Her generous customers have been raising $400-$500 each month for the organizations.
Angie’s pantry benefits from a broad customer base. The business attracted young single working people, busy families and the elderly. Montroy has a dozen isolated senior citizens she prioritized throughout the pandemic.
“Some of my older customers live alone and are not capable of placing an online order,” said Montroy. “During the shutdown I called them every week to see if they needed something. Sometimes they ordered and sometimes they didn’t, but I always made sure they were doing okay.”
As the world opens again, Montroy is looking forward to adding a third day back to the schedule. She is preparing for increased business by seeking bookkeeping and kitchen help and has committed to keeping the a la carte style menu that has been pleasing her customers through the pandemic.
As Montroy celebrates a decade of cooking in the Oak Park community she is grateful for her loyal customers and is proud to be a veteran among the growing number of successful women-owned businesses on South Blvd.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” said Montroy. “When I think of where I started I feel a great deal of pride.”