Story and Photos by Nick Carter
Rachel Smallwood vividly remembers the day she opened Orange Clover, an eatery in Jeffersonville located by the Second Street Bridge. “On our first day, we catered Waterfront Fashion Week for just over 300 people.”
Rachel and her staff handled the seemingly Herculean task with ease, thanks to her previous experience in the restaurant industry with her father, Mike Hall, and brother, Ian Hall, owner of The Exchange Pub & Kitchen in New Albany. While Rachel worked for her brother, Rachel’s father prepared to put his restaurant up for sale. The eatery was located in Jeffersonville’s Water Tower Square and at the urging of her family, a meeting was arranged with landlords Kyle and Cory Hoehn. Within 48 hours, Rachel had created a concept, restaurant name, menu and business plan to present to the Hoehn family, and Orange Clover opened in October 2012.
On my first visit, I hadn’t been sitting for long before Rachel emerged from the kitchen, but before even introducing herself, she asked if I would take her picture with Elmer Hoehn. Mr. Hoehn – the patriarch of the Hoehn family and owner of Water Tower Square – turns 100 in December and is the oldest living former congressman in the state of Indiana. And as it turns out, he also is Orange Clover’s No. 1 customer, arriving every day for lunch. When I asked what is his favorite thing about the restaurant, he promptly responded, “The management – and the grilled cheese.”
Everyone who works at Orange Clover has a specific task, although those roles are thrown out the window when a job needs done right away, and everyone pitches in. As Rachel and I sat talking, I was introduced to team and told each had a character to play: First there was Rachel’s dad, Mike, who is known as Frank, although that’s clearly not his name, that’s just what they call him. Then came sous chef Sue Bodenstadt aka “The Angry Russian” (although she’s actually German), and followed by J-Palm, Lloyd, J-Ped and Young Bradley. No, this is not a missing episode of The Sopranos, it’s just your local neighborhood eatery.
No stranger to grace under pressure, which sometimes entail working 20 hours a day, Rachel is a mother of 3 young children. On this day, not only was she going to have to make Halloween costumes for her kids Bella, Davis and Michael, but she also had to prep food for the several “hat tricks” that would occur over the weekend. Quickly, I learned the 33-year-old New Albany native refers to catering jobs as “hat tricks,” which can mean providing food for up to 700 people at large events via a kitchen that has no working stovetop. Yes, that’s right. Rachel and her staff make everything she serves with an oven, two induction burners and a lot of love.
In early 2016, Rachel will open The Copper Room at Orange Clover, an expansion that will feature a small, upscale catering venue housing a full commercial kitchen, and yes, a full range stove top.
The pressure of such a business might drive some people mad; instead, Rachel consistently maintains an air of grace and a smile while she works. “At the end of the day I take out my contacts, look in the mirror and say ‘You did the best you could,’” she said, though it’s easy to argue that she’s done – does – far more.
With the same passion she displays at work, Rachel also is driven to give back to the community. Among her most charitable efforts: Rachel has raised more than $20,000 for St. Baldrick’s Foundation in the past six years (not to mention shaving her own head for the cause); she works closely with Southern Indiana Animal Rescue; and she regularly donates food to Exit 0, the homeless outreach based in Jeffersonville.
Despite the size and limitations brought on by the current space, the staff at Orange Clover dish up delicious fare. Rachel recommends the Rueben Sandwich, as it’s “the best she’s ever tasted,” and I would agree. The Clover always offers several daily specials, including a Taco of the Day and Grits of the Day. Some of the past favorites of the latter include Hot Brown Grits, Cheeseburger in Paradise Grits, Peach and Bacon Grits, and yes, even S’mores Grits, made with real marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. Additionally, the restaurant tries to locally source as many fresh ingredients as possible, and Rachel is proud to tailor her menu to suit all kinds of various dietary needs. Regardless of what you order, rest assured that it will consist of a blend of “love and stuff.”
Orange Clover Kitchen & More
590 Missouri Ave. Suite 100
7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday
Orange Clover features gluten-free and vegan specials on Wednesdays
Giving With Gratitude: Three Tips from Rachel Smallwood
- “Donate close to home.” Give of yourself to something or someone that is part of your everyday life.
- “Make an impact on someone.” Take the time to mentor others. Knowledge is often the best gift.
- “Know who you are helping.” Knowledge is power and knowing who – or what organization – you are helping allows you to personalize the experience.