Kidney failure, heart attack can't stop Louisville entrepreneur
After less than a year in production, Hill's spice line is being called "rookie of the year" by officials with Kentucky Proud, a local food initiative through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Hill puts her spices in the soul food category, making seasoning perfect for fried chicken, fish and vegetables. There are currently three products in the line, with two more set to debut later this summer.
"It's a burst of flavor," Hill gushes. "It has buttermilk in it and that's what makes it stand out from the rest."
Hill has overcome some large obstacles to get to this level. She had kidney failure five years ago and now spends three days a week in a hospital room undergoing dialysis. During that time she has also suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma. But even serious health problems couldn't stop her from entrepreneurial dreams.
"Life happens. You just have to roll with the punches. You can't quit," she said. "If I don't feel good sometimes and my daughter needs something done, if I can pull out my computer and do it from bed, I do it."
Hill left her office job around 15 years ago to pursue a career in the food industry. In 1999, she opened a soul food restaurant in Louisville called 'Dinner is Done.' Once her health turned, however, she knew she needed to find something new.
"They always say, 'Do what you like to make money.' So I started the restaurant," she said. "I walked out of the restaurant one day to go to the doctor and he told me to go to the hospital, that I was in kidney failure."
Not only had she inherited her cooking skills from her parents, but a genetic predisposition to kidney failure. The condition killed her father and three of her siblings.
"I had -- well, let's see -- the kidney failure, the fourth time on the machine I had a heart attack, 12 surgeries and I went into a coma. But that's okay, I'm good," she chuckled. Her positivity is infectious. It is undoubtedly largely to thank for the wild success of Catrina's Kitchen.
All her products carry the Kentucky Proud label and are carried in 200 stores across Kentucky, including 90 Kroger stores.
"There are 125 new products in all of our Kentucky stores," said Tim McGurk of the Kentucky Proud products carried by the grocery chain. "Customers have responded over the top with it."
McGurk says Catrina's Kitchen has seen tremendous success in the market.
"There are five or six on this rack that have been the top performers and Catrina's is amongst that," he said.
Catrina gives her daughter a lot of the credit, as she handles most of the business. She says knowing life may be cut short, she wants to leave behind more than just a face on a box -- but a legacy for her daughter to carry on.
"Life happens, things are going to happen to you, but you need to do your best to move on," she said. "I don't care if you have to do it from your bedside."
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