Niles chef shares her heroes for Black History Month

(February is Black History Month. To celebrate, Leader Publications will be recognizing African American individuals who are making an impact in the communities of Cassopolis, Buchanan, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Niles. Next up is Niles’ Cynthia Gallero Greer.)

NILES — This February, as people around the nation celebrate Black History Month, Cynthia Gallero Greer wonders: “Shouldn’t every day be Black History Month?” she said. “Shouldn’t we be celebrating the successfulness of everyone every day?”

For Gallero Greer, of Niles, a chef and business owner, Black History Month is about remembering the past and looking to the future by celebrating modern day heroes. In Gallero Greer’s life, that is her mom Beverly Woodson, who is known for service to the Niles community and her grandmother Rosa Shields. Shields, 94, was part of the civil rights movement. She also inspired Gallero Greer on her career path with her cooking skills.

“That’s where the history comes in. We all have that someone in our life that has inspired us and given us the knowledge and the drive,” Gallero Greer said.

In January of last year, Gallero Greer got some news she had to pinch herself to believe. Out of a dozen other restaurant owners, she had been chosen to open her café, Katharos Catering, at Ivy Tech Community College. After pitching her business idea, Gallero Greer was driving home when her phone rang.

“The vice president of the school called and said ‘Cynthia, we couldn’t wait until Monday to call you,’” Gallero Greer said.

Needless to say — she got the gig. Now Katharos Catering Café at Ivy Tech feeds hungry students and teachers alike, offering them a reprieve from the classroom with pulled pork and gourmet, crispy grilled cheese, specialty pizzas and homestyle sandwiches.

Gallero Greer said Shields first inspired her love of cooking. Every Sunday, the family gathered at grandma Shields’ to enjoy a big homestyle feast.

“She always taught us how to cook and fend for ourselves,” Gallero Greer said. “I look back at being a chef and [at grandma’s] we were always dicing and whisking and cutting — I didn’t know back then that it was called prepping.”

Before following her passion for cooking, Gallero Greer worked in management for Target for 18 years. But soon, Gallero Greer felt the calling to turn her passion to cook into something more. She went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago. She returned to Niles to re-open her business, Katharos Catering, in 2016. She cooks out of the Niles Entrepreneurial and Culinary Incubator. In addition to running the catering and also operating her own café, Gallero Greer has shared her culinary talents with famous people and helped to feed a crowd of 20,000 at a revival event in Chicago.

Gallero Greer’s skills as a chef have been noticed by more than her loyal customers. She also got a call late last year announcing that she could potentially be featured on a TV show, Family Food Showdown, on Food Network.  While Gallero Greer was not chosen in the end, she said she was not disappointed. Instead, she was ecstatic to be considered for the opportunity out of chefs across the entire country.

“I couldn’t ask for anything different right now in my career,” Gallero Greer said.

Gallero Greer might not be able to tell inquiring minds all the ingredients she puts into her award-winning chili or other signature dishes, but she does have a bit of advice.

“You stop and think everyone has dreams, everyone has dreams and you have to stop and look back at all of the people who have done great things in life and may have failed at first but never gave up,” Gallero Greer said. “You have to persevere through obstacles to be an entrepreneur.”

Gallero Greer has had to get creative when things do not go like planned. During her first year running the café, Gallero Greer said when students left for the summer, her sales at the business plummeted almost 60 percent. Rather than closing shop altogether, Gallero Greer said she found ways to adjust, like having her staff take a summer vacation, though this meant much longer hours for her.

The next time Gallero Greer fires up the grill or perfects her next recipe, she will inevitably be celebrating the loved ones that helped her find her passion and support it.

“There’s someone in your life who’s doing really great things. Celebrate them. That’s history,” Gallero Greer said. “That’s history for your grandkids.  Celebrate it and share those stories every day to inspire the next generation.”

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