By Lanier Laney
When Virginia native Leigh Ann Pingree was growing up, she had no idea that being the oldest of nine children would be the perfect training for her present occupation as founder and chef of The Kitchen, a take-out dinner place for families.
Says Leigh Ann, “My father, Col. Andrew Bauer, was in the Marine Corps and away from home a lot. Our mother, Claire Bauer, was a stay-at-home mom and raised nine children mostly on her own. We grew up with family dinners every night and I learned to cook with my mother — and also learned to cook for large groups because of our large family gatherings.”
At The Kitchen, which is located in Newpoint off Sams Point Road on Lady’s Island where Berry Island once operated, Leigh Ann and her younger sister Michelle Clark provide family-style dinners for take out. They email a different menu each week with different entree options such as chicken parmesan, lasagna, meatloaf with mashed potatoes, shrimp and grits, chicken piccata, herb encrusted pork loin with roasted onions and coconut rice. Each entree comes in two sizes — small, which typically feeds two to three people, and large, which typically feeds four to five people. They also usually offer a soup and a salad. The meals are available for pickup on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 2 and 5 p.m. They also do special orders and catering.
Leigh Ann moved with her large family to Beaufort in 1982 as a young teenager and met her future husband, Richard Pingree, five years later.
“Richard and I have known each other for 25 years — we were friends for 10 years before we began dating,” Leigh Ann said. “We have been married for 13 years and have three wonderful children — Ansleigh, 11, Ledare, 9, and Sumner, 6 — all whom attend Beaufort Academy.” Her husband, Richard, is a well-respected developer and contractor and owner of Coastal Home Construction.
Leigh Ann said she loves working with her sister Michelle Clark, who is number seven out of the nine siblings.
“I asked her to join me in this new venture because we are very close and do everything together, I truly value her contribution — she is a huge asset and I could not do it without her!”
Michelle is married to Pete Clark, who works for The Farm Bureau Insurance Agency. They have three children — Andrew, 28, Brittany, 25, and Erin, 23 — who make their parents proud.
When Leigh Ann first moved to Beaufort as a teen after living in cities New Orleans and San Diego, it took some getting used to small town life.
“When we first moved here, I couldn’t wait to move to a big city. After high school, I left Beaufort and moved to Columbia to attend USC. Then I couldn’t wait to get back to Beaufort. I guess I didn’t last long in the big city,” said Leigh Ann with a laugh.
She loves the beauty of the area and the great people here, and thinks it’s a perfect place to raise children. In fact, raising children led to her opening The Kitchen.
Leigh Ann explains, “When I was thinking about going back to work, now that my three children are in school full time, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do — what did I enjoy doing? I love cooking and thought I could provide busy families a home-cooked dinner option instead of the typical restaurant take-out.”
She adds, “I knew going back to work would leave me with the dilemma that many other busy parents face: How to somehow fit preparing dinner into a busy (crazy) schedule. So I thought I could try to give them a healthy, good tasting option and an alternative to fast food or take-out.”
She opened The Kitchen in April 2013, and it’s been a hit since day one.
As far as outside interests, Leigh Ann says she grew up on a tennis court and loves the sport — the whole family plays. But these days, with the success of The Kitchen, which has gotten rave reviews from busy moms and dads, she has had less time for the game. It doesn’t bother her though because she is doing what she loves.
Says Leigh Ann, “I love to cook and I love to feed people and, ultimately, I think that love is carried out through my food.”
As for the future of her business, Leigh Ann said, “Right now we just try to offer great ‘comfort dinners’ for take out, but eventually may offer lunch items as well. We might offer either more dinner items or more variety in sizes, maybe individual sizes, it just depends on what people want.” She adds, “We also like to do healthy juices. We offer a basic juice of kale, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, celery, ginger, green apple and lemon — sometimes beets if we have them — and I would love to see more people stop in for that. It’s so good for you!”