MotherBoard is launching our Moms We Admire series where we spend 10 minutes chatting with professional mothers to get a glimpse into their interesting and energizing lives.
In Cleveland, the Katz name is synonymous with food. Good food. Karen Katz and her husband, Chef Douglas Katz, are the power couple behind some of Cleveland’s most popular food experiences such as fire food and drink, Provenance and Provenance Cafe at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Fire Spice Company and the Katz Club Pop Up Diner. With her husband in the role of CEO/Partner/Chef/Proprietor of these establishments, Karen has been busy cultivating a new reputation for the Katz name as the Exhibit Designer for the Cleveland Children’s Museum.
“Shortly before I started college, a friend asked me what my dream job was,” Karen reminisced as we sipped coffee during the busy brunch rush at fire food and drink. “I knew right away. I had always visualized myself creating an exhibit for the Natural History Museum. That was my dream job.” It’s no surprise then that Karen earned her degree in Anthropology before going on to earn another degree in Museum Planning Exhibition and Design.
In 1999, Karen landed her ultimate job redesigning exhibits for the Cleveland Children’s Museum. Shortly thereafter, Karen left to join her husband and help with the 2001 launch of fire food and drink. Her skills were put to use managing design elements for the restaurant including the space, the branding and the menu. By 2003, the Katz family had doubled with the arrival of twins Abe and Amelia. “It wasn’t a question,” Karen explained, “I knew the best thing for myself and my family was to stay home full time while Doug put his energy into growing the restaurant.” Their partnership had now expanded beyond the restaurant to encompass their growing family.
When asked how she preserved her own unique interests and skills after opting out of the workforce, Karen believes that it was a succession of experiences serving in volunteer roles that helped her maintain a network of connections. She helped form Cleveland Independents, an organization that promotes dining in independently owned restaurants. From there, her design skills were summoned again as a member of the board of Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development. “It felt good to contribute and to be part of building something as we did with Cleveland Independents. I think it prepared me for when I got the call to start working with the Children’s Museum again.” Karen admits that when that call came, she was not feeling as confident in her skills as she once had. But with encouragement from her husband, she agreed to consult on one initial exhibit, and as they say, the rest is history.
In recent years, Karen has become a champion for children, for play, and for the capital expansion dreams of what will be a new and improved children’s museum for the city of Cleveland. The region is taking notice of her expertise, inviting her to speak at PetchaKutcha Night- a gathering of Cleveland creatives who through short presentations, share their passion, their work and their ideas.
I asked Karen what we’re all thinking – with a husband in charge of some of Cleveland’s hottest restaurants, twins who keep very busy lives and a career to boot, how do you do it? “I’m realistic,” Karen says matter-of-factly. “I maintain a part time work schedule because anything more will compromise the balance for myself and my family. I know my limits.”
As we take our last sips of coffee and finish the Caesar salad that is her namesake, it is clear that Karen has, in fact, found the right formula for her own well being. A proponent of self care, a fiercely passionate mother, a relentless champion of her husband and an expressive professional designer, Karen Katz is truly a woman we admire.