Hannah Sattler didn’t set out to become a caterer – now, she’s a maven | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Hannah Sattler didn’t set out to become a caterer – now, she’s a maven


Eleven years ago, Hannah Sattler volunteered to do the weekly kiddush at what was then Congregation Beth Israel (now Beth Israel Ner Tamid). Her motivation was simple – she wanted to help her synagogue and food made her happy.  

Since then, Sattler’s cooking has made a lot of Milwaukeeans happy.  

Hannah’s Kitchen, her catering business, marked its five-year anniversary in October. The idea of entrepreneurship wasn’t on her mind when she began at the synagogue.  

Her professional background crept into what she observed while carrying out her weekly duties there. A retail management major in college who’d worked in the financial industry, Sattler noted inefficiencies in the kitchen operations. She began, gradually, to address them. Over the next four years, her few hours a week in the kitchen expanded to 20 and, in addition to handling all the congregational meals, congregants were asking her to cater their private events.   

When an anonymous donor approached the synagogue with an offer to fund a wider and more upscale Shabbat lunch menu, Sattler prepared a quote. Based on her experience, she recommended a professional kitchen manager be hired, and wrote that into the proposal.  

“It was just too much for me,” Sattler said of the potential expansion. “When I wrote the proposal, I was a stay-at-home mom. I did not mean for them to hire me, just that they needed to start looking for somebody.” 

The congregation, though, had seen what she’d built, liked what they’d seen and offered her the job. Kehilla Catering became an internal catering business for the congregation, with any profits going toward synagogue food programming. It also became a community-building endeavor.  

“Not everyone goes to synagogue to pray,” Sattler said. “Some want the community aspect, and (Kehilla) gave them a reason to come more often.”  

Fast-forward to the merger of Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Beth El Ner Tamid, around the same time Sattler’s marriage was ending. The youngest of her three children was two. It was time to strike out on her own.  

“It was very slow,” she said. “I did some meals for a synagogue group, my grandfather hired me to do his birthday party and I did a baby naming at Emanu-El.” 

A short-term partnership arrangement with restauranter Ari Domnitz helped move things forward. She became the consulting chef at Ovation Sarah Chudnow after being hired to cater their Mother’s Day tea.  

“Their food service director really liked how I worked with my employees and the food I put out,” Sattler said, “so she pushed me to get interviewed.” 

The job meant overseeing the larger meals, helping with menu planning and visiting with residents to get feedback that she brought to the kitchen staff with an eye toward ensuring that the food served was as tasty and healthy as it could be. She also did cooking demonstrations for Chudnow residents and has continued in a consulting role at Ovation Jewish Home.  

As is the case with many businesses, the pandemic forced her to shift her focus. She went from knowing how many people she was cooking for at an event – a catering basic – to an entirely different model. The mainstay of her operation has become her weekly themed meals – a traditional Shabbat dinner for Fridays and a themed meal prepared for weekday pickup, all contactless. She also offers special meals for holidays, most recently Thanksgiving. 

“Our first themed meal was in June,” she said. “It was Chinese and we went in thinking we’d do it once a week. Then, we decided to do two days.”  

She and her staff have prepared Israeli, Indian, Thai and Greek in addition to Chinese. Customers order online and pick up at locations in Milwaukee or Madison, or, by request, can have their meals delivered.  

Everything she makes is kosher and under supervision, Sattler said. But her customer base includes people for whom kashrut is not a priority. 

“If the food is good and the price is right,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether you keep kosher or not. We have plenty of people who don’t keep kosher homes and just come because they like the food.”