By: Hannah Burney
In 2001, Susan Hampton dreamed of owning a business where she would create flavorful, homemade dishes for the community in a unique, take home format. Twenty-two years later, her dream is being fully-imagined in her newly opened storefront: Thyme Savor.
Thyme Savor, which opened November 1, 2023, takes premade meals to a new level. Customers can choose from a carefully planned menu that includes ready-made soups, salads, entrees, and side dishes. Every food item is weighed, packaged, and priced ahead of time. Customers start at one end of the cases, walk through, and pick their items. Staff load the items onto a tray, and the customers get dropped off at the cash register where they pay and are sent home with simple instructions on how to heat their food.
Hampton's story began when she was eight years old. Her parents had divorced and her mom had to work two jobs to care for her. She was home alone, hungry, and had to learn how to cook out of necessity. “My mom would tell me how to cook things over the phone,” Hampton said. Some of the earliest foods she learned to make were vegetable soup and fried bologna sandwiches.
In adulthood, Hampton naturally found herself in the food service industry. She worked at a Taco Bell, the dietary department at Westover, and as a sous chef at the Hamilton City Club. She has always loved flipping through physical cookbooks and thinking about flavors. “I like a hard back cookbook,” she said. “From the time I met my husband and we had our first apartment, I always had a cookbook in my lap.”
After years of experience she realized cooking as a career was something she could do for herself. She decided to take some time off and worked an office job. Three weeks into that job, the company folded and Hampton and a coworker began a personal chef business. They started out with one client. Then they began to get calls for catering and specific orders. In 2001, they realized they would need a storefront, and that is when Thyme Savor was first imagined.
She and her partner set up their business on Main Street, but due to various factors, they ended up shifting their focus toward catering. They quickly outgrew the space they were in and moved to another, larger building owned by the same landlord. Eventually, they closed their storefront after being asked to run the cafeteria at Ohio Casualty. After three years, the business, and heart behind Thyme Savor came to an end. “I lost my dream,” Hampton said.
After that, Hampton had a catering business at Coach House when it first opened, then she was a personal chef for a local family for eleven years. When that chapter came to a close, Hampton knew it was time to revisit her dream of Thyme Savor. “My husband was like, 'well what are you gonna do now?'” she said. “And I'm like, 'well, I think I'm gonna do Thyme Savor again.'”
That was three years ago. It took some time for all of the pieces to come together, but when they did, and her old business landlord called to let her know her original storefront was available, she took the plunge.
Now, Hampton is back where it all began – in the beautiful building at 222 Main Street – with yet another kitchen built by her now three time landlord, Tim Meehan. “He's just a gem,” Hampton said. “He just believed in me when nobody else did, so yeah, pretty cool.”
Meehan built the kitchen, and Hampton poured into creating the storefront of her dreams. “For a year and a half, I've painted and done all the work on the inside and the outside,” she said. “Cause I'm crazy!
It's just a dream. It felt good! I want to know I touched [everything], that I did it all myself. It means more that way.”
Every part is well thought out, from the layout of the deli cases, to the rich black and gold wallpaper, and everything in between. “I didn't want people to get confused and come in here and think they could get lunch, or get a sandwich or that I was back there slicing meat,” Hampton said. “I wanted it to feel like dinner when you walked in here.”
With a collection of about 200 cookbooks, Hampton has a plethora of recipe ideas, along with years of experience to pull from. She never makes a recipe exactly as it is written, instead she uses her knowledge to tweak each recipe to her liking. Her husband calls her a “taste profiler.” It's that taste profiling that lends itself to some of her unique flavor combinations. “I do an egg salad with curry, chopped celery, and mint,” Hampton said. “Who would put mint in egg salad? It's fabulous!”
Every recipe is made from fresh, real food. She does not use any pre-packaged ingredients, powders, or preservatives. All of the food comes in fresh on Mondays. Tuesdays she cooks all day and fills the deli case. Thyme Savor is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. “The object is if you came in on a Wednesday, you could stock your entire refrigerator for the next five days” Hampton said.“ Everything's fresh for five days.”
Each week, customers will find a variety of dishes behind the case. When one dish runs out, Hampton makes something new. A Thyme Savor staple she tries to always have available is French Onion Soup. “We sell the crocks if you don't have a crock,” she said. “And you get your little croutons and your two pieces of provolone cheese and everything you need to go home and broil [it]. Do it right. If you're gonna do it, do it right.”
People have been shocked and excited to find out how the concept of Thyme Savor works. “I love seeing people come in here and just stand there and stare and figure it out,” Hampton said. “They're tired of cooking. They're done. And I'm not. So, it's nice to know that they can come in and have a home-cooked meal. I have a lot of repeat customers already.”
With the revitalization downtown Hamilton has experienced in recent years, along with the cultural shift toward convenience food that can be taken home, the timing has been perfect. “Nobody really got this back then,” Hampton said. “In 2001 they were like what? They couldn't grasp it. Now look at us!
Everybody's used to curbside service and eating at home, and so it just wasn't my time. This is my time.”
Looking to the future, Hampton is committed to creating delicious food for her customers. She hopes to continue working for herself while finally living out her original dream. “This is my happy place,” she said. “It makes me happy. Finally. It was a long road. I'm not going anywhere. This is my little home.
My little happy kitchen.”