It’s always a special day when Miss Tammie is doing the cooking.
When her food is on the table, there will be a lot of it — including her famous fried chicken. It’s a staple at local events and meals she caters for business and industry.
Tammie Pryor — "Miss Tammie" to her beloved customers — has perfected her work as a caterer in Columbia over the last 15 years, using "home-cooked hospitality from the heart" to unify the community.
Tammie’s Covenant Kitchen offers catering services for parties of one and crowds of 1,000-plus. Pryor especially likes cooking for larger groups.
"I like to see people not just eating my food but eating together," she said. "That makes my heart feel good."
For that reason, Pryor has catered for area factories, making sure she feeds every shift. She’s also cooked for retirement parties, sports team banquets and other group events.
Perhaps the biggest draw is her fried chicken, which customers describe as "mighty fine," "breathtaking" and "to die for."
The secret to her entire menu, Pryor said, is cooking "from the soul."
"What I do, I get from my mother," she said. "My mother did it from her heart; I do it from my heart."
Pryor’s mother was a key figure in her daughter’s journey to becoming a soul-food caterer. Pryor grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, one of a family of 12.
“We didn’t have everything," she said. "But with my mother, I never met a hungry day."
At an early age, she wanted to be like her mother, to cook food to bring people together and make them happy.
"I said, ‘When I get grown, I’m going to do what my mama did,’” Pryor said.
She began cooking in her hometown, mostly for family and friends at first. After a few months, she moved her business to Columbia.
Then came her first big order: "I was like, ‘Oh my god. A thousand?" she said.
Over time, Tammie’s Covenant Kitchen tried a few locations before settling at its current one on I-70 Drive Southeast.
The kitchen isn’t where she does all her work, though.
She often buys food at bulk prices, and she regularly distributes leftovers or uses her access to inexpensive groceries to buy necessities for others. That included distributing food and toilet paper to a number of women at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I can’t do everything," Pryor said. "(But) I give them more than enough of my time and my love when I see somebody that needs some stuff."
It doesn’t feel like enough, she said, for her to just hope things get better for the people she helps.
"Prayer’s good, don’t get me wrong," Pryor said. "Some people need some action."
Pryor said she makes sure her catering services are affordable and that no one leaves the event needing "to get another sandwich somewhere."
Getting plenty to eat is synonymous with Tammie’s Covenant Kitchen, and that extends to Pryor’s own tastes: When asked what she would cook for herself, Pryor rattles off a list — "fried chicken, smothered chicken, baked chicken, potatoes, some green beans with turkey in it and then some hot dinner rolls or cornbread muffins."
Maybe that’s why Pryor loves her business so much. She loves to cook, and she loves to bring people together with her cooking. But there’s another important part of Tammie’s Covenant Kitchen, too:
"I love what I cook," she said.
Pryor also believes in God’s power through food, and the power of food to bring people together.
"That’s what I do," she said. "This is my ministry."