When she was not quite tall enough to reach the stove, 7-year-old Nettie Truett's father built her a stool so she could begin cooking. Growing up on her family's farm in Virginia with 11 siblings, she had to learn how to cook.
Since then, Mrs. Truett, now 58, has turned her childhood chore into a profit-making business.
The slight, silver-haired, bespectacled woman, who used to manage a flower shop, opened her carry-out, Nettie's Kitchen, three years ago.
Nettie's shares a big white house with a video store on Odenton Road. Entering the carry-out is like stepping through your own back door.
Nettie's screen door is usually kept shut, but the wooden door, with windows enhanced by blue and white curtains with little farm motifs on them, is almost always open.
The interior is about the size of an average home's kitchen. Behind the shiny counter, where customers step up to place their orders, sits a huge metal refrigerator and freezer. To the right is a glass cabinet filled with porcelain cups and farm animals; to the left, a television and an air conditioner.
A wooden bench lines one wall, for patrons to sit on while waiting -- although they usually don't have to wait long.
Mrs. Truett, with the help of daughter-in-law Linda Truelode, usually gets the lunch crowd in and out within 10 minutes.
"I have my grill good and hot, so I can get them back to work," she said.
Lining the white plank walls are signs and plaques containing words of wisdom about senior citizens, womanhood and marriage. But the most eye-catching decoration of all is the dollar bill encased in glass that hangs behind the counter.
"That's the first dollar I made, back on Aug. 8, 1989," said Mrs. Truett. "I didn't know how long this would last, so I just took it one day at a time."
She worked for Kemp's Crab House, the building's former tenant, for 18 months. When that business closed, the landlord asked her to take it over for a while. She eventually bought it.
"I renamed it Nettie's Kitchen, but my grandkids wanted me to call it Grandma's Kitchen," she said with a laugh.
At first, her menu board listed only six items. Now, Nettie's sells salads, sandwiches, soups, subs, seafood platters and much more. The biggest sellers are her cheese steak subs and catfish.
Larry Pritchard, who works for Jones Excavation on the Piney Orchard construction project, used to buy his lunch from the 7-Eleven store across the street from Nettie's.
"I just happened to spot this place when I was getting coffee one morning and I came here for lunch," Mr. Pritchard said. "The
food here is a lot better. It's just like home-cooked food."
According to Mrs. Truett, the best thing about her business is the customers. She rises at 3:30 every morning to open the carry-out by 5:30, since some of her customers have to be at work at 6.
"I love being around the people. I used to think about getting a bigger place, adding six or eight tables, but I decided not to," she said. "I like it just the way it is."