Barbara Whitley: A Gracious Plenty
By Connie Barnard
Like a gracious hostess welcoming guests to her home, Barbara Whitley moves among the crowded tables of lunch hour diners at Crady’s Restaurant on Main Street in Conway. Her stylish good looks and friendly blue eyes reflect natural charm and sincere concern as she inquires, “How is everything? …So glad you are pleased with it.” From the handsome hand-carved bar which also functions as a counter, Barbara’s daughter, Heather, troubleshoots seating logistics, deliveries, reservations and catering events, as well as the restaurant’s marketing and public relations. Meanwhile, back in Crady’s tiny kitchen, Barbara’s husband, Les, a retired CCU biology professor, multi-tasks behind the scenes as a jack-of-all-trades while alternating chefs prepare sumptuous main courses. It is a happy place to be on a beautiful Indian summer day, and the popular Crady’s is in full swing.
Established in 2001, Crady’s first opened as a coffee shop, its curious name a tribute to Barbara’s mother, Najgy Crady through whom she developed a lifelong joy of cooking. An experienced master baker, Barbara personally prepares all of the restaurant’s desserts and specialty cakes in small single recipe batches, using two brightly colored kitchen-size mixers. “I love to bake, and I love to share my baking with others,” Whitley says. “My fondest childhood memories are of helping my mother bake in our family’s large, drafty farmhouse kitchen in Kentucky.” After preparing a delicious pie, Barbara’s mother would hold it high and quickly trim off the edges with a knife. As the pieces of pie dough fell away, Barbara would catch them. Then her mother would help her bake “dough babies” from the leftover pieces. At around six years of age, Barbara began experimenting with cooking on her own and, like most novice cooks, recalls burning her hand when she tried to fry an egg. This did not deter her, however, and by age ten she had mastered her father’s favorite dessert, an old fashioned coconut cake. “I will always remember the sense of joy and accomplishment it brought. Memories of these simple, happy times had a great impact on my life.”
Whitley’s lifelong romance with cooking also played a role in winning the love of her life, her husband Les, whom she calls “Whit.” When she was in the tenth grade, the Crady family moved to the rural community of Saratoga, in Wilson County, North Carolina. On Barbara’s first day of school there, a handsome young man was assigned to be her student guide. “I thought he was the best-looking boy I had ever seen. He had a thick mane of black hair and a smile that stole my heart. However, I must have looked like a foreign creature to him in my bobbie socks and poodle skirt. These styles had not yet arrived in the far reaches of Eastern Carolina.” It may not have been love at first sight, but Barbara won him over with an invitation to her house for dinner. “I’ll never forget it. I prepared a dish called ‘oven barbecued chicken’ which was unlike anything he had ever eaten.” And it worked! The couple has been together ever since, recently celebrating 54 years of marriage. With a thoughtful smile, Whitley says, “We are still greatly in love with each other.”
After high school, Les and Barbara both attended Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, North Carolina. Les then completed a Masters degree in biology at NC State and taught at St. Andrews College before completing a second Masters and Ph.D. at UNC/Chapel Hill. While living in Chapel Hill the Whitleys renewed their friendship with Ballou and Beverly Skinner of Georgetown, South Carolina, whom they had met when Les and Ballou were both on the faculty at St. Andrews. Skinner returned to South Carolina to take a faculty position in the physics department at Coastal Carolina College, and in 1973, he helped Whitley obtain a position there as well, one which he held until his retirement from CCU in 2002.
A scientist by profession, Les is also a talented and experienced artist, craftsman and musician whom Barbara calls a true Renaissance man. He designed and built their Conway home, as well as all the hand hewn furnishings at Crady’s, including its magnificent bar. “If I can think it, he can do it,” Barbara says. Les also does much of the daily dirty work in the restaurant, jesting that his Ph.D. now stands for “Pot Handler and Dishwasher.”
Though cooking has always been one of her great joys, Barbara never had professional culinary training and spent much of her adult life working in other fields, including a twenty year career in real estate. Over time, however, she felt an inner call to combine her love of people with her love of good food and considered opening a tea room on a shady side street in Conway’s historic section. Barbara’s gifted son Adam, however, convinced her that Main Street was the right place for a restaurant. A short time later, an opportunity arose to lease the center section of three adjoining shops on Main. After extensive renovations, Barbara opened a very successful coffee/dessert shop there in 2001. As the properties on either side became available, Adam shared his vision for a more spacious venue: an eclectic, sophisticated bistro, to showcase his culinary skills and natural flair for design and cooking. After months of tedious and talented work by the entire Whitley family, Crady’s on Main opened to immediate success. Longtime friend Patti Fink says, “When Barbara and Adam brought the restaurant to life about ten years ago, it brought together the unique creative skills and blending of food items from Adam and the baking excellence of Barbara.” Featured in a number of national and regional publications, Crady’s offers an impressive fresh daily lunch menu, Sunday brunch, private catering, and imaginative pre-theater dinners in conjunction with performances at Theatre of the Republic, located just across the street.
Barbara Whitley’s story is one filled with joy, vision and reward for hard work. It is also a story of personal courage and compassion, of putting one foot in front of the other when overwhelming grief makes it seem impossible to move forward. In August of 2009, their talented, creative, 38 year old son lost his life to a long and overwhelming struggle with despair. All who know the Whitleys recognize the deep strength they display on a daily basis. Patti Fink says, “After Adam’s passing, Barbara, Les and Heather have all worked extremely hard to insure the creative spirit that Adam brought to Crady’s is still alive today. Barbara honors Adam every day, working hard to maintain not only her standard, but his, in the love she shows to details and to her patrons.”
Asked how she manages to keep moving forward, Barbara says, “There are days when I don’t think I can do it, but I do. This is our way to honor Adam’s memory and keep it alive. It is also our way to honor God. The Lord has given me a lot of stamina. I am a creative person who loves people and loves to make people happy.” Life, like food, is filled with the sweet, the savory and sometimes the bitter. Every day Barbara Whitley and her family make the conscious decision to honor Adam by savoring all that was good about his life.
On occasion, the hard work and talent pay off in surprising ways, such as the recent cupcake excitement. In August, Barbara’s now-famous fresh peach cupcakes with apple butter cream was selected as one of the top 30 cupcake recipes in the 2012 U.S. Foods’ Next Top Product Competition. Barbara describes the cupcake recipe’s origins as serendipitous. While preparing for a bridal luncheon, she decided to draw from an abundant supply of fresh diced peaches. Inadvertently, she added them out of the usual order in the preparation process. Concerned that the mixture had curdled, she at first debated throwing it away but decided to press forward. The result turned out to be amazingly moist cupcakes that she topped with a creamy apple butter frosting which Patti Fink describes as “the best of peach cobbler flavor with a bit of apple pie taste, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.”
Out of 250,000 entries, Whitley’s was the only recipe selected in South Carolina. It went on to win 4th place in a nationwide vote, an honor which Barbara laughingly refers to as her “Bronzette.” The acclaim is clearly a source of great pride for the restaurant, its patrons and the entire community. Heather Whitley says of her talented, giving mother: “The recognition that Mom’s wonderful cupcake brought us has been truly amazing. We market our small gem of Crady’s on a shoestring budget, mostly relying on word of mouth from our patrons. Amazingly, all Mom had to do was make one extraordinary, very delicious cupcake!”
Barbara generously shared this simple but delicious holiday recipe, perfect for a special fall celebration.
Barbara Whitley’s Cranberry Mincemeat Pie
1 unbaked pie shell
1 pound whole berry cranberry sauce
1½ cups mincemeat
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 T. granulated sugar
2 T. butter
Mix cranberry sauce and mincemeat. Put in unbaked pie shell. Mix sugar with butter and pecans. Place over the cranberry-mincemeat mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for about 35 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.
About this writer
- Connie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.