Elaine Thomas has loved to cook since she was a child.
From making cakes in her Easy Bake oven to flipping pancakes for her firefighter father, Thomas has nurtured her passion for cooking for decades.
Seven years ago, she daydreamed about opening a restaurant, and the next day she found out the home-style Red Tomato location in Bolingbroke was up for sale.
At age 50, she had never worked in a restaurant, but she felt God was opening an oven door she couldn't ignore.
Plates of fried chicken tenders, tomato pie and slabs of legendary homemade cakes drew crowds to the white house along U.S. 41.
Paula Deen even stopped by for a meal, and her husband later made a return trip for seconds.
"It has been the hardest and most time-consuming thing that I have ever done in my life, but it also has been the most satisfying and rewarding thing other than my family," Thomas wrote on Facebook.
But family comes first for Thomas, who runs the restaurant and shares cooking duties with her husband, Rick.
The 12- to 14-hour days have been draining, taking a toll on her aching joints.
But it took more than fatigue and pain for her to untie the apron strings and walk away from the restaurant she considers her "baby."
A real infant and family ties are pulling her away.
Thomas' first grandchild, Marley Kate, was born a couple of weeks ago.
"When she was a week old and looked into my eyes with her big dark eyes and smiled at me, I realized that she was the one thing that could make me give my restaurant baby up," Thomas wrote on Facebook.
Miss Hattie's will close on March 31.
Thomas is considering writing the cookbook she's been urged to compile in the spare time she'll find when she's not doting on Marley Kate and caring for her aging mother.
"I am thankful that now I can become an old lady and know what "was" instead of always wondering what 'might have been.' And if you decide to take a walk out on that limb of faith, I know a great little place in Bolingbroke for sale."