Mac and cheese weren’t on the menu as Silke Helm, owner of Silkelicious Mac, grew up in southern Germany, but the former dental hygienist and caterer at Eli Lilly’s North Technology Center loves how this most American dish gives her a canvas for doll creations such as pizza mac with pepperoni and banana peppers and her typical German mac with bratwurst, sauerkraut and one Pretzel. But for this enterprising businesswoman who put her passions aside until her kids were old enough to start a restaurant, a comfort food restaurant wasn’t always trendy. Here she reflects on the challenges and joys of bringing the flavors of her childhood to her customers.
Macaroni and cheese are not exactly a German staple food. How did it become the focal point of your new restaurant?
My childhood in Germany was so important to me and brings back so many comforting memories. Almost everyone in the United States grew up on some form of macaroni and cheese, and I knew it appealed to so many people here in Indiana. In the years since I started my catering and party tray business, it had been my favorite dish and I knew there were so many things to do with it. A few years ago we took part in the Return of the Mac festivals all over town and won third place for a year and fourth place for our mac and cheese. I knew we had something that people liked. I actually wrote the business plan a few years ago, just waiting for the right time and opportunity to execute.
That opportunity came in the middle of the pandemic. What was it like opening a restaurant in October when other restaurants were permanently closed?
It was actually lucky that I was able to open where I did and at the time we opened. I had originally signed a contract with Simon Malls to open at Castleton Mall just before the pandemic. However, they opted for a similar business concept for the mall. Then I saw that the former Hellas cafe spot on Westfield Boulevard and 86th Street was available. It’s a great location near a busy intersection, and after taking three months renovating and modernizing the building, we did a good job with pick-up orders and limited personal dining options. It’s the kind of comfort food people are craving right now.
Why not open a restaurant that offers the German dishes you grew up with?
When I talked to my family about opening a restaurant, they definitely hoped I would make it a German place. But mac and cheese go well together and there are many aspects of the restaurant that reflect my European heritage. The mac and cheese are just a bit sweeter than the American versions, and there are plenty of German influences on the menu and in the restaurant. We have fried cinnamon donuts with almond glaze, served with apple butter, as well as a dessert box with zucchini bread and sometimes Black Forest cake. And our German Mac is topped with a bratwurst, sauerkraut, German mustard and a pretzel. It’s one of our favorite dishes. We recently had a few customers who said they were recommended by their friends at the German-American Club. So we are building a German clientele together with our customers with more American tastes.
You moved to the United States in 1996. What were some of the biggest things you missed from home?
I came here after meeting my ex-husband who was in the military. The biggest thing I missed was fresh bread. In Darmstadt, where I come from, there are small bakeries and meat markets everywhere, and you can smell the bread when you walk down the street. I love German rye bread, but I could only get it here in the Heidelberg house. Indianapolis has a lot more international restaurants now, but I miss the slower home life and how people would buy food in local markets rather than big grocery stores. I like that I can only offer a little of this spirit in my food and in my restaurant.
You weren’t in the restaurant business when you first moved to the US. Why did you change your career?
I went to school to be a dental hygienist, and I did in Houston and Muncie, two cities we lived in before we came to Indianapolis. It was a great thing raising my two children (now 15 and 18). All this time I worked perfecting my cakes and baking them for friends. The work for a dentist was great and the hours were good to raise a family. But I knew that wasn’t all. I later became head caterer at Eli Lilly’s North Technology Center before starting a home catering business, first cake in 2009 and then party trays in 2016. And now my restaurant is a real family affair. My oldest son is in the restaurant every day and my youngest comes in on the weekend.
What is the difference between mac and cheese?
I use cream cheese in my mac and cheese, which makes it extra creamy, and I like adding extra ingredients like chicken or mushrooms that aren’t mixed in. I think the macaroni and cheese have to be just that, and the other things should be toppings. I think people appreciate that. We have versions that range from a Mexican mac with chilli and jalapeños to a meatball mac with jumbo meatballs and marinara. It’s a fun dish to experiment with.
Where are you going from here
I’m still doing party trays and catering, which is picking up steam again after I got the restaurant up and running. However, our goal is to have a second location within a year and a half. It’s a concept that I really believe in. People want home cooking, but they also want something different, and satisfaction hits so many customers who are excited about what we have to offer.