Food has always been Orchid Paulmeier’s “thing.”
“When I was in fourth or fifth grade in Chicago and kids would have bake sales, I did deli sandwiches. ‘Come get your hot ham and cheese.’ I’ve always loved food and beverage," Paulmeier said.
As a teen, she worked at Baskin-Robbins dishing up ice cream and even loved that.
She studied food and hospitality as the University of Illinois and got an internship at the Hilton, now the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, on Hilton Head. From then on, she knew where she wanted to launch her career: Hilton Head Island. She and her husband moved to the Lowcountry in 1993 after she graduated.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I always thought about it revolving around food,” Paulmeier said. Along the way, she met Steve Carb, founder and president of the SERG Group. She told him about her dream to own a restaurant by age 30. He asked about her ideas, which centered on steaks and barbecue. Both of her parents are from the Philippines and grilling is central to its cuisine. It also was a family staple.
“My mom went home for a visit and my dad grilled out every night for dinner — for a month,” Paulmeier said.
As she and Carb made plans for her restaurant, she kept thinking about what to call it.
“I walked in the door one night and my husband said, ‘There’s one hot mama.' I said, ‘That’s it! That’s going to be the name of my restaurant!'"
With backing from the SERG Group, One Hot Mama’s opened in Sheridan Park in Bluffton in 2003, just months before Paulmeier’s 30th birthday. A second restaurant on Hilton Head opened in 2007.
Shortly thereafter, Carb recommended selling the Bluffton location.
“We realized we had a lot of the same customers at the two locations. It sold it in two weeks.” Paulmeier sold the Bluffton location just months before the recession hit. “That just tells you how smart Steve is," she said.
A few years later, Paulmeier decided to audition for the Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star” series.
“It was taped in 2011 and aired in 2012. It changed our business. It took it to a whole new level. People from all over came to the restaurant. It doubled our business, but we weren’t ready for that. We got our butts kicked trying to keep up.”
Not only did the show change her business, it elevated her cooking abilities. For example, she tried her hand at a Filipino dish for the first time on the show. “No one had ever asked me to make that.”
With her core business booming and a heightened interest in creating more dishes, Paulmeier has invested in The Lodge next door and is launching a new venture, Feathers & Freight on River Street in Savannah. Her partner is Greek, so she looks forward to learning about that cuisine.
But when it comes to One Hot Mama’s, where the wait for a table in the summer is frequently two hours, she’s not about to mess with success.
“Our customers walk in the door knowing what they want. People are looking for those collard greens they had five years ago. I might try some new sauces, but the menu will stay pretty much the same."
It is certainly a recipe that works.