Mac and cheese wasn’t on the menu when Silke Helm, owner of Silkelicious Mac, was growing 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 such dolled-up creations as pizza mac with pepperoni and banana peppers and her signature German mac with bratwurst, sauerkraut, and a pretzel. But a comfort food restaurant wasn’t always in the cards for this enterprising businesswoman who put aside her passions until her children were old enough that she could start a restaurant. Here, she reflects on the challenges and joys of bringing her customers the flavors of their childhood.
Macaroni and cheese isn’t exactly a German staple. How did it become the focus of your new restaurant?
My childhood in Germany was so important to me and brings back so many comforting memories. Just about everyone in the United States grew up eating macaroni and cheese in some form, and I knew that it spoke to so many people here in Indiana. In the years since I started my catering and party tray business, it was my most popular dish, and I knew there were so many things I could do with it. A few years ago, we participated in the Return of the Mac festivals staged around the city, and we won third place one year and fourth another for our mac and cheese. I knew we had something that people liked. I actually wrote up the business plan several years ago and just waited around for the right time and the right opportunity where I could make it happen.
That opportunity came in the middle of the pandemic. What was it like opening a restaurant in October as other restaurants were starting to close down for good?
It was actually good fortune that allowed me to open where I did and at the time we opened. I had originally signed a contract with Simon Malls to open in Castleton Mall right before the pandemic. But they opted for a similar corporate concept for the mall spot. Then I saw that the former Hellas Café spot was available at Westfield Boulevard and 86th Street. It’s a great spot near a busy intersection, and after we took three months to renovate and modernize the building, we’ve done well with carryout orders and limited in-person dining. It’s the kind of comfort food that people are craving right now.
Why not open a restaurant that features the German dishes you grew up with?
When I spoke to my family about opening a restaurant, they were definitely hoping I would make it a German place. But mac and cheese is a good fit, and there are many aspects of the restaurant that reflect my European heritage. The mac and cheese is just a little sweeter than American versions, and there are many German touches on the menu and in the restaurant. We have fried cinnamon doughnuts with almond icing served with apple butter, as well as a dessert case that offers 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 most popular dishes. We recently had some customers come in who said they were recommended by their friends at the German-American Club. So, we’re building a bit of a German clientele along 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 I met my ex-husband who was in the military. The biggest thing I missed was fresh bakery bread. In Darmstadt, where I’m 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 at Heidelberg Haus here. Indianapolis now has a lot more international restaurants, but I miss the slower pace of life back home and how people would buy food at local markets instead of big-box grocery stores. I like that I’m able to offer just a bit of that spirit in my food and in my restaurant.
You weren’t in the restaurant business when you first moved to the United States. What made you change your career?
I went to school to be a dental hygienist, and I did that in Houston and Muncie, two cities where we lived before coming to Indianapolis. It was a great thing to do while I was raising my two children (now 15 and 18). Throughout that time, I was working on perfecting my cakes and baking for friends. Working for a dentist was great, and the hours were good for raising a family. But I knew this wasn’t everything. I later became the head caterer at Eli Lilly’s north technology center before I started a home catering business, first with cakes in 2009 and then party trays in 2016. And now my restaurant is a true family affair. My oldest son is at the restaurant every day, and my youngest comes in on weekends.
How is your mac and cheese different?
I use cream cheese in my mac and cheese, which makes it extra creamy, and I like to put any extra ingredients such as chicken or mushrooms on top, not mixed in. I think the macaroni and cheese has to be just that, and the other things should be toppings. I think people appreciate that. We have versions ranging from a Mexican mac with chili and jalapeños to a meatball mac with jumbo meatballs and marinara. It’s a fun dish to experiment with.
Where do you go from here?
I’m still doing party trays and catering, which has started to pick back up after I got the restaurant going. But our goal is to have a second location within another year and a half. It’s a concept that I really believe in. People want comfort food, but they also want something different, and the satisfaction is meeting so many customers delighted by what we have to offer.