By Mandy Stanage Shoptaw | Photography by Lori Sparkman Photography | Shot on location at VAULT
When you think of restaurants, you think of perfect pairings. A robust red wine with a beautiful filet. A buttery chardonnay with sea scallops. Delicate Greek baklava with childhood cancer. What? You don’t think of dessert and illness? This story will change that thanks to Make-A-Wish Mid-South fulfilling a dream.
In 2014, Colton Miller was 12 years old and diagnosed with germinoma brain cancer. He started experiencing some unusual symptoms that lead to an extended stay at Arkansas Children’s Hospital where it was discovered he had increased ICP or intracranial pressure caused by two tumors blocking his spinal fluid.
“For 42 days he stayed in the hospital with drains pulling the fluid off while waiting on radiation to shrink the tumors. It was during this time he would come in and out of consciousness. When he was awake he wanted to watch Food Network,” recalls Colton’s mom, Tabatha Miller. “He loved the Mediterranean dishes he saw and would have me write down recipes he liked.”
Make-A-Wish Mid-South heard about Colton and when a Greek island cruise was offered the Millers knew it would be perfect for their child. “The first stop was Kotor, Montenegro,” says Colton. “This was a cool medieval looking city with the best gelato. Our next stop was Corfu, Greece.” Recovering from an illness means less energy and Colton remembers resting at a cafe where he met a waiter who spoke English. “He took me back to the kitchen to his mother and she told me the recipe in Greek and he translated the entire recipe of moussaka and baklava in English.” During the cruise he spent time with the ship’s chefs and continued to take in Mediterranean cuisine along the way, learning from both professionals and amateurs willing to mentor him.
When Make-A-Wish wanted to share Colton’s remission story, they contacted a then up-and- coming restaurant in Hot Springs. “We weren’t even open for business yet and the place was under construction but we agreed,” recalls Randy Womack, General Manager of VAULT. “In walks Colton with food he has prepared and wanted to share with all of us. When I realized the extent of his culinary experience I said, ‘Look we have to add this baklava to our menu. We have to give this young man his first professional opportunity.’” VAULT Owner Daron Praetzel committed to giving 100% profits from the sale of Colton’s Baklava to Make-A-Wish. “Based on the projections since we started this venture, we are on track to grant one wish a year from the sale of Colton’s Baklava.
When Inviting Arkansas visited with Colton and the VAULT team, it was clear the restaurant is a Spa City hot spot. Executive Chef Brian Townley suggested increasing VAULT’s support to Make-A-Wish by partnering with some of his culinary friends for a one night fundraiser. “Colton came up with the menu for each course,” Randy explains. “The chefs are working with him to elevate the offerings and will provide the manpower to make them happen.” Proceeds from the dinner will grant an additional wish through Make-A-Wish Mid-South. “It’s important for us to help Colton to pay it forward. We enjoy having him in our kitchen and working with our staff because he’s compliant, disciplined, punctual, and an eager learner.”
“After being sick for so long, it was awesome to be able to explore something I loved,” says Colton. “Chemo and radiation takes a lot out of you, so feeling freedom from all that confinement in the hospital was kind of healing in a way. I just want to help other kids going through the same things. I want them to be able to feel that same freedom doing something that they love and that makes them happy.”