As the doors of CoMo Cooks swing open on the ground floor of Mizzou North, blended aromas of chocolate, baked goods and even grilled cheese fill the air.
Kymberlee Matney, kitchen manager of the newly opened shared commercial kitchen, strolls around the sleek and mostly empty space to help clients adjust to the kitchen.
The Loop CID and Regional Economic Development Inc. have created a partnership to support local makers and producers by providing events, workshops, coaching and business development plans. CoMo Cooks is part of that initiative.
The shared kitchen has nine clients and two other businesses looking to upgrade from home kitchens to the Mizzou North space. Clients include caterers, bakers, food trucks and even chocolatier sisters Jannah and Elle Sanchez, whose Tsokolate Confection business makes superfood bonbons using plant-based ingredients such as papaya, black sesame and elderflower.
The bonbons come with various colors and health benefits. Making bonbons is a two-day process.
“The molds get cleaned and polished, and then we either hand-paint or airbrush them with cocoa butter,” Jannah Sanchez said. “We then make ganache, pipe them into the bonbon shells and leave it to set overnight.”
The Sanchez sisters work at the shared kitchen each week, with clients residing as far as New York City, where the sisters lived before their move to Columbia.
Marcey Mertens, baker and owner of Wishflour Bakery, is another client who recently made the transition from her home kitchen to CoMo Cooks.
“It’s been challenging to get all my things in one space,” Mertens said while at the kitchen Monday, “but it’s nice to have a bigger kitchen to bake in.”
Matney was hired three months ago by the Business Loop Community Improvement District to manage the kitchen and assist clients such as Mertens and the Sanchezes. Her duties include scheduling, educating clients about health codes, helping with equipment and more.
“People can take that great idea and turn it into an actual business plan versus coming in, jumping in with both feet and figuring out this isn’t for them,” Matney said.
Matney didn’t originally intend to transform her passion of cooking into a full-time profession.
In high school, Matney worked at a morgue and laboratory with her late mentor, former Boone County Medical Examiner Jay Dix. Her initial plan was to attend medical school and earn a degree in pathology. After Dix died in 2004, Matney decided to attend the Culinary Institute of Charleston in South Carolina instead.
Matney was raised in Columbia, and her mother taught her how to cook. She found her niche with what she calls New American Cuisine, which puts a French twist on classic American dishes.
“My mom made meals from scratch,” Matney said. “She would make breakfast, lunch and 5:30 dinner every day.”
Matney has traveled the globe, participated in cooking competitions and worked in award-winning restaurants both as a chef and kitchen manager. She and her husband moved back to Columbia in January after living in Springfield for a couple of years.
Matney has earned several prestigious honors and awards. She was named the 2018 Southern Missouri Chef of the Year and was a 417 Beer and Burger Wars qualifier. She ranked in the top 10 in the Missouri Pork Association’s Taste of Elegance contest and was the executive chef at Sips, a bar and grill that was named the best new restaurant in Branson this year.
Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Business Loop Community Improvement District, said one of the goals of CoMo Cooks is to support local businesses that have been affected by social, racial and economic disparities. She said she keeps her eye on the big picture while Matney takes care of day-to-day operations.
“We have a wide range of folks in the kitchen, and that was intentional,” Gartner said. “We want to make sure this is a space for people who might not have had opportunities to grow a business simply because kitchens are expensive.”
The culinary industry is male-dominated by 77%, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Matney noted that both the Loop CID and REDI are both directed by women.
“The people I answer to are very powerful, very strong women, which I really love,” she said of Gartner and REDI President Stacey Button.
Matney said she finds her new job at CoMo Cooks rewarding.
“I feel like I’m doing something good with my knowledge,” Matney said. “I can help other people realize their dreams and focus on building up this community.”