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Columbia Chefs Are Cooking with Gas

CoMo Cooks shared kitchen is the hottest spot in town for food-based business entrepreneurs.

Most people are familiar with the saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” For many Columbia residents operating a food-based business, or those with a dream of opening one, there wasn’t a hot kitchen to stand in. Or at least there wasn’t until CoMo Cooks opened its kitchen doors.

CoMo Cooks is a shared commercial kitchen currently located in Mizzou North on Business Loop 70 West. The enterprise is the result of a collaborative effort between The Loop CID and REDI. The concept is to provide entrepreneurs with a health department-approved, fully equipped commercial kitchen space they can reserve and use at affordable rates. As an additional bonus for those with an idea for a food-based business, those just starting out, or those wanting to expand their business, CoMo Cooks offers business coaching, free of charge. 

Commercial Kitchen Space: The Final Frontier

Except for very limited food items sold directly to consumers by “cottage kitchens,” food-based businesses are required to prepare their wares in a commercial kitchen that meets strict standards and is regularly inspected by the Missouri Department of Health. The cost and space of a commercial kitchen can be prohibitive to build and maintain. Even if an entrepreneur can find kitchen space to rent, the national average rate is between $25 and $50 per hour, according to Chef Kymberlee Matney, who manages the CoMo Cooks kitchen for The Loop. 

“Clients can use the CoMo Cooks kitchen for $14 to $17 per hour,” Kymberlee says. “That’s because The Loop and REDI subsidize the space.”

There is an application process for the kitchen, and clients essentially sign a lease to use it. There are kitchen rules, shared cold storage and pantry space, a scheduling process, and a requirement that everyone cleans up after themselves. Those interested in learning more can contact CoMo Cooks via website or phone.

Mix It Up

So, who is using the space? Kymberlee says an average of 12 entities use the space in any given month. They’re caterers, bakers, chocolatiers, food trucks and carts, nonprofit organizations preparing food for fundraising events, even the lunch program for a small local school. 

“Some of our clients, like the food trucks, are established businesses who need prep space and have been able to streamline their operations using CoMo Cooks,” says Kymberlee. “Cottage kitchens can use the kitchen to scale up their businesses. And someone who has a great idea and doesn’t know where to start can take advantage of free business coaching to get started.”

Coaching and inspiring entrepreneurs in the food industry is solidly in Kymberlee’s wheelhouse. Born and raised in Columbia, she graduated from culinary school and traveled the world, most recently settling in Springfield to run a restaurant and operate a restaurant consulting business while her husband finished an advanced education degree. They then returned to Columbia, where Kymberlee took a corporate job for a few months. But when the opportunity arose for her to run the kitchen for The Loop, she grabbed it. Kymberlee says that she and her husband, also born and raised here, have bounced around a lot in the past 20 years, but they always seem to end up back home. 

More Than Just a Kitchen

The CoMo Cooks shared kitchen, The Loop, and REDI provide much more than just a fully equipped kitchen. They provide businesses with resources that will help them launch, build, and achieve success.

Clients can take advantage of branding opportunities under The Loop’s Cre[8] Maker City Brand and promotional opportunities provided to clients such as a booth at the Holiday Makers Fair or the Columbia Farmers Market. They can also get promoted on social media from the kitchen. 

For businesses just trying to get a foothold, these opportunities can help them get established. For others, it helps them grow. One such case is Wishflour Bakery, which was chosen by Veterans United Home Loans to provide treats for its holiday light show. It takes a lot of space to make, bake, and decorate 18,000 cookies.

“We get calls from businesses and organizations looking for vendors who can provide food for their events. We give them a list of our clients who can fit their needs,” Kymberlee says. “We try to offer as much in cross-promotions and marketing as we can for our clients. . . . We do have some clients who just want to run their business in their spare time or on the weekends. Our goal is to essentially have clients, if they want to, graduate into their own brick and mortar location or open their own manufacturing facility for different products.”

A Moveable Feast

Within a year of opening in Mizzou North, CoMo Cooks will be moving to a new location in The Loop. (MU has long-term plans for the facility that don’t include the shared kitchen.) Kymberlee, The Loop, and REDI are scouting new locations. 

The equipment in the kitchen belongs to CoMo Cooks, so it will move with them. Kymberlee will continue recruiting new clients to benefit from the shared kitchen. They’re also developing a scholarship to offer to community members with promising food-based business ideas to help them to transition great concepts to successful realities.

Whether it’s a startup, expansion, or just someone looking for some much-needed space, these CoMo Cooks entrepreneurs are cooking with gas in the hottest kitchen around. 

CoMo Cooks Mission:
We believe all good cooks deserve a chance to turn their recipes into reality, regardless of background, income, or status. We aim to increase entrepreneurial success by providing accessible, inclusive, and affordable kitchen space for starting and expanding local food-based businesses.

Founded: February 2021

The Loop Board of Directors:

Tasca Tolson
Sara Huaco
Michele Batye
Karen Geotz
Ryan Euliss
James Roark-Gruender
Linda Schust

The Loop Staff:

Carrie Gartner, Executive Director

Kymberlee Matney, CoMo Cooks Kitchen Manager

CoMo Cooks

115 Business Loop 70 W.
(573) 443-5667

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