Southern Comfort Kitchen: bringing New Orleans style food to Kent on wheels

Will Matthews stands outside of the Southern Comfort Food Truck. The 2019 Kent graduate wanted to bring food to Kents campus that reflected the food he ate back home. 

Will Matthews stands outside of the Southern Comfort Food Truck. The 2019 Kent graduate wanted to bring food to Kent’s campus that reflected the food he ate back home. 

Isabella Schreck Reporter

Coming from New Orleans, Will Matthews, Kent State 2019 graduate, saw very little food options that mirrored the meals he was used to eating back home.

So, he realized he needed to bring the south to Northeast Ohio himself, eventually creating his food truck business, Southern Comfort Kitchen. 

“Coming here, I tried to go to the places that were New Orleans inspired, and I was just disappointed with the product considering I’m actually from there,” Matthews said. “I thought it would be cool if I did something that was actually authentic and really put some food out there that people could try. I appreciate Ohio for not having the best food because it gave me the thought process to move forward with this business.”

Matthews, CEO, and his business partner Zack Mottershead park the truck outside the Habitat ReStore at 1510 S Water St. in Kent to sell their New Orleans style food, featuring creole and cajun flavors, to the community.   

Matthews and Mottershead keep the truck running from March to November while weather permits, but they do have plans of opening a storefront in the near future. 

 

“Once it starts getting colder, obviously people don’t want to come outside,” Matthews said. “So, our plan is to get a brick-and-mortar location so we can be year round, but for right now with the truck we’re just seasonal.”

During the offseason, Southern Comfort Kitchen caters weddings, birthday parties, graduations, office lunches and even concerts. But once the weather becomes warmer, Matthews said they see their regulars back again.

“Everybody in Kent seems to love us,” Matthews said. “We have consistent customers that come in everyday or every week. The community is definitely welcoming to us.”

The truck’s main hours are posted to its Facebook, Instagram and other social media, which Matthews and Mottershead use to connect with the Kent community. 

Matthews first started out cooking Louisiana food for his friends at Kent State and received positive feedback. 

While majoring in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship, Matthews started creating a business plan for his southern food company during his sophomore and junior year. During this process, Mottershead joined his team. 

The pair entered a pitch competition their senior year for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation (CEBI), where they discussed future plans for their company. Matthews and Mottershead came in second place and won $1,000, which added to the funds for their business. 

Matthews also mentioned marketing and entrepreneurship professor Mary Heidler as a strong encourager while creating his business as a food truck and making a pitch to the CEBI. 

“I had Will when he was an FYE student and in Intro to Entrepreneurship,” Heidler said. “Then during New Venture Creation, where majors in entrepreneurship really start to say ‘this is an idea I have and I need to find out if it’s viable,’ I encourage students to test the market a little bit and make sure there’s a target market for what they’re trying to do. I thought food trucks are kind of sampling the market without requiring the heavy amount of money you would need for a restaurant and then possibly having it go flat.”

Heidler emphasized that Southern Comfort Kitchen’s success came from Matthews himself and his spirit.

“Will was just a dream of an entrepreneurship student,” Heidler said. “He is a person who, if you suggest that something would benefit him and his goals, he does it. He values people’s opinions and always was a very open entrepreneur.”

While attending Kent State, Matthews was a running back for the football team which also helped him garner support for his budding business. 

“While playing football, ESPN promoted our business,” Matthews said. “We had a couple people in the press box trying our food and putting pictures up with our name during the Frisco Bowl in 2019. They did a whole segment on me and the truck during the game so that definitely got people’s attention.”

Southern Comfort Kitchen continues to have a presence at Kent State. Last semester, Matthews and Mottershead parked on campus every Thursday for about a month and a half while the weather remained warm.

Freshman public health major Ja’nea Johnson said she ate their food almost every week it was at the university.

“The workers were friendly, and they had efficient customer service and great food,” Johnson said. “I highly recommend it. I even took some food back home to my family to try, and they loved it.”

Matthews said the company will be working with dining services at Eastway dining hall to celebrate Black History Month, which runs throughout all of February. Moving forward, he also wants his business to continue being a food option on campus. 

Despite over three years of being open, the business’ first ever event is Matthews’ most memorable entrepreneur experience. 

In October 2018, Matthews and Mottershead held a pop-up event at Water Street Tavern in Kent, where they cooked up several dishes to raise funds for their new company.

When the pair glanced outside while preparing for their first influx of customers, they were surprised with what they saw. 

“About 30 minutes before we even opened, we had about 50 people waiting outside the door,” Matthews said. “It was literally nonstop that night for about three hours. Seeing that in the beginning made me think ‘Okay, this is definitely something we can continue.’”

This first glimpse of success was only a starting point for Matthews and Mottershead, and as their company continues to gain customers, Matthews emphasizes the goal of bringing his southern roots to Ohio, the idea which started it all.

“We’ve had several events where we had lines that took us two to three hours to drop down,” Matthews said. “Being able to see that at various locations with people from different backgrounds giving us good feedback, that’s the best part. It’s what makes my day and keeps me going, because I know we have something that people look forward to.”

Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]