Feeding the Body, Soul and Heart
On Monday, students gathered inside Kent State's E. Timothy Moore Student Multicultural Center(SMC) for an event designed to nourish both body and spirit. “Feeding the Body and Soul” was a guided discussion about soul food that featured southern creole dishes from Kent State alumnus Will Matthews, ’19. Matthews is the owner and chef of Southern Comfort Kitchen restaurant and food truck.
“Soul food is kind of what comes with the name: comforting,” said Matthews. “You, know, it warms you up inside. Soul food is like the bark of conversation, family unity. Everyone gathers around with a whole bunch of food. For some people, it’s traditional soul food, your macaroni, your beans your collard greens and stuff like that. It’s a whole wide, range of comfort food, but really it’s about the feeling you get.”
Creole dishes served at the event included dirty rice, jambalaya, seafood pasta and bread pudding. Matthews’ advice to people who haven’t tried southern creole food is “Don’t be afraid to get out of your box,” he said. “People come to my restaurant and say, ‘I’ve never had crawfish,’ 'I’ve never had this or that.’ But they don’t even know what it tastes like because of the way it’s perceived, or the way people put it out on social media, rather than going forward and trying it, and having their own experience.”
Dinner, with a side of heartfelt inspiration
At the event, students were invited to get a plate of food and then dine while Matthews engaged with a panel of students for a question-and-answer session. Matthews shared that his success as a Black business owner came from years of hard work, beginning while he was still a student at Kent State. As an entrepreneurship major in the College of Business Administration, he knew that he wanted to start his own business one day but hadn’t decided on what sort of business it would be.
Then, a combination of boredom with his food options on and off campus, along with a bit of homesickness for the tastes of his native New Orleans inspired him to begin cooking for himself. And for his roommates and his teammates on Kent State's Golden Flashes football team. Matthews received good reviews from the people who had tasted his food. He also recognized that there was an opportunity to bring New Orleans-style cuisine to the area.
Starting his business
Through networking, dedication and a lot of hard work, he was able to start and maintain a successful food truck business – all while he was still in school and playing football for Kent State. “For anyone here who is aspiring to start a business, it should never be a thing about time, because you can make time for what you want,” he said.
Matthews made time for his business and continued operating his food truck. Then, an opportunity arose for him to open a restaurant in Akron. Right now, his Southern Comfort Kitchen is connected to a bar, which helps feed his business. “But definitely the end goal is to have my own standalone restaurant and continue to build from there, with possible multiple locations,” he said.
“Take advantage of what’s in front of you”
Throughout the question-and-answer session, Matthews gave credit and thanks to the educators and mentors who have inspired him and helped him along his path to success. He also advised the students in attendance to take advantage of the opportunities and resources available to them at Kent State. “Kent, in general, has a lot of resources,” he said. “Go out and take advantage of them because once you’re done, nothing is free. Take advantage of them and figure out what you need to.”
“I had a professor my freshman year and I’ve been back to talk to her class,” Matthews said. “She put me in a position to do many things and she sends a lot of people to my business. That’s a relationship that, if I were a ‘knucklehead’ student or if I were somebody who didn’t care about school, I wouldn’t have been able to have that. So, take advantage of what’s in front of you.”
Michael Daniels, Ph.D., director of the Student Multicultural Center, called Matthews “an inspiration” as a "Black business owner, a young gifted and Black man who has worked extremely hard” and “someone you want to show up every chance you get.” Daniels encouraged the students to visit Matthews’ restaurant with their friends and families.
The event continued with more food from Matthews' restaurant, more discussion about the culture and comfort of soul food, some games and even some line dancing.
The Southern Comfort Kitchen restaurant is located in the Highland Square neighborhood of Akron.