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Kent State graduate brings taste of New Orleans to Northeast Ohio

On West Market Street in Akron, you'll fund a funky little food kitchen that serves up a taste of the south by the plate.

AKRON, Ohio — A Kent State graduate and former student athlete is serving up a taste of the south. What began as a food truck on campus has now grown into a pop-up kitchen in Akron. 

On West Market Street, you'll fund a funky little food kitchen that serves up a taste of the south by the plate. Welcome to Southern Comfort Kitchen!

"Our food is just so special because of the way its prepared, because of the way it tastes, what we use, how we can make so many different entrees out of one item," explains owner Will Matthews. "But it's not only the food, but the hospitality. It's the way we treat people and the charm that we have. That's one of the biggest things when I'm interacting with customers, I make sure that they have a good experience."

Will Matthews started Southern Comfort Kitchen in 2018 as an undergrad at Kent State. He was an entrepreneurship major as well as a former running back with the Golden Flashes. 

He started his business on campus with a food truck. "I did a pitch competition through the entrepreneurship program and I was awarded $8,000. I came in second place and that helped me furnish the truck," Will recalls.

Those were busy days for Will. He would go to class, then football practice, then get the food truck out in the evening. "Just being able to see the people and see how happy they were to try the food kept me going," he says.

Will discovered that he had a craving for the food he loved from back home in Louisiana. "When I came up here, I knew to survive I needed to cook on my own, so that's where everything started."

The pop-up kitchen concept started with a simple menu: gumbo and a seafood bisque.

Fast forward to seven years later, Will is still giving his customers a unique experience that features real, authentic New Orleans-style food. 

"You've got the jambalaya, Étouffée, gumbo and obviously we're seafood based, so we've got shrimp, we've got catfish," Will says. "This area is big on tilapia and perch, so bringing catfish here has actually been very good because people are used to that. Then when they get a taste of this, they're like 'oh wow, I wouldn't have even thought to eat catfish!'"

Word of Will's Cajun, Creole cuisine has spread. His business is growing. But he always makes a point to give back to where it all began. 

"So when I go on campus (Kent State), the students love the crawfish mac, the Cajun ranch fries and the shrimp po'boy," Will adds.

The best part about his thriving small business is that every day, Will gets to share a taste of home with all of us here in Northeast Ohio. He's doing something he loves and doing it southern style. 

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