INDIANAPOLIS — For best friends Tyler Williams and DaShelle Blades, the kitchen is their happy place.
“I know that cooking is a passion of both of ours,” Blades said.
“My degree is actually in tourism and hospitality,” said Williams, “I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant.”
The early stages of the pandemic would jumpstart their dreams in 2020 when Williams was laid off from his job.
“My best friend, DaShelle, asked if we should cook and I was like no, not really interested in that,” he laughed, “but she was like, you really should think about it!”
Together, the two became The Cooking Besties, cooking luxury inspired meals on a bi-weekly basis. What started as a side hustle, they say, quickly presented a need to be full-time.
“We just kept selling out!” Williams said. “We’ve outgrown everything that we had initially started with!”
Within the last couple of years, the besties expanded their interest into catering, creating dishes for some of Indy’s well-known companies. They pride their cooking style as versatile, tailored to whatever the client is asking for.
“Not being in a rabbit hole if you will, or just sticking to one style of food, it gives us the opportunity to expand our palate if you will,” said Blades.
“One thing we really wanted to do, especially because we’re focusing on Black chefs, is we wanted to dissemble the trope that all Black chefs make soul food,” said Kelli Jones, co-founder/co-CEO of Be Nimble Foundation. “I love soul food, and we’ll probably have a couple of those concepts, but one thing you’ll notice about this particular cohort of chefs is that all of them do a very different type of cuisine.”
Melon Kitchens, a ghost kitchen concept, was originally an idea slated for 2019, but the pandemic would delay the plans.
However, it ended up being the right time.
“Once everything went to delivery and everyone had to worry about being tech-enabled, it just made more sense,” Jones said.
Housed inside The AMP at 16 Tech, the newly added kitchen space is just under 5,000 square feet. Jones says it allows plenty of space for multiple chefs to work at the same time.
Specifically focusing in on Black chefs and restaurant concepts, Jones says Melon Kitchens works as an accelerator for an underrepresented population within the food industry.
Working in cohorts for six months at a time, select chefs will utilize the space to operate their business outside of a traditional brick-and-mortar model.
“You have one space that you operate a restaurant out of, except for everything is either delivered or picked up via take-out,” said Jones. “There’s no sit down. There’s no walk-up. There’s none of that. It’s all handled on the internet.”
Using premier kitchen tools and appliances, the space provides resources, as well as the fundamentals, to help build and sustain a brand. It’s a venture made possible through multiple partnerships and grants.
“We’re working on everything from just general health department checks, ServSafe training, making sure you have all of the legal documentation necessary. We’re helping them build their menus out,” Jones added. “It de-risks the restaurant model. It allows a person, a chef, or anyone that has an amazing concept to be able to scale and franchise their concept across the country.”
For The Cooking Besties, it’s serving new opportunities to expand their services.
As part of the first cohort, which starts full operations in early April, The Cooking Besties will specifically focus on Hibachi and brunch style foods. However, the duo says their tailored and versatile skills will still be available upon request.
“This will just really be an opportunity for us to grow, reach new clients, but also be able to fully operate as a full service catering company,” said Williams. “It’s giving us small business owners and entrepreneurs an opportunity to be able to compete on such a large scale with a Panera Bread, or other places, that really focus on catering.”
For more on how to apply for a cohort spot in the Melon Kitchens, click here.