Surrounded by pink and purple decorations, Kemaya Molden, owner of Maya’s Bakes, welcomes some customers into her new space near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine. She’s standing behind the counter near a self-service refrigerator full of brownies, pink lemonade cookies, banana pudding, and pound cake slices, some of her best sellers.
Molden moved from a smaller operation inside Findlay’s market house to a standalone location on Elm Street in late August. She had been selling cakes and baked goods for almost a decade out of her own kitchen before joining the Findlay Market incubator program and learned many lessons along the way to prepare herself to become a one-woman show, six days a week. “I wanted to be ready, not in practice mode, when I opened,” she explains. “It took a couple of tries to say ‘yes.’”
Molden is one of several self-taught cooks to say yes to brick-and-mortar locations recently. Now their signature dishes and snacks are available on a regular basis to hungry customers.
Val Abafo, along with his wife and their children, opened Kealoha’s Kitchen, a Hawaiian cuisine–themed takeout spot connected to Covington bar Pandemonium, in late 2021. The Abafos had been dishing out Val’s time-perfected pineapple teriyaki short ribs, Kalua pig, ahi-poke tuna, and more from a roving food truck since 2020. They’re pleased to now serve their customers—many of them pictured on the walls surrounding the carry-out counter—from a fixed location.
Abafo is from Halawa, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. He spent 20 years working as a heavy equipment mechanic in the U.S. Air Force, stationed all over the world in places where he couldn’t find the food of his childhood, so he started making it himself. “My recipes are all my favorites from the islands,” he says.
Pineapple teriyaki meats are on the menu, of course, and so are Spam musubi (fried Spam wrapped between two beds of rice in nori) and loco moco, a beef patty over a bed of rice topped with brown gravy and an over-easy egg.
Abafo met his wife, Amy, an English teacher, in South Korea at a Memorial Day cookout. The two started hanging out and fell in love. “I said, ‘If you hang out with me for five more years, when I retire, I will follow you for the rest of your life,’ “ he recalls.
That led the couple back to Cincinnati, Amy’s hometown. They settled in Northern Kentucky with their four children and Val picked up a second career as a scale technician while Amy continued to work in academic settings. Through it all, they were constantly throwing parties and serving Val’s food.
“Everyone was always saying, ‘You should open a restaurant,’ “ Abafo says. “And I was like, ‘No way, too much work.’ “
It was the sudden death of his older brother, Rudy Kealoha Abafo—who died of a heart attack at age 52—that ultimately resulted in the opening of Kealoha’s Kitchen. Kealoha means “the love” and it describes his brother, but also the feeling Abafo gets when someone tries, and subsequently falls in love with, his food.
Aparna “Appy” Thukrel Kad gets a similar joy serving Indian dishes at her lunch bistro, My Kolorful Kitchen, in Mason.
“I thrive on it,” says Kad, who opened her 15-seat café back in June after months of selling her dishes at the coffee shop Adesso across the street. “Seeing people pick that last grain of rice off the plate—and knowing it turned out good—there’s nothing like it. An empty plate is my biggest reward.”
Kad was born in Bombay, India, (now Mumbai) and began cooking young. The joke in her family—well, sort of a joke—was that her mother was afraid to leave 7-year-old Appy home alone with her older brother because she liked to make fried food and her brother liked to eat it, so he didn’t stop her.
When she was 12, her family moved to southern India and Kad began to understand the vast differences in Indian food from state to state. Her inspiration for cooking came from sitting around with the women in her family, talking about food and sharing cooking tips. The science of cooking always fascinated Kad, like how an onion tastes different in a recipe whether it is sliced or chopped.
When her husband’s work brought them to the United States, where they are currently raising two boys, Kad made friends who also liked to cook.
During the early months of the pandemic, her friends were always asking her to make them Indian dishes, including her butter chicken. She watched MasterChef India and got inspired. She began posting pictures and descriptions of her dishes on social media and blogging about them.
People told her, too, she should open a restaurant. It was her husband who encouraged her most and gave her the financial backing.
“He was like, ‘You can do it,’ “ Kad says. “He travels an awful, awful lot. He said, ‘I’ve eaten all over the country and trust me, nothing is more soul food for all of us than your food.’ “
Kad creates a new menu each week, serving two lunch options, one vegetarian and one meat. The options are always changing, pulling from her knowledge of curries, Indo-Chinese dishes, dals, biryanis, and much more. My Kolorful Kitchen also has a dinner and catering menu that can be ordered for pick up.
In fact, all these home chefs have catering menus.
Molden can whip up one of her MB Originals for a special occasion, like a Strawberry Crunch Cheesecake Cake, Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake, or a Fudge Round.
“When I started down this path, it wasn’t about making a bunch of money,” says Molden, who is taking business classes and looking at hiring her first employee. “I love baking so much, and I want to share that love with my customers.”
Maya’s Bakes, 1811 Elm St., Over-the- Rhine, (513) 212-6972
Kealoha’s Kitchen, 3428 Decoursey Ave., Latonia, (808) 217-3070
My Kolorful Kitchen, 124½ E. Main St., Mason, (513) 375-2936