PATTERSON — Kimberly Greenwell has liked cooking for nearly as long as she can remember. She learned at the elbow of her grandmother, who Greenwell said made the most incredible cakes and Southern dishes.
Greenwell became an accomplished chef and baker in her own right, and while working for a corporation in the Bay Area, decided to start selling some of her baked goods on the side.
"I was thinking about retirement, and I thought this would be a good retirement job," said Greenwell, now 47 and a five-year resident of Diablo Grande near Patterson. She started Simple Treats Cupcakery and found success selling cupcakes and the like to friends, family and more.
But then the economy crashed and the part-time gig suddenly went full time.
Greenwell didn't just put out a shingle and hope people wouldrespond. She returned to school, taking graduate classes at the University of Phoenix and cooking classes through the Modesto Institute of Technology.
"I knew the recipes and everything, but I wanted to hone the skills I already have," she said. "These days, they want rock star chefs."
While cooking courses helped refine her craft, the business classes prepared her to be a successful businesswoman.
"For students like Kimberly who are interested in owning their own business, an MBA can help entrepreneurs identify their big idea and learn smart strategies for launching and operating a business, as well as gain skills to manage the business successfully and measure results," said Scott Lewis, vice president of the University of Phoenix's Sacramento Valley campus.
With schooling and practical experience under her belt, Greenwell now operates Upscales Catering along with Simple Treats. She works out of her home as well as a commercial kitchen in Modesto.
And within the next couple of months, plans are on track to open a storefront in Patterson where she can meet with clients and sell baked goods, as well.
"It's been going really well," Greenwell said. She does everything from weddings at Diablo Grande to cooking classes and parties. Recently, she provided a memorable 12th birthday for a girl and her friends, setting up a "bake shop" where each guest got to create and decorate her own cake.
Greenwell said she's unusual because she enjoys cooking and baking, a rarity among chefs, who tend to specialize in one or the other.
"The way I see it," she said with a smile, "a good meal isn't over until you've had an amazing dessert."
Her desserts have gotten some positive feedback on the company Facebook page. "I love your cupcakes!" said one reviewer. Another gushed about Greenwell's truffles: "The most melt-in-your-mouth, sensational yumminess you will ever taste. May I add heavenly divine and a guilty pleasure you won't regret."
For catering, Greenwell calls her specialty "Southern dishes with a modern twist."
Her mainstays range from a seven-layer macaroni and cheese with goat cheese and fontina to blackened Cajun prawns with polenta fries to a frittata with spinach, peppers, eggs and cheese. And kale dishes. "I love kale," she said.
She's looking forward to opening her storefront, but she doesn't plan to stop there. Within about five years, she'd like to expand into a larger space with a full kitchen and daily lunch specials.
"Food brings people together," she said. "With certain foods, their eyes light up and they get excited because it brings them back to their childhood.
"I want to keep re-creating those wonderful memories for people."