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Former Mancos teacher reflects on success of new food business

Kelly’s Kitchen is in its second year of business, and it’s booming
Kelly Gregory, left, and staff member Brittany Featherman pose in front of the Kelly’s Kitchen food truck in May 2021. (Courtesy Kelly's Kitchen)

It was a rhubarb crisp that set Kelly Gregory’s dream in motion.

She saw a woman selling it while strolling the Dolores Farmers Market in June 2020, and thought to herself, “I could sell something.”

She realized she wanted to own a culinary business at age 21.

Back then, she pictured herself launching a coffee shop, cooking catering orders or managing food in any way, really.

She had the skills, and, perhaps more important, the passion, to do it.

Besides her loyalty to Bon Appetit magazine, which stemmed from her teenage years, she catered at a Hewett Packard Plant in Fort Collins and at the Inverness Hotel in Denver. As a student at Colorado State University, she cooked in the dorms.

“I worked in almost every variety of food service there is except being an actual waitress,” she said.

With her degree in exercise science, she worked in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, before obtaining her master’s in environmental education. She was a science teacher at Mancos Middle School.

“I think that the interest in the culinary arts was just always there,” she said. “But I kind of went in these different directions that were supposed to be the responsible day job with the benefits package,” she said.

However, food, health and creativity in the culinary arts remained pillars of Gregory’s identity.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2020, and Gregory was brainstorming products she thought would sell at the local farmers market.

Two weeks later, licensed and printed food labels in tow, she made her debut with salsa fresca hummus, kimchi and cupcakes.

Gregory’s first employee, her niece, Ava, helped conceptualize cupcake flavors and loyally attended every farmer’s market in 2020.

Kelly's Kitchen’s products at the Winter Market at Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery on display in December 2020. (Courtesy Kelly’s Kitchen)

The owner of the Dolores River Brewery approached her about offering appetizers on Thursdays. Appetizers evolved into tacos, and tacos soon spurred a pop-up restaurant in the brewery’s kitchen.

In May 2021, Kelly’s Kitchen, as it became known, secured its own food trailer.

Now, the likes of Thai curry, Asian slaw, loaded tacos and grilled cheese melted with green chiles and fresh tomato are mainstays on Gregory’s menu.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, she’s stationed at the Dolores River Brewery, and on Fridays she visits Fenceline Cidery in Mancos. Her products are also available in FB Organics and the Dolores Food Market.

“The business is always kind of growing,” she said.

Her favorite dish to eat is the pork street taco, featuring pork shoulder slow-cooked in New Mexico red chile.

Gregory’s favorite: the pork street taco with spicy crema. (Courtesy Kelly’s Kitchen)

Her favorite dish to make, however, is the mojo de ajo taco – a blend of mushrooms, onions, poblanos, sweet peppers and jalapenos sauteed in garlic mojo and blanketed in a tortilla and assorted toppings.

“Total carnivores absolutely love this taco,” she said.

Gregory’s four-person team gets a lot done. For the majority of the day on Tuesdays, her crew can be found in the Dolores Community Center Kitchen, and borrowing the Dolores River Brewery’s kitchen on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Output varies between the winter and summer, she said.

Last week, Kelly’s Kitchen created 43 pounds of salsa, 225 tacos, 30 sandwiches and 12 bowls of curry.

In the summer, the numbers are closer to 600 tacos and 48 chicken katsu sandwiches, which sometime sell out in two hours.

“We do a lot of moving stuff around, and it’s taxing, but they’re wonderful, dedicated people that I just am so grateful for,” she said.

Gregory grew up in a primarily Hispanic Denver neighborhood, and it was there that she received much of the inspiration she channels today to craft tacos.

“It was all about making your own tortillas and beans and green chili. So even though I don’t have that on my menu, that was probably the first things that I learned to make,” she said.

She moved to Southwest Colorado working for her brother’s graphic design business.

“After 24 years, it’s definitely home,” she said.

She’s grateful for the complimentary feedback from the community.

“ I know that there are lots of tacos to be had in Montezuma County, but people will leave, and they’ll say, ‘That’s the best taco I have ever had,’“ she said.

Gregory experiments with new dishes. Any time a new menu offering premieres, it’s the most popular, she said.

Gregory’s business has evolved with the changing landscape of the pandemic. Looking to the future, she hopes to be able to cater more events, she said.

“Not only have I been able to serve creative food to my community, I’ve been able to create some jobs that didn’t previously exist and get some money in some people’s pockets, and it seems like it’s only going uphill,” Gregory said.