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Matt & Rachel Want Worcester’s Kummerspeck To Be An Interactive Restaurant

Kummerspeck's Matt Mahoney and Rachel Coit.

tHugo Desnoyer is the butcher for some of Paris’s most acclaimed restaurants, bistros, and wine bars. He also runs a gleaming marble-tiled retail shop. Rarely having access to a kitchen when I visited Paris, I still found myself drawn to his shop in the 15th arrondissement near the Bois de Boulogne. On various visits over the last two decades, I have stared longingly into the display case, repeating the word viandes viandes viandes as if repetition could conjure me a stove and cast iron skillet for an entrecôte. Puis-je vous aider? asks the counterman. Non, merci, I say, silently cursing my flameless existence. Merde.

I must have not been alone in my droolish behavior. A few years ago, Desnoyer placed a single communal table – a large butcher block surrounded by no more than ten chairs – in the window of his shop. To dine while staring at all the meaty goodness on offer is to truly know what John Cleese meant when he said, if we aren’t supposed to eat animals then why are they made out of meat?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait that long in Worcester for the same experience and no one has to fight for a table (yet). Worcester may have been the Paris of the eighties as a t-shirt said, but our restaurant scene is decidedly now. And two of the city’s newest arrivals, Rachel Coit and Matt Mahoney, conjure the spirit of Desnoyer with their butcher-shop-cum-restaurant in the Canal District – even if it bears a distinctly German name: Kummerspeck.

Kummerspeck translates to “grief bacon” (basically German for “comfort food”) but the restaurant is not German or French (even if it was, the French translation for comfort food is aliment-réconfort which sounds profoundly unappetizing). What it really translates to is a unique non-regional comfort food experience in Worcester. Comfort food that makes you long for home and kicks your grandmother’s food’s ass.

And that’s just what chef/owners Matt (director of all things awesome) and Rachel (please help her find an equally good name) want.

The couple, married since 2011, met in culinary school where both of them were late starts among a sea of teenagers. Rachel says she said “Hey!” to Matt on the first day but Matt just grunted at her. (He doesn’t remember that but admits it’s plausible.) It took an intervention by one of their favorite instructors to officially set them up. They married shortly after finishing school. Both then honed their craft working for Barbara Lynch in Boston: he at The Butcher Shop, she at Sportello. When they decided to strike out on their own, they thought about Detroit, Portsmouth, and Portland (ME), but eventually settled on Worcester. “We thought Worcester could use something like this,” Matt says. “Worcester is really trying. It’s finally busting its ass for really big things.”

Matt says “finally,” because both he and Rachel know the city well. He grew up in Spencer, she in Harvard. Worcester always had its meat eaters but now it had a culinary movement too: “Worcester is a relatively adventurous city,” Matt adds. “People aren’t freaked out by certain things like liver. Liver pate is one of the best sellers on our menu.” Rachel laughs in agreement, “They don’t believe that there are bacon harvesters that come by every week leaving happy living pigs behind.”

True. But this is also not a city conditioned to spend a lot of money on that meat, and Matt and Rachel, along with their head butcher/executive sous chef Erin Hockey, have filled their display cases with exquisite prepared foods, hot sauces, dips (including a hot sausage one for game day that I would like to be buried in), marinades, duck fat, veal fat, pork lard, foie gras terrine, duck confit, a seemingly endless array of homemade fresh and smoked sausages, and an evolving selection of fresh beef, pork, duck, lamb, and goat. The day I was there, American wagyu and three different kinds of strip steaks were available and there was discussion of barnsley chops (a cut taken from across the loin to make a double sided chop). And don’t think it stops at meat. Rachel likes to break down a whole fish and has been experimenting with a green tea smoked salmon cured with nori.

Mon dieu! Oh mein Gott! Oh. My. God! 

But also trop cher for people used to D’Errico’s and Fairway, where ground beef is often less than half the price of Kummerspeck’s. For those who wonder why, the Kummerspeck team is happy to answer – and more importantly welcome the question. Too often, I find people working the high end of any food business look down on those who just don’t understand why. Not Matt and Rachel. They are not only happy to explain but also educate and accommodate.

“We can explain the prices to them,” says Matt. “First of all we have to pay Erin who makes all the difference in the world. And the meat? It’s better than what you get in most markets. I am buying everything from very high-end to slightly better than what the commodity is. I love those places you mentioned. They are iconic. But you are not going to get someone who is going to turn around and talk about what they’re cutting for you.

“We cut you what you want. I will bone what you want. I will wrap it in fatback and truss it with rosemary. But we are not just butchers. We are chefs. We will teach you how to cook what you buy. Who wants to spend that money to ruin something expensive like lamb? Say you want to try duck, which is not that expensive. Duck is not difficult but you have to know the tricks to it. It’s not like throwing a steak in the pan. Sometimes the most important thing is just walking people through the purchase so they know that duck doesn’t suck.”

That said, Matt and Rachel are happy to offer something closer to the price points people expect as a step up to the premium cuts. For a recent Patriots game, they bought a bunch of choice strips – Midwestern grain-fed – for $12 a pound. That’s close to what you might pay at other markets but customers will still get the butcher/chef treatment at Kummerspeck. Matt and Rachel won’t alienate anyone because they went for the cheapest option. They want them to learn from it, Matt says: “If you don’t, you walk away and never eat better. You never get a chance to get why the $27 per pound steak is worthwhile once in a while. You might cook a great steak, but I can probably tell you how to cook a great steak and just tweak it to just set it off and really make you appreciate the money you spent.”

This sensitivity translates to the Kummerspeck menu as well. While both Matt and Rachel have worked in fine dining, their dishes at Kummerspeck are not tweezer food with a shiso leaf placed just-so. Still, Rachel makes sure they are “cooking with color” and every dish is not only beautifully plated but “fundamentally thought through how people are going to eat the dish” for the full flavor experience. For Matt’s part, he makes sure there is always value and enough food on the plate even at the higher end of the menu: “Quality and service are crucial but there has to be enough on the plate. You may pay $14 for the Zampone [the front trotter of a pig stuffed with a mixture of lentils, belly, and fat back] but the portion is huge and easily shareable.”

Initially, both Matt and Rachel admit their menu played it kind of safe as they got used to executing. “The regular menu is like a photo album of our culinary lives,” says Rachel. “We are making things we missed that we wanted or love to eat like cauliflower hash. My shrimp and grits is the perfect example. This is a recipe that I have brought with me everywhere. I make it a little spicy with some smoked andouille. It’s always a crowd pleaser. [Matt calls it the best dish in the city.] It is one of those dishes that once people try, they feel more comfortable ordering more expensive things and trust us.”

And customers are doing just that. When Kummerspeck got in a couple of large lambs from Lilac Hedge, they took the entire neck from each, rubbed them down, and roasted them all night. They then offered them family-style for four with a cracked wheat salad, cucumber, tomatoes, and chard. They sold out. So did the four pigs’ heads that they roasted slow, presented to the tables, and then served the crispy skins and meat Asian style with a pho noodle salad and cilantro.

That’s a wow dish, but it is not like Matt and Rachel don’t practice what they preach from the butcher counter with the simplest of dishes: “People say to us all the time, ‘What did you do to the steak?’ But it’s really what you don’t do to it. It’s a really good steak with butter, salt, black pepper, basted in the fat of that animal.”

If that doesn’t comfort you, carnivores, what will? Maybe what’s next. Kummerspeck has big plans from a tasting menu (chef’s choice to “let it rip!”) to a full brunch roll out to carving stations to Erin leading butchering classes on the original 1969 butcher block from Tom’s that once occupied the space. (For a preview, check out the video.)

In the end, Matt and Rachel want Kummerspeck to be an interactive place. They want you to pass dishes around. They want you to pick up your plate and lick it (which is good news for my mom). “When I serve a big porterhouse, I take it off the bone and slice it. But I leave enough on the bone so when I stick it out of the mashed potatoes and send it to your table you have no choice but to pick it up. I’m leaving several bites on there. That’s what we want the atmosphere to be here, says Matt” Adds Rachel, “If I see you do that or lick your plate, we did our job. We embrace the primal.”

But don’t be surprised when you do pick up that plate if you spy Matt or Rachel watching. “I love watching people eat,” Rachel laughs. “It’s super creepy but I love doing it.” Matt agrees: “I watch people take the first bite. It keeps you going.” In a word: it’s comforting.


A Lesson in Butchering

Jim Eber visits Worcester’s Kummerspeck, where Matt Mahoney and Rachel Coit want to make restaurants more interactive by incorporating a delicatessen within the restaurant and bar’s walls. –

Posted by Mass Foodies on Thursday, October 12, 2017

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Renee King’s The Queens Cups Has Customers in the Canal District Smiling in the Reign

Renee King, the founder of The Queens Cups on Water Street in Worcester, MA

Renee King of The Queen’s Cups has relocated her kingdom to Worcester’s Canal District. And while we will live more happily ever after because of her reign, this is not a childhood fairytale come to life.

There are no adorable pictures of Renee as a child with a Holly Hobby Oven turning out the precursor to her favorite chocolate raspberry ricotta cupcakes.

There are no stories of her toiling in her parents’ kitchen in a princess outfit, coated in flour and edible glitter, precociously concocting the ancestors to her charming unicorn cupcakes while she waited to ascend the throne.

Behind the Counter Renee's two favorite counter people and one of the most important in her life: Alyssa, Barbara (Renee’s Mom), and Keryn.
Behind the Counter Renee’s two favorite counter people and one of the most important in her life: Alyssa, Barbara (Renee’s Mom), and Keryn.

Renee’s high school yearbook does not proclaim her “Most Likely to Be Cupcake Royalty, Own a Cupcake Shop after Baking for Only a Year, and Create Hundreds of Different Flavors as well as Cakes, Brownies, Cookies, and Other Treats that Will Sell by the Thousands Every Week in 2017.” She didn’t even bake her first cupcakes until after her junior year at Worcester State – and those were doctored from a box mix!

In fact, The Queen’s Cup might not exist if Renee had known what she wanted to do after she graduated with her psychology degree. She knew she didn’t want to rack up student loan debt pursuing an advanced degree. She thought about nannying, becoming a teacher’s assistant like her mom, Barbara, or following a path in institutional food service like her father, Paul. But she wasn’t passionate about any of them.

Then her mom said, Why don’t you open a bakery? And Renee said, Okay let’s do it.

Huh? According to many experts, this would be a recipe for failure in the food business: Doing something because your mom says your [fill in the blank] is delicious. Yet five years after opening that first store in Millbury and despite following no traditional templates for success, devising no business plan, and pursuing no childhood dream, Renee has lines out the door in Worcester’s Canal District.

Um, I’ll have what she’s having. Oh and one of those lemon cupcakes and is that cookie dough? Maybe a Matilda Cake too and . . .

The Matilda Cake from The Queen's Cups in Worcester, MA
The Matilda Cake from The Queen’s Cups in Worcester, MA

For Renee King, success does not come down to passion per se but persistence and obsession. When she really wants something, she becomes obsessed with achieving or mastering it – be it her basketball team’s hustle award in eighth grade or the crust for the apple pies she baked the summer before her senior year that set her current path. Soon after, she saw “Cupcake Wars” and became obsessed with making cupcakes. Sitting in class, she created lists of flavors she thought would taste good together and then went home and baked them.

It was then when Renee realized a truism in life: Cupcakes make people happy – and not just eating cupcakes but seeing them. She posted pictures of her creations on Instagram and thinking about those first likes makes her giddy even today: “I got three likes on the first one and one was my mom. But eventually people started noticing and asking if they could order them. My mom set up a Facebook page and suddenly I had a thing. I remember how excited I was when I got 100 likes – 25 of them from people I didn’t even know!”

 “My dad looked around to see what we could do to make it into a bakery, my mom gave them a $100 deposit, and that was it. We never talked about it. I didn’t finish my business plan. I didn’t care about any of that. I just cared about making people happy with sweets.”

Flash forward a few months to college graduation, her mom’s magic words, and the next thing you know a former lawn mower repair shop down the street from where Renee grew up was hers: “My dad looked around to see what we could do to make it into a bakery, my mom gave them a $100 deposit, and that was it. We never talked about it. I didn’t finish my business plan. I didn’t care about any of that. I just cared about making people happy with sweets.” Which she eventually did – but after a stressful start: “I don’t want to say it was terrible but it was terrifying. I thought I was just going to stand there and hand out cupcakes, and it was chaos. I had no idea what I was doing. I started that day with $113 in my bank account and 200 cupcakes in a window. I was 23 years old, what was I supposed to know?”

So, Renee started to know what she didn’t know and learned to do the one thing every entrepreneur must eventually do: trust others. Renee is quick to point out that she may be the queen behind Queen’s Cups but there have been a family of Kings from that first day who had her back. Her dad had the food service experience to help with the business side. Her mom not only helped but was also the Queen Mother of positive energy. Still, they could not be there all the time so Renee needed to hire someone. That first hire, Abbie, grew up near her grandfather and stayed with Renee through the move to Worcester. But it was not like Renee said to Abbie, Go get ‘em, Girl! “The first year I did not trust anyone,” Renee says laughing. “I let people wash the dishes, cut the fruit, and hold a cupcake. I would do everything else.”

Since that first year, Renee has done a 180 to assemble the talented team of 20 that runs Queen’s Cups today: “We don’t have a menu. I really test my staff. I don’t go in and say, This is what we are making today. They come in and have to make something. There is always a vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter option. But even those we try to change. On the first day in Worcester, we had 50 different types of cupcakes. They have to think of some of them off the top of their heads but that is how I train them. Whenever someone interviews with me I say, Show me what you got. Then they bake.”

Today, the talent Renee has from the kitchen to the front of the store excites her and her trust in them has led to branching out beyond cupcakes to fuel an ongoing obsession to get better. Hence that Matilda Cake, a giant glistening disc of chocolate cake and ganache-y goodness that came from the baking audition of her assistant baker, Phylisha. “I hired her on the spot,” Renee says, noting she has had to work hard at the gym and her willpower to keep her total at 17 Matildas and counting.

The list of cupcakes is always changing at The Queen's Cups in Worcester, MAHer customers, however? Those numbers long went well beyond 17 cakes a day. By year two in Millbury, Queen’s Cups had already outgrown its store. “When I look back now,” Renee recalls, “I don’t know how we worked like that. On Saturdays there were 12 of us baking in 300 square feet. We had two worktables and this small folding table. I hated that folding table. It was three feet shorter than everything else in the room. I remember hunching over it and my back killing me. But when I think about it, as crazy as it is, I’m happy we started that way. I’m grateful for those memories because I don’t want to take anything for granted.”

Renee certainly didn’t take moving the shop for granted. She looked for a place for almost three years, including in Grafton and Millbury. But it wasn’t until she fell in love with the place and her neighbors on Water Street in 2016 that she knew she was ready. She had the right team (including her parents who retired to work with her) and the confidence to tackle a daunting task: The Queen’s Cups that opened in August 2017 looked nothing like the former garage she took over. There was rubble everywhere, plaster covering the beautiful brick walls that took masons months to restore, drop ceilings making the original tin, old carpet blanketing the hardwood floors . . .

The Queen's Cups has successfully run its preview day and is ready for an August 1st opening in their Water Street location in Worcester, MA.
The Queen’s Cups has successfully run its preview day and is ready for an August 1st opening in their Water Street location in Worcester, MA.

With the help of Cornerstone Bank, which took a chance on her after two others passed, Renee turned it all into a space (a huge sitting area and kitchen separated by the retail store) that is warm, welcoming, and suits both Worcester and her personality. Her grandfather, who Renee calls her best friend in the whole world, was a painter for the state and her dad turned his painting sieves into the lights that hang over the counter when you walk in. (“So now I feel that my grandfather is always here.”) The furniture comes from Joe Weiss of Skana Design in Worcester. The ladder above the communal table dates from 1930. It came from her uncle’s basement and holds light fixtures and terrariums from Seed to Stem. A photograph on one wall is of the dearly departed Widoff’s Bakery, the collection of shots on the other are of her favorite customers and a couple of dogs eating cupcakes, taken by customer and photographer Ashley Armstrong. (Renee desperately wants Bucky who owned the garage that became Queen’s Cups to come in so she can hang his photo too.)

As for the baking? The Worcester location is what Renee calls a whole new ballgame: “Five years ago when we opened in Millbury I cried every day for two weeks. Here I’ve only cried because I’m grateful. There was a line five hours straight on our opening day. We did 2,000 cupcakes alone. We just baked all day.” And the team shows no signs of slowing down. The combinations keep on coming. When Wings & Company brought in some dry rubbed wings? They made a cupcake out of it. When someone wanted to make a chicken and waffle cupcake? Renee said go for it. It like so many others sold out, which is perhaps the most gratifying thing for her: seeing her staff inspired to make their visions come to life – so many visions she could not possibly even try them all without weighing 300 lbs. She just trusts her “girls” to deliver.

This is the main reason, Renee says, you will never see her face on a billboard above 290: she just doesn’t have the personality for it. She’d rather see the team hum so she can spend more time with her friends and boyfriend, who has to come wash dishes in the shop to see her – and they live together!

The Queen's Cups first opened in Millbury, MA in 2012 before moving to the Water Street location in Worcester, MA in 2017.
The Queen’s Cups first opened in Millbury, MA in 2012 before moving to the Water Street location in Worcester, MA in 2017.

Renee did hold on to the Millbury location and is hoping to renovate it into something different than Queen’s Cups down the road. She has some idea of what that might be. If you heard it, you might call her crazy. Go ahead, most people would and did five years ago. But for now, making the Worcester store the best it can be is Renee’s obsession. The Queen’s Cups is much more than her why and purpose: It’s her family:

“Doing this is my parents’ retirement, and my future children’s inheritance. I want this to stay in the family, because my family, including my two older brothers, has helped me so much. This is all going to happen up for us and hopefully I’ll be able to take everybody on a vacation in ten years. That is my ultimate goal.”

Cupcakes Make People Happy and Renee King’s The Queens Cups Br…

Our writer, Jim Eber, sat down with The Queen’s Cups owner and founder, Renee King, to understand how she turned $100 into a business with aspirations focused on family.

Posted by Mass Foodies on Monday, August 21, 2017