Melyce E. Kenyon immerses in the atmosphere at Churchill Downs during a weeklong internship that culminated with the iconic Kentucky Derby horse race. Penn College business and hospitality students have been providing high-end food service for the event since 1993.
Boldly Seizing Second Chances
In Spring 2017, Melyce E. Kenyon was unable to pursue a weeklong Kentucky Derby internship with her culinary arts classmates.
“When I was presented with the opportunity to participate in the Kentucky Derby in 2017, I was really excited for the mass food service production, alongside my classmates and friends,” Kenyon said. “I was really discouraged when I wasn’t able to participate.”
Instead, she withdrew from her final semester of classes and traveled to Philadelphia for heart surgery. She’d been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome and Atrial Tachycardia. The condition causes the heart to beat abnormally fast due to extra electrical connections in the heart.
“I had what they call a catheter ablation, where they use radio frequency to destroy the electrical pathways in my heart,” Kenyon explained.
She made a quick return, enrolling in summer classes (and earning a 4.0!) before graduating with an associate degree in culinary arts technology in December 2017.
Six years later, she is back at Penn College pursuing a business management degree, and this spring, the opportunity to help serve guests at one of the world’s most iconic sporting events was again before her.
“If I’m honest, I was initially very hesitant,” Kenyon said. “Life is a little more complicated now that I’m not 18, and I have significant life responsibilities.”
In addition to her role as student, she’s the mother of two girls, ages 1 and 3, a wife and a business owner.
Ultimately, she seized the opportunity.
“I knew it was going to be incredibly difficult to leave home for a week, especially (being away) from my girls,” Kenyon said. “However, I needed to be an example for them of what being bold looks like: taking big life opportunities and stepping out of your comfort zone.”
“The excitement remained the same this time around, the only difference being I didn’t know many students from Penn College,” she added. “That changed over the course of the week in Kentucky, and I was able to connect with some excellent culinary and business students, who will remain lifelong friends.”
The Derby is not her first bold step: At the age of 22, she opened MK Café and Catering in Canton, based on the imaginary business plan she’d developed as part of her Penn College coursework.
“This outlined what a restaurant menu, layout, staffing, etc., would look like,” she explained. “I opened virtually the exact same business five months post-graduation in May 2018.”
The business has adapted, partly due to COVID-19. She now owns MK Bubble Drinks, a mobile drink trailer (like a food truck but strictly drinks), and is joined in the business by her husband, Logan, a 2012 Penn College graduate in architectural technology. He worked in architecture for seven years before joining the MK enterprise full time.
“The beauty of being self-employed is that our daughters come to work with us virtually every day,” Kenyon said. “We truly love what we do and being able to be together as a family.”
Her business’s growth spurred her return to Penn College.
“I never want to be blind to the fact that there are very intelligent people – much, much wiser than me,” she said. “I could learn so much more, and be so much greater of a business owner, if I humble myself and say ‘I don’t know it all.’ So here I am, back in the classrooms of PCT, learning additional business strategies that I can apply directly to my company. It is incredibly rewarding – and exhausting!”
Photo courtesy of Melyce E. Kenyon