Mathew Unger traded his business suit for a chef’s hat when he opened Mathew’s Kitchen in 2011, one of the newest restaurants in St. Louis’ fabled neighborhood known as The Hill.
So what convinced this 1999 marketing program graduate to turn his love of food into a full-time venture?
“I love cooking and making people happy with food and wine,” Unger said. “Seeing a room full of people really enjoying themselves is really gratifying to me.”
After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1999, Unger worked as a stockbroker at what is now UBS Financial Services. However, he felt a calling to try the food industry — so he decided to continue his education at culinary school. Now, he spends his workdays thinking up creative takes on classic comfort foods. He crafts all his recipes himself and makes all of the food from scratch.
It may not be common for a businessperson to move into culinary arts, but Unger said he has always had plenty of seemingly different interests.
“When I was 17 or 18, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or that I would one day turn my love of cooking into a career,” Unger said. “I came to Missouri State because I loved the variety of programs and I bounced around and took classes in everything from recreation to theology to sports medicine.”
After he had explored many programs, marketing senior instructor Sherry Cook convinced Unger to pursue marketing.
“Students like Mathew are the ones that really make an impression,” Cook said. “I still remember where he sat in the first marketing class he took with me — right in the front. You could tell he enjoyed learning all he could about marketing. Those kind of students you always remember.”
Her instincts proved correct, Unger said: “Marketing really grabbed me; I’d sit through a two-hour class and feel like it had just started.”
His two career paths actually complement each other well. At his restaurant, Unger combines the business concepts he learned at Missouri State with culinary knowledge from St. Louis Community College and the Culinary Institute of America.
“We’re constantly trying to reinvent how to get people in the door and how to best market to new customers, and my marketing background has without a doubt helped me,” Unger said. “Plus, understanding accounting and economics has really helped with the business side.”
Unger has maintained his ties to Missouri State. Recently, he put his two certifications in wine — he’s a sommelier and a Certified Specialist of Wine — to use by hosting a MarooNation wine-tasting event at Mathew’s Kitchen for fellow St. Louis alumni.
“It’s absolutely important to stay connected after graduation,” Unger said. “If you own a business or plan to open one, it gives you an automatic connection with others. There is a certain level of respect that comes with doing business with other people from MSU.”
So, when other Bears visit Mathew’s Kitchen, what one dish should they try?
“If I had to pick just one, it would be the fish and chips,” Unger said. “It is walleye crusted in a rice cereal, and it’s our biggest seller.”