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A Conversation with Yvonne Menja, co-owner and chef for The Equity Kitchen

On June 1 of 2022, Equity Brewing Co expanded into the space next door, adding extra taproom seating and plans for a full kitchen. After many months of building and several weeks of testing menu items, we're finally ready to celebrate our grand opening! If you've recently been to Equity, you've likely had a delicious flatbread pizza or panini sandwich or cinnamon roll made by co-owner and chef Yvonne Menja. Now it’s time to officially open our kitchen's doors with new menu items, a new seltzer release, and a formal warm welcome to Chef Yvonne! Come see us on Friday, May 5 from 12-10pm or anytime after to taste the deliciousness that is The Equity Kitchen!

First, can you give a little bit of background on yourself?

I am a first generation immigrant from Kenya, and moved to Oklahoma with my parents and younger sister at the age of 7. Growing up in Edmond I fell in love with baking when I was able to share home-baked goods with friends and family. I really enjoyed getting to make my loved ones happy and satisfied with a tasty baked treat and some time together! After high school, I spent 2 years in The Netherlands for the United World College program before moving back to Oklahoma to attend OU in Norman. While completing my BA in Psychology with a Minor in Architecture, I deepened my love for baking and cooking and tested countless recipes on my friends and family, honing my skills and perfecting my craft. I'm so excited to continue learning and sharing this passion at Equity!

Where does your talent and passion for cooking and baking come from and how did you discover it?

My love of baking started when I was young and I spent hours watching my mom and dad whip up some incredible spreads for gatherings with family and friends. I learned how to prepare so many Kenyan dishes with my parents, which frequently meant “measuring with my heart.” I think I grew up in what people refer to as an “ingredient household.” I don’t think I looked at recipes until I started baking.

Baking was more scientific. It forced me to learn techniques and understand cooking reactions, including the difference between baking powder, baking soda and yeast. I loved how artistic I could get with flour, sugar, eggs and a bit of food coloring. Baking is also what allowed me to share my passions with friends, and later, customers.

Cooking is a lot more forgiving, but both baking and cooking offer so much room to explore new methods and ingredients. I’m still discovering so much in both worlds, but I’m happy to be a part of a culinary scene that enjoys both…possibly equally.

Where do you get your inspiration for the menu in the Equity Kitchen, particularly with all the different specials you've done?

A lot of my inspiration comes from the different events we host at Equity, my international experiences, the international foods I’ve been exposed to, and my friends who come from all over the world. One of my favorite things about setting a menu and creating specials is the ability to challenge myself and push my skills in the kitchen. Constantly learning and growing is important to me, and that ability is really valued at Equity. We want to be experimental and we want to have fun. Just like the Equity beer menu that changes every week, we want our kitchen to have a fresh and exciting feel! Of course, there will be menu staples, but the part we're most excited about is the fun we can have with different foods and flavors.

How were you originally drawn to Equity and what made you want to take on ownership of our kitchen project?

I was introduced to Equity very early on by a friend, and watched as the space was built and came to life. Originally I wanted to support the business because I liked that it was a mission-oriented brewery and a women-owned local organization. Plus, Equity makes great beer! Representation is very important to me and I think more businesses should make more of an effort to work and collaborate with different people and within diverse spaces. Creating a space in Norman that is uplifting, inviting, and accepting has always been the concept behind Equity, and I think that is a much needed and important initiative. So, when the opportunity arose to work on the kitchen project and expansion, I jumped right in! Suzette and Hannah have worked tirelessly to create this incredible space and I feel honored to be joining with my passion for food and the community.

What is your favorite thing to make in your kitchen?

Pastries were my first love and I’ve grown up baking for friends and family. Although baking demands precision, there is also an opportunity to play around and try new flavors and methods, testing how it will change the end product. As my interests changed and I moved my focus to other culinary disciplines, I found that cooking was also an activity that I’m passionate about. The ability to create delicious food to share with the ones I love is something very special. It’s hard to pick a favorite thing to make in the kitchen, but if I absolutely had to, it would be risotto because of how hands-on the process is and how you can throw in whatever veggies you have on hand and the result is always amazing!

What does equity in the workplace mean to you?

I believe that equity at the workplace means that every person is provided equal opportunity to contribute in ways that best fit their abilities and diverse perspectives. Ideas and feedback that help build towards the growth of the company are welcomed and heard from all its members.


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