Co-owner Ysha Bass of MESA, a Collaborative Kitchen has no background in the restaurant industry. She is actually a realtor with Bass Group Real Estate, where she and her husband, Bobby, flip and sell homes and other properties, even adding a management company to the family business. But her passion for cooking and uniting communities and families led her to start yet another venture. She and Bobby discovered the potential along historic New Albany’s up-and-coming Pearl Street, and she had a vision inspired by her longtime passion for uniting people through food. Not long after, the realtor duo launched their one-of-a-kind interactive dining experience. MESA, a Collaborative Kitchen, invites chefs and diners to interact through top-notch culinary experiences. Featuring a diverse roster of chefs from all over the region, MESA allows guests the opportunity to savor tasting events, themed dinners and cooking classes, as well as shop unique books and cookware in the attached Pantre boutique. As a realtor who also manages the day-to-day operations of MESA and its Pantre gift shop, Ysha does it all. Meet Ysha Bass, today’s FACE of Louisville.
What was the inspiration behind MESA, a Collaborative Kitchen?
We wanted to give chefs and patrons the opportunity to collaborate. Guests can ask questions and comment on the tastes, textures and smells, which is the opposite of what happens in your typical restaurant. Here, each meal is a complete collaboration from start to finish. Also, this concept is about bringing two communities together. Louisville is just on the other side of the river, so we wanted to unite both areas. We carry vendors from both sides of the river like Red Hot Roasters, Cellar Door Chocolates, The Olivet, the spices from Big Four Burgers + Beer, Henry Bain’s sauce and so many others. We also sell merchandise from local businesses in the areas, like aprons, kitchen tools and fun t-shirts.
What do you hope to show the community through MESA?
I would like to show everyone that there is a different way of entertainment. It doesn’t have to be a movie and dinner. Now you can have a dining experience — one that is really unique.
What was the inspiration behind the name?
MESA means table in Spanish. I am originally from Mexico, and we thought it was catchy. It was actually my husband’s suggestion after we saw a similar concept in California. We walked by a collaborative kitchen, and it sparked this idea!
Tell us about your other career as a realtor with Bass Group Real Estate and how that work lead to the discovery of Pearl Street, MESA’s current location.
I have been a realtor for almost eight years now. I started the group once my husband Bobby became a realtor as well, and we grew it to be what it is now. We have flipped homes, apartment complexes and added a management company since then. We always wanted to get in the food industry, but didn’t want a full-time restaurant. So this concept was something we thought was a perfect fit for our lifestyle with the real estate and still being able to do both.
What is the driving force for your continued success with MESA?
My family. My parents, husband and I are always here, and we make up the four-person team. On some nights, you can find us in the back washing dishes, too. We do whatever it takes to keep the show going. My mother and father help us run this place and are certainly the backbone.
Tell me about your upbringing and how that influenced your cooking.
I grew up in Mexico, and my mom has always been a rockstar in the kitchen! She began teaching me to cook at around 8 years old. Actually, I hated it then, but now I see why she did it. I am so thankful I have the skills she taught me. Typically, Mexican food is not healthy, but my mom is all about cooking from scratch and eating healthy, natural ingredients. She made everything from scratch: tortillas, molé sauce, everything. Seeing her in the kitchen and how she uses natural ingredients geared me to educate my own kids on processed and fast foods. My upbringing gave me a platform for that education.
She actually did Mexican brunch with Chef Bobby Benjamin from Butchertown Grocery in Louisville. It was funny, because both were so nervous. Bobby was nervous because he was cooking Mexican food with a real Mexican woman, and my mom was so nervous because she was cooking with a real chef. But the event turned out great, and everyone loved it!
Tell us about your new venture, MESA Kids Cooking School. What inspired this concept and what does it entail?
The concept was taken from MESA kids’ classes at MESA, A Collaborative Kitchen. Kid classes became so popular, and we knew our space was not a good space for kids as everything at MESA was designed for adults. So we decided to open up a space just for kids, scaling the kitchen down to fit 7- to 14-year-olds. It’s set up to where they learn a chef-driven curriculum with real world techniques. Each week they come to learn new concepts and foods, expanding their palates and challenging them to try everything they make. It is a safe place for them and somewhere they can be creative and messy!
Who has been the most memorable chef guest at MESA?
There is no way I could choose a favorite! Each chef is different awesome in their own way. Paco Garcia from Con Huevos on Frankfort is always a crowd favorite. He was named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the Southeast Award, and he comes once a month. His story is really incredible, because he’s grown from the back of the kitchen all the way up — starting as a dishwasher! Another interesting one is Chef Scott Dickinson. He is a great entertainer and a one-man show. He comes in here and pulls off a four-course meal, entertains the crowd and stays within his time frame. It’s incredible!
What is your favorite food to eat?
Mexican food! I love anything with molé sauce — I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My mom makes the best molé.
What is your favorite Mexican dish to cook?
Empanadas or enchiladas
What do you do when you are not working?
I am with my kids and involved with their sports. My son plays ice hockey, and during baseball season, he plays on the baseball travel team. My daughter is into gymnastics and softball. They are always into sports. If we aren’t here at MESA or selling houses, we are doing that!
What are some of your favorite things to do in Louisville?
I love to go out to eat. There are so many cool places and new places to try. We enjoy going to the Louisville Bats games. I also love the museums and the new exhibitions that are brought to Louisville.
What is your best piece of advice?
If it had to be about anything, I would say forgive others — loving and forgiving each other. It can make a difference in people’s lives. But, if it was about food, I would say my best advice would be to pay attention to what you are eating. The food we put into our bodies is so important.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you couldn’t live without?
Mascara, the Bible and molé sauce!
Thank you, Ysha! To learn more about MESA, a Collaborative Kitchen, visit www.mesachefs.com.
And thank you to Christine of Christine Mueller Photography for the beautiful photos of Ysha at MESA.
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