She had made dental crowns and similar implements for nearly 30 years. But her job was changing — computers, not people, now make those items.
In 2009, she found herself unemployed and at a crossroads: continue in the dental industry, or follow her passion for cooking. She found Missouri State’s hospitality and restaurant administration program, known as HRA, where she met instructors who became friends and business advisors.
“I was so impressed with the whole department and how focused they were on every student. To graduate and have contacts like that has been phenomenal.”
Ford and her partner of more than 30 years, Kathy Hubbard, now own Red Top Oven. They sell jams, salsas, sauces, sauerkraut and desserts at the Farmers Market of the Ozarks.
They also fill orders from individuals and businesses, including Hörrmann Meats Farmers Market and Homegrown Food retail stores.
Ford learned to cook from her grandmother, who passed down a wealth of recipes and a deep respect for fresh ingredients. Red Top Oven’s kitchen is usually stocked with fruits and vegetables from Ford’s and Hubbard’s own garden. If they don’t grow it, they turn to their surrogate family: other farmers market vendors.
Ford serves on the Farmers Market of the Ozarks board. In addition, Red Top Oven was recently voted Best New Vendor and Best Salesmanship by the vendors.
Ford said the success of Red Top Oven would not have come without her time at Missouri State. She made connections first as a student, and later as an employee of the University’s catering service and dining halls.
While Ford was a campus dining hall supervisor, HRA professor Melanie Grand — who had become a friend — encouraged Ford and Hubbard to turn their garage into a commercial kitchen.
“I was thrilled that my job at MSU was going so well,” Ford said. “But I thought, ‘I’m not getting any younger, so let’s go for it.’ It was so scary!”
Their gamble paid off. They exceeded their sales goals last year and are on track to top even higher goals this year.
Ford, who is on HRA’s board of advisors, wanted to give back to that program. She arranged a planned gift meant to assist nontraditional students, which she was when she was on campus.
“I wish I could have doubled the amount I gave to Missouri State, but anything helps. It’s a great community.”