Business is cooking at the Cooked Studio

Being featured in some of the country’s top design magazines – Visi, Garden & Home, House & Garden, and others – must represent the fulfilment of a designer’s dreams. And then to also be named as the Most Innovative Hospitality Interior Architecture Studio in South Africa is surely a sign of achievement. 

These accolades attest to the quality of the work of interior designer, Mel Cook, whose cleverly-named business, Cooked Studio, is making waves in the interior design field. She returned to the field as an interior designer, having spent six years in the exhibition and events space. 

Since founding her business in Cape Town in 2017, Mel has expanded operations to Johannesburg, where she has a permanent staff member managing projects there. She’s also established a network of part-time support staff whom she calls on as and when they are needed.

The firm has undertaken a variety of both residential and commercial design projects. “We specialise in experience-focused interiors within the commercial and hospitality sectors,” Mel explains. “Our work is geared to help clients increase their business revenue through highly creative conceptual spaces that use the science of consumer buying behaviour and human curiosity. Our work is intentional, instagrammable and encourages a sense of playfulness and wonder, helping our clients create brand awareness and drive sales both in-store and online via social media.”

Each project that Mel takes on is treated in a unique way, so it’s difficult to compare the Cooked Studio offering with what other interior designers are doing. From collaborative, creative workspaces to quirky front-of-house installations in retail spaces to uniquely beautiful residential interiors, each project reflects an understanding of who uses the space and how the design concept can connect the users with the brand. 

As Mel’s business has progressed, she has found new challenges – relating to suppliers, marketing, cash flow, delegation, aligning with the right partners – and many other hiccups. That’s where both ORT Jet and the Entrepreneurs’ Network come in. Mel explains: “I’ve been a member of ORT Jet since the day I started my business. Having the incredible support and guidance of mentors including Sharon Miller, Sheldon Frank and Cara Saven has definitely been the secret sauce in my success to date.”

Through her involvement with ORT Jet, she was selected to join the Entrepreneurs’ Network, too. “The overall cohort offers an incredible support and resource system,” she says, “but the true magic lies in our monthly forum meetings, where we are able to share vulnerabilities, challenges, our own business experience and offer support in an unbiased, non-judgemental space. I’ve always had goals for Cooked Studio, and being part of EN has given me tools to actively carve out pathways to reach them.”

In addition to gaining new business from referrals through the EN body, Mel attributes her own growth as a businessperson to EN. “The growth and shift I see within my mindset as the business owner, as well as the tangible changes I’ve implemented in Cooked have helped push the business forward in leaps and bounds over the past few months, specifically in sales strategy, brand refinement, network and resources, and cash flow, from active implementation and adjustments month to month through the support of my EN Forum,” she says.

Mel is extremely grateful for the support she’s received from EN. She believes that her business and the way she approaches it has completely evolved for the better. In addition, the support and community within the EN forum has been very meaningful.

Find Cooked Studio at, as well as Instagram, and LinkedIn. Email:

Making Susu Bubble Tea instagrammable

The Susu Bubble Tea brief was pretty open as the only real requirement was “to make it instagrammable”. We had free reign to develop a new colour palette for the brand, and play with human curiosity – the more brand exposure online, the better.

I started to explore the little character displayed on the Momo/Susu branded cups, by thinking about who this character was, what he’d be doing, who his friends would be, and what his world would look like. In particular, I’ve always loved this creature’s whiskers and eyes, so I quickly began sketching out how we could use line and spheres to honour these elements, while being mindful of cultural considerations such as feng shui, and making sure the space worked beautifully through a phone camera lens.

I was able to take my client’s brand to the next level with exposure via several design magazines, and creating a space that effectively gets its customers selling for them on social media.

Susu has since opened four more stores, and the portfolio of Susu spaces continues to grow and expand beautifully. Our most recent opening was Tygervalley Mall, where my clients turned over the value of their store build within their first month!

This month’s Entrepreneurs’ Hotspot focuses on two successful businesses that have received assistance from the Entrepreneurs’ Network (EN), a project of the Cape SAJBD, ORT Jet Cape Town, EO and Over the Rainbow. SAJBD Cape Board member Dawn Nathan-Jones initiated the establishment of the organisation in 2022, and it is already seeing many successes. (Read the other story here.)

According to Dawn, “EN enables us to carry out the Board’s motto: Educate, Engage, Empower. Our work is geared to build a better country through improving the opportunities for entrepreneurs to survive and thrive. We seek to connect our Jewish identity to activities that have a positive impact on local communities.”

• Published in the September 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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