Houston resident Melvin LeBlanc’s day job sees him working in the oil industry, but in his spare time, when visiting pickleball events, he transitions into the pickleball-themed mascot called “Kitchen!”
A Crazy Notion
Sporting shades, a cap, and sneakers, LeBlanc, an ardent pickleball enthusiast, divides his time between the sport and his profession. He is so keen that he plays six times a week and even teaches the game’s finer details.
Introduced to pickleball in 2018, he swiftly embraced its culture and, three years later, he had a crazy notion to become a pickleball mascot. LeBlanc realized this particular niche had yet to be filled, and so “Kitchen” materialized.
LeBlanc explained to Houston Chronicle: “I was just putting it together as a part-time opportunity. I knew there was some possibility of its popularity, but I didn’t know it would grow.”
A Large, Yellow Pickleball Head
His costume consists of a large, yellow pickleball head, net-patterned shorts and sleeves, court-green hands, leggings and tennis sneakers.
The name “Kitchen” alludes to the non-volley section of the pickleball court, of course, and financed by $5,000 of LeBlanc’s own money, a local mascot company eventually brought the design to life.
During a pickleball tournament in Atlanta in December 2021, a conversation with Ken Herrmann, CEO of the Association of Pickleball Professionals, led to Kitchen’s grand introduction. Herrmann was enthusiastic about the mascot’s positive impact on players.
Traveling By Road
“I liked the idea (of a mascot) and started working with him for his appearances with the APP Tour,” Herrmann said in an email. “The pickleball mascot added excitement for the players — everyone wants to get their picture taken with the mascot.”
LeBlanc, as Kitchen, follows pickleball tournaments from state to state, often choosing to travel by road due to the impracticalities of the cumbersome mascot head. Flying, for example, is simply too expensive due to the cost of stowing the massive noggin!
His popularity surged when he joined Instagram in early 2022. Kitchen’s appearance always provokes considerable attention, and he’s often surrounded by fans wanting a selfie!
A Significant Milestone
He achieved a significant milestone in his journey when the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled a Kitchen bobblehead alongside the inaugural pickleball bobblehead, both quickly selling out. LeBlanc expressed humility and appreciation at the recognition.
“It’s a little overwhelming. It’s a little humbling also to know that this museum took the time to want to do the bobblehead of Kitchen,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a good feeling.”
A Lemon Or A Piece Of Cheese!
Despite his prominence within the pickleball community, Kitchen’s recognition outside it remains limited. LeBlanc humorously recounts instances of kids mistaking him for a lemon or a piece of cheese.
LeBlanc would like to see Kitchen’s journey mirroring pickleball’s meteoric rise. Time will tell how he gets on!
“It’s becoming an item in the pickleball community, and I just want to grow with it,” he said.
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