I don’t love the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Work is hard. There are parts of every job that are frustrating. And, sometimes, an incident or customer can leave you asking yourself why, exactly, it is you work so hard.
But, as much as I don’t want to admit it, the phrase is right.
There have been great business years for housewares retailers. Years that have been lucrative without having to adjust the sales all that much. But that year was not this year. The independent gourmet housewares industry has never worked harder as it did during the Coronavirus pandemic. We all witnessed that. And, all of the extra work was done with resilience and resolve. If you all didn’t have that spark — that passion — for the industry and everything it represents, then the inevitable fallout may have been very different.
While we don’t necessarily look for patterns, passion is what ties together our 10th annual GOURMET INSIDER® All-Stars. All five of our All-Star retailers — Steve Belcher and Monique Moshier of Charlottesville, VA-based The Happy Cook; Charles Nelson, owner of Santa Cruz, CA-based Toque Blanche; and Melissa Turpin and Dana Smith who own Honeycomb Kitchen Shop in Rogers, AR — had lucrative careers and other plans in place for their lives. But they abandoned them to follow their passion for food, cooking, baking and sharing that love with their local communities.
Nelson, after years in international sales for commercial kitchen brands, jumped into the housewares business because he knew his area could really use a local kitchen shop after losing one previously. He encourages customers to make life in the kitchen more fun, creating eye-catching merchandising displays to take the intimidation out of home cooking.
Moshier and Belcher were both planning different routes for their life. While Moshier was mulling over a PhD or potentially entering medical school, Belcher was on track to receive his PhD from the University of Virginia. However, their plans changed when The Happy Cook went up for sale. It was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up and the best thing to happen to their family.
And Melissa Turpin and Dana Smith, a salesperson and teacher, respectively, knew that there would be something more fulfilling out there for them. So, with their shared love of food, tight-knit bond and belief that they are “two savvy women that could figure it out,” they opened Honeycomb Kitchen Shop and made cooking classes a priority to give locals a space to gather and share their own fondness for food and community.
Each of our All-Stars relied on their passion, taking a leap of faith and forging a path for themselves. However, just like All-Stars of the past, they are also forging a path for the rest of the industry, too.
During the pandemic, each one responded to their customer base in a way that was above and beyond.
Nelson ramped up his social media, but not to market to consumers — but as a way to showcase the charity and giving that was happening in his community during social-distancing orders. Belcher and Moshier started an online cooking school which has now reached hundreds of people in the U.S. and beyond, but still put their immediate community first, servicing them however they could during COVID-19. And Turpin and Smith teamed up with a local grower and chef for a fun, unusual cooking-style class that helped boost the economy of the local community.
While every retailer has been an All-Star this year in their own ways and for their own community, our three All-Star choices got creative, went the extra mile and shined through even during a pandemic we won’t soon forget.
Speaking of pandemic, in the summer edition of ON THE TABLE™ (coverage starts on page 37), we explore what food, beverage and entertaining post-Coronavirus will look like. We got the scoop on what people will be cooking and eating next, how being home impacted cocktailing and what home entertaining will look like, so that this industry can move forward armed with as much knowledge as possible.
Here’s hoping that the worst is behind us and we can continue to look forward to the rest of the year. Let’s all move forward, doing what we love, together.