Culinary Square: Hometown Girls

When Samantha Fagan returned to her hometown of Troy, NY, in 2012, it sparked a chain of events that rapidly led to the opening of Culinary Square, the gourmet kitchenware store she co-owns with her mother, Carolyn Fagan.

“I grew up in Troy and when I moved back home, I saw how amazing the city was becoming. It was really going in a direction that was exciting. After being back for a few years, I realized that I wanted to become a part of what made Troy so great — small, local businesses,” said Samantha Fagan.

While settling in, Fagan observed that the explosion of small, local businesses in her hometown was thanks in part to the boom of younger residents settling in. During the last few years, she explained, Troy has emerged as a popular destination among 18- to 34-year olds seeking to live in a place that combines a city vibe with a small town feel. As the population began shifting, Troy became a popular food and drink destination. Monument Square, the downtown area Culinary Square calls home, has been welcoming new restaurants and bars. These culinary experiences piqued Fagan’s interest when she realized people would want to explore this new foodie culture in their own homes.

“I saw a need for a kitchen goods store in Troy and thought it would pair well with the foodie culture that was developing here. That way, people don’t have to drive to Albany for their culinary needs, which is about 20 minutes away,” she said.

Once she shared her vision with Carolyn, the two set out to leverage the area’s affinity for food and drink to open a store that would also serve as a community meeting place — one where locals can browse, shop and share their passion for all things food.

The mother-daughter duo, both former librarians, tapped into their research skills and love of cooking to figure out what would help make their venture successful. While they started out with the basics, they also wanted to complement the basic housewares mix with items that were different than what their customers could find at the big box stores, allowing Culinary Square to stand out.

“As former librarians, we are used to doing research and we really looked at what was scoring high in online reviews and other resources,” said Carolyn Fagan.

While the duo counts its product research and mix as one of the reasons the store has grown successful since its opening in 2015, it is the connection within the community that has really been its crowning achievement, starting with those in the local culinary world.

“Samantha has done a great job of cultivating relationships with the professionals working in the nearby restaurants and bars,” explained Carolyn. “Thanks to those relationships, we do a lot of business with them.”

Added Samantha, “Troy is a small community, and building those relationships within the community helps bring it closer. I like feeling like you can help someone out. And then they will recommend us in return. If a customer sees a certain wine glass being used in the restaurant, the waiters will let them know they were purchased at our store. We’ve had many people come in based on those recommendations.”

One of the programs that helped put Culinary Square on the map of the professional food community in the area is its knife sharpening service, which is offered free to professionals. This service has been well received by the many chefs that are working in the area, said Carolyn. It not only provides them with a go-to resource for keeping their culinary tools sharp, but it also helps remind them that the store is there and ready to provide them with whatever their other cooking equipment needs may be.

To read the full story, check out the January/February issue of GOURMET INSIDER magazine.