When Susan O’Brien was 15 years old, she took over hosting her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Quite the challenge for a teenager, however, for O’Brien, the daughter of Burmese immigrants, it was something as a first generation American she felt strongly about, and seemingly foretold her future as an independent gourmet kitchen store owner.
“When I’m cooking and gathering people together — that’s really when I feel most alive and connected,” she said.
A mom of three and a former psychologist, O’Brien decided to open The Kitchen Table, in Sacramento, CA, in 2017. She had been a stay-at-home mom for some time and was looking to get back into the business world. Corporate culture wasn’t calling her name and instead, she was looking for a full-time gig that would ignite her passions.
“I love using Instagram and I started following Euna Mae’s kitchen store in Arkansas and thought, ‘What a great place, wish we had something like that here’,” she said. Sacramento, she said, has evolved into a food-loving town with lots of local eateries and establishments focused on coffee, beer and the farm-to-fork movement. However, O’Brien said the retail scene supporting those trends was lagging and hadn’t quite caught up yet.
“There has been a big change in the city during the last few years. The restaurant and food scene has exploded, however, we were missing the retail support of that trend,” she explained.
What makes her stand out from the pack of mom-and-pop shops is how she wanted the store to feel and how she sourced information to build exactly that. O’Brien, a Gen-Xer, wanted to create a store that she and her friends would want to shop in themselves. So, from the location to the curation, she started on her mission to build a shopping experience for those sandwiched in-between the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations.
“I set out to create a store that I would love to shop in; one that my friends would love to shop in. I knew it was exactly what I needed to do,” she said.
And, explained O’Brien, when making plans and gathering ideas for the development of a successful shop, she turned to social media, specifically local mom’s groups on Facebook, to help guide the way.
“I posted some photos of the store and sent out questionnaires about what they might want to see in my store and feedback and ideas about what I wanted to do in my store. It was such a huge help to me to gain that insight,” she said.
One of the most influential pieces of feedback O’Brien received from her online research with local moms was their collective desire to shop local and shop for local goods, something O’Brien knew she wanted to focus on right from the start.
“I always knew I wanted to bring local goods in. Right now, people are really interested in shopping local. I always see so many cool vendors when I’m looking on Instagram and I thought it would be amazing to have everything in one space. I know I love that stuff and thought, ‘Well what I would say about it to my friends and where can I get this?’ So, I wanted to bring it all together for a place people can shop,” she said.
For more on The Kitchen Table, check out the Jan/Feb issue of GOURMET INSIDER.