Good friends discuss their hobbies and passions. Great friends immediately text each other pictures of an exciting food discovery found across the country, describing the flavor, texture and whether it would be too spicy for the other’s palate. Even better friends turn that shared excitement into a business opportunity.
That’s just the kind of friends that Melissa Turpin and Dana Smith, co-owners of Rogers, AR-based Honeycomb Kitchen Shop, are.
“We like to eat and drink and whenever either of us travel, trying local food is always a priority. We might have different tastes in food, but it doesn’t matter,” said Turpin.
This type of dedication to food and their shared passion for cooking led the friends to leave their careers — sales for Turpin and education for Smith — and follow their passion opening Honeycomb Kitchen Shop in 2016.
“We were both established in our careers, but talked about opening a business for a while. We always thought a kitchenware store was a perfect fit,” said Smith.
The downtown of Rogers beckoned to the women, as the culinary scene was really taking hold and has since continued to grow. The store itself reflects the historic downtown appeal of its surroundings with a welcoming, vintage-meets-modern design vibe. A mix of open shelving puts a carefully curated collection of creamy white and cool blue serveware and old-fashioned storage tins into the spotlight. In other areas of the shop, unique fixtures puts Honeycomb Kitchen’s wider selection of goods for the kitchen, linens and aprons, shelf-stable treats, as well as a healthy mix of locally made goods, right in the spotlight.
However, Turpin explained that the store wouldn’t have been the same without cooking classes. It would make Honeycomb a destination; allow Smith and Turpin to play off of the culinary climate in the area; but would also allow them to follow their food-loving hearts (and stomachs) and create a business that would reflect their shared passion.
“From the beginning, we also knew we wanted to have cooking classes. We have a love of cooking and use food as a way to connect people and had a goal to have those classes for our community,” Smith said.
In fact, not wanting to wait another minute, Turpin and Smith hosted a class the very day they opened Honeycomb Kitchen in 2016.
While the store began buzzing, customers gravitated towards Honeycomb’s cooking classes and events. To satiate the demand, the duo expanded the store’s class offerings, leveraging a rising interest by locals for cooking and all things food. However, when the pandemic emerged, Turpin and Smith found themselves forced to temporarily shut the doors to the shop, and all in-person cooking classes were canceled. Turpin explained that this was a huge blow to the independent housewares store that relies so heavily on the customer experience.
“Our classes are the foundation on what our store is built on. It added another layer [of issues]that a typical retail store doesn’t need to deal with,” she said. “It is unique to our business, so we had to focus most on how to deal with that and decide what’s best for our customers and how can we plan and pivot.”
Making lemonade from lemons, Turpin and Smith took action to ensure that the store would have staying power and customers would be able to create culinary experiences at home virtually via Zoom and other online tools.
Tapping their network of local chefs, culinary instructors and food and beverage producers, Turpin and Smith came up with one of their most creative pandemic business ideas to date — the Unboxing series.
“We partnered up with a local produce distributor who had lost 90% of their business at the time due to the pandemic,” said Turpin. “They started to sell direct to businesses and we thought ‘Why not be different and offer our online students a fresh produce box as part of the cooking experience’.”
Participants of the class, taught by local chef Haley O’Brien, each receive a fresh box of produce ahead of time. Once class begins, O’Brien unboxes the produce along with class participants via Zoom and teaches them how to create a meal by using what’s inside.
“We have had such great feedback on that class and are still offering it,” said Turpin. “It’s been really neat to see all of these people cooking the same thing together. It’s building a community in a new way.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the tides for the kitchen store, it did not knock them completely off course. Their drive, motivation, and continued commitment to the shop, their customers and improving the local business community is what has made Honeycomb Kitchen deserving of its GOURMET INSIDER® All-Star title.
And now, even after years in business, the principals are the same. After their very first class, Turpin recalled, she and Smith sat down and debriefed, putting everything they learned on the table.
“We learned a lot,” said Turpin.
And, for these business owners, the learning hasn’t stopped. They continue to approach their business proactively, allowing themselves the ability to evolve and adapt; knowing when to begin questioning if a product or process is still as effective as it once was; and, of course, knowing when to take a leap of faith.
“We’ll say, ‘Well, not sure how this will work but let’s give this a try.’ And then we have a brainstorm,” Turpin said.