When one walks into Chelan, WA-based Culinary Apple, a GOURMET INSIDER® 2016 All-Star, it doesn’t take long to find out what makes this store — and its owners — special.
“It’s a store to experience. And that’s what we try to give everyone,” said Dave Weldy, who owns the store with his wife, Mary.
More than two decades ago, Mary had just retired from her corporate job as a buyer and the duo were trying to figure out their next step in life. After noticing a business in Chelan — a place they vacationed — was up for grabs, they went for it.
Dave was on his way to Spokane, but I called him and said, ‘I think I know what we are going to do for the rest of our lives,’” she said.
Named The Harvest Tree Apple Store, the business already had a solid reputation in the community, one that Mary worked hard at maintaining. She re-did the store, adding a cash wrap that looked like a farm stand, and curated a collection of giftables featuring the store’s signature item — an apple.
Several years later, a kitchen store and fudge factory went up for sale down the street. Looking to make an investment in the real estate, Dave Weldy said he decided to make the purchase. However, the economy wasn’t cooperative with their plan and they couldn’t fill the space.
“We renovated it and then decided that the town had supported a kitchen store for 25 years. We could do that because some of the vendors would be the same vendors as [The Harvest Tree],” Mary said. So, it opened up as The Kitchen Station in 2001.
However, a short time later, the couple would have the opportunity to expand The Harvest Tree Apple Store and move both businesses into one space. The Weldy’s condensed and figured out its new product assortment — a mix between giftables and housewares — and Culinary Apple was born.
To turn Culinary Apple into the destination that customers have come to know it as has been challenging, however, it has helped the Weldy’s stand out as staples both in their local community as well as with other gourmet insiders.
Dave and Mary pride themselves on providing an experience for each and every one of their customers, appealing, said Dave, to all five senses. However, Culinary Apple captures people by sense of smell before they even walk in the door.
Dave makes fudge from scratch and roasts cinnamon glazed nuts in the back of the store. But people can smell the goods being made from down the street.
“We have people coming in all the time saying, ‘We found the smell,’” Mary said. “On a nice day when we have the door open, the smell just goes out the door and brings people in.”
And, added Dave Weldy, those browsing are invited to sample out the goods being made in Culinary Apple’s kitchen, appealing to both touch and taste.
When the couple renovated their store, they put in high-tech lighting to help the product selection stand out and appeal to the visual sense of the clientele.
“We put in the new lighting that highlights the product and it really helped to beautify the store. Sales went up by about 35% after we did that,” Dave noted.
Relaxing people and bringing them into a place of comfort and calmness is next on the list. The team developed a musical soundtrack that is played in the store that is designed to invoke memories and make customers feel good, while appealing to auditory perception.
While Culinary Apple has looked for other avenues to grow the business — teaming up with local realtors to provide thank you gifts, becoming the go-to for the local high school’s culinary arts program and starting their own wholesaling division — the Weldy’s explained that their focus on training has been Culinary Apple’s key to successful business growth.
“I think, really and truly, our success is our team. We have an awesome team,” Mary said.
The owners have instituted the “five in five,” with their staff members. Within the first five minutes, staff members offer a taste of nuts or fudge, ask if assistance is needed and inform customers of a sale or demonstration that is going on in the store.
“We make sure to let them know who the boss is. It’s not the person signing your paychecks, it’s the person walking through that door. We make sure they understand who the boss is in our organization and it’s the customer. That becomes critical with our loyalty club members,” Dave said.
In addition, they host sales representatives for staff training several times per year as well as take their staff to Seattle, WA for more extensive product trainings.
“We close the store for two days just so the core team can go and get training. We are all about training, whether we take our team to Seattle for that or whether we have them here,” said Weldy.
Added Mary, “Customers call us up with all different kinds of kitchen questions. We have a story for everything because we’ve taken the time to really be educated. We can speak to all that,” she said.
And it doesn’t stop there. Noting that sometimes the little things make the biggest difference in customer perception, the staff is trained to ask customers making purchases if they would like things gift-wrapped. And, noted Weldy, since many people shop in the summer for holiday gifts from the vacation spot, she keeps the holiday paper out throughout the year.
“We will wrap their gift and then put a note on it so they remember what it was and who it was a gift for,” she said.
Weldy also explained that her staff understands an importance of a smile and a greeting, especially since most people are on vacation and are looking for a positive experience.
“Here we are, a resort town. You need to offer them an experience. It’s passion,” she said.
And no matter how the brand will evolve in the future, one thing is for certain — the passion these All-Stars bring to the Culinary Apple will not stray far from its past.
“We still have the passion of the apple,” Dave Weldy said.