Right in the middle of Escalon, CA’s Main Street is The Butler’s Pantry, although you wouldn’t know it if you were just passing through — the sign that hangs outside reads, “Escalon Meat Service.”
“It used to be an old butcher shop,” Jamie Butler, owner, said to a customer that made her way in for the first time, who, either way, was purchasing something to put on the table. Upon entry, however, one realizes it is not a butcher shop.
Butler, who has experience in interior design, buying and merchandising, has created a retail outlet that seemingly echoes her personality. The brick-and-mortar store is arranged thoughtfully in a muted color palette featuring creams, bright whites, blues, greens, pinks and orange tones, with the occasional copper piece nestled into place. The character from the butcher shop, though, remains — the old, wooden floors and a track on the ceiling where the butchers used to hang and transport meat gives The Butler’s Pantry a uniqueness all its own.
While unique may describe Butler’s store, it is also a word that could be used to sum up her entire career in the housewares industry. She started her business a bit unconventionally — not in a brick-and- mortar location and not online, but in a truck.
“I knew that I wanted to work in retail because I missed it. But, I was not sure if I wanted to open a brick-and-mortar location, so I started off with a mobile truck. It worked out really well. People were coming and they were interested in it,” Butler said.
The truck was fully stocked and soon became a staple at the local farmer’s markets. From there, she teamed up with her local gym to showcase tools, gadgets and cookware at the beginning of Boot Camp challenges that it held several times per year. She also used to allow brides to shop the truck for registry, then would take it to their bridal showers — a one stop shop for guests and conversation piece, too. She took it to outdoor events, parked it on roadsides and brought it wherever she felt she could build a clientele.
“I used to roll up in my sundress and wedges in the truck and I’m sure people were wondering what I was thinking,” she reminisced, specifically about a time when she used to bring her truck to a San Francisco festival on the weekends.
After the success of the truck, Butler realized she wanted more and it was time for her to find a storefront. She found one and opened it just a few days after having her second child.
“I love helping people find that perfect gift or a gadget they’ve been looking for. That really excites me, so I love having the space for that reason,” Butler said.
Through the past five years in the store, Butler has charted a course that may be a bit unusual for some. But, at the end of the day, the reason that Butler is deserving of the GOURMET INSIDER® All-Star title is the constant innovation and desire to suit the evolving needs of her customer base — from product mix to store activities — that keeps driving her business forward.
“I love all of the products I bring into the store. I use them all and really, truly believe in them. But I also love the sense of community that this store brings. I love being able to chat with people and be a part of their lives. My friendships with people have grown so much, too,” she said.
Butler also has a unique strategy when it comes to developing her customer base. While The Butler’s Pantry is chock full of tabletop products, cookware, gadgets and home décor, she doesn’t focus solely on potential customers that are only those who are interested in dining, entertaining and decorating. Instead, she focuses on making the store a hub for all of the different interests of the people in her community.
“We do a class on entertaining and how to set a table. We bring in a local florist and they will do a presentation on how to do a garland or a centerpiece. It brings in that customer that may like to decorate and while they’re doing the garland or the centerpiece, I will be demonstrating with gadgets and serve them food and drinks while they’re making their projects. I feel like it helps me get that consumer who normally would not come in the store,” she said.
For the full story about The Butler’s Pantry, turn to the July/August edition of Gourmet Insider.