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Mrs. Cook's

Your kind of kitchen store

With 40 years of experience behind her, Mrs. Cook's owner Carol Bromel has created the kind of kitchen store that entices everyone, whether they're new cooks, practiced home cooks, or professionals looking for a specific tool.

A schoolteacher married to a property manager whose job moved them around, Carol found it difficult to find teaching jobs. They moved from San Francisco to Seattle to Denver and back to San Francisco. While in Denver, she took a job at Nonesuch, one of the first kitchen stores of its kind in the country. "When we'd moved around enough, we decided to settle in Seattle. My husband went into real estate development, and we thought I should bring in a stable income," Carol laughs. "So, I started a kitchen store and named it after his grandmother, Hylie Cook. I basically paid for my babysitter from store income. But she still works for me! It was difficult because I worked seven days a week, but it was very fun. My favorite part of a small business is that you need to know about it all: HR, PR, advertising, marketing, merchandising. I learned by trial and error, reading books, and talking to people. Plus, I always get the final say after talking with the people who work here."

Her original 500 square foot store opened in 1976 on Sand Point Way and was open at that location for five years. She opened a second location in 1978 in Redmond that was double the size of the first. It closed in 1981. She moved her Sand Point store to University Village where she had 1,500 square feet. Then 20 years ago, the Village was redone and she signed on for a new 3,000 square foot spot where she is still located. "Once we moved into the Village, business grew. It really is location, location, location."

A very knowledgeable staff is one of the draws of the store. "Many people have been with me for years," says Carol. "Amy, the store manager, was my babysitter when she was 13. She worked at the store in high school and then college. She now does most of the buying." Employees are empowered to make decisions in the moment. "We have guidelines, of course, but we want to treat our customers like we'd like to be treated. And if the rules don't apply to a situation, our staff makes a decision that works. Every customer is different, some want immediate attention and some want to browse. We're sensitive to that and communicate with each other so we're not double teaming anyone. Empowering the staff is the single biggest thing I've done that's contributed to the success and longevity of the store."

In-house events are done occasionally: sign up for their email list to receive the dates. These include knife demos, cookware demos, cookbook authors, and more.

The store has a lending library of items that both staff and customers can use. "It's good for both: customers can try something out and see if it meets their needs or if they want a different model. Staff members use the items and are able to talk knowledgably to customers. We have items like food processors, frying pans from every line of cookware we carry, and even the new multicooker we're selling. Even at 3,000 square feet, we have limited space, so we need a clear idea of why we buy what we do. When you're at the shows, it's hard to turn things down!"

They attend the annual International Houseware show in Chicago to find new and interesting items, and try to get products to play with: "Everyone takes the new items home and plays with them. We ran the new multicooker through its paces-yogurt, rice, slow cooker, pressure cooker. When I first started the store, there weren't so many things. You could focus on the classics. Kitchen gear has universal appeal; most people cook at least a few days a week, and it makes great, affordable gifts. Now there are so many items and you can go basic or esoteric. You can buy a gadget or a Le Creuset that can be handed down to the kids." In the beginning, they sold cookware, gadgets, ceramic and glass bakeware. It wasn't until they moved into the first UVillage location that they brought in electrics. "It's a volume thing. There is little mark-up, so you have to sell a lot to make it worthwhile. We brought in Cuisinart food processors and we still sell them; they're dependable and do the job well."

With all their experiences over the years, their concept is still the same: cooking is fun. "You don't have to know everything to cook; it's fun to experiment. Everyone is welcome in the store, whether they're learning to boil water or have cooked for years."

Connie Adams/March 2017

Mrs. Cook's
University Village
2685 NE Village Lane
Seattle, WA 98105

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