10 Years of Kiss the Cook with Luke Wight
Tell us a little bit about who you are and your story?
My name is Luke Wight. I live in Williston, Vermont. I was working in marketing for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for several years in sales and marketing roles there. I was looking for somebody else's good idea that they maybe didn't want to do anymore. And so about 10 years ago, I bought Kiss the Cook, which has been there for over 30 years now, and I’ve owned it for about 10.
What about Kiss the Cook intrigued you? Why cookware?
I think it's a fun space. I think kitchen and cooking have been really trendy for over a decade now. And I think that it's something that some people take very seriously, but also people just like to have fun. Also, coming from Green Mountain Coffee with the Keurig Brewers, I was already kind of in the houseware space, so I knew the industry a little bit.
We have to ask... do you cook?
I do! I think sometimes when people hear I own Kiss the Cook they're disappointed to learn that I'm not a gourmet chef - that I didn’t study in France or anything. But I've always liked to cook. More of a hobby than anything.
The past three or four times we've visited Kiss the Cook, you're behind the knife station; what's that about?
Cutlery is a really big category for us. It makes up a significant percentage of our total sales - just cutlery and cutlery-related accessories. People don't always know what goes into making a good knife and why different knives cost what they cost or what impacts the quality. That's a big thing for us as people come in and they like to talk to us. They like to ask questions. We let them hold the knives. The knife is probably one of the most used tools in your kitchen. So, the biggest thing that we tell people is there are a lot of really good knives and knife brands out there. Feeling comfortable with what's in your hand is probably what's most important. I get back there, especially during the holiday season. Helping customers find what they're looking for is the most fun part of the job.
How do you keep on top of trends?
We attend a big trade show in Chicago every year at the International Housewares show where a lot of our vendors display their products. A lot of times there, you can pick up on what's trending. We also keep an eye on different food-related publications, like, Cooks Illustrated or Food & Wine, and other publications that cover the industry.
Sometimes, it's our customers asking for the same thing over and over before we have to look into what they're talking about. So, there are trends for sure, but there's also a lot of consistency within the products you carry and what makes good quality cookware.
What questions are customers asking when they come in?
I think that, similar to knives, we get some questions as to what goes into making a frying pan a high-quality frying pan. On our most common lines, cookware, and cutlery, there are usually questions about why one is better than the other. That's where you can get into how they're manufactured, where they're manufactured, what kind of materials go into making them perform the way they do or the way they don't.
What products are customers really excited about right now?
We have a relatively new cutlery brand called Changshan. Some of the designs that they're doing and the look and the materials that they're using - our customers are really excited about it; they're responding to it. It's high quality, but they take design into account too and make them eye-catching as well. Customers come back to add to their collection.
Another thing that's really not that exciting, but it's something that I've gotten excited about as I've learned more about it. One of our longest-standing lines in our bakeware category is a company called Nordic Ware, which has been making its products in the U.S. for a long time. I get excited about some of the really simple things, like their sheet pans are really high quality, and they use a really good gauge aluminum. You can just feel the difference to the point that even if I'm just heating up my kid's chicken nuggets, they brown more on the Nordic Square sheet pan than on a different sheet pan. Quality can really matter.
One of our best-selling items is the OXO swivel peeler, and I think, again, peelers... not exciting. But peelers, like knives, can dull, but those blades can't sharpen. So that's something that I'm always telling customers, like, “Well, when was the last time you replaced your peeler?” The OXO peeler is a go-to. And again, those aren't trendy things. Those aren't new. But if you're me thinking about kitchen gadgets all day, you think about these things, but if you have a job that doesn't have you thinking about kitchen tools and gadgets all day, you can come to us, and we can help you think about those things.
Do you have any tips for getting kids in the kitchen? To get them excited about making food?
I have three kids now. My 5-month-old does not help much in the kitchen at the moment. But I had success with getting both my kids interested in the kitchen. My daughter, who is seven, is really a helper. She's also cautious and careful. We have a great brand called Opinel that makes a really good kid's kitchen knife. The great thing about the knife is the way it's set up, which encourages kids to hold the knife the right way. If they do, they can really use it to cut and chop. I totally trust her with that. I can have her help me chop veggies, and she gets excited about having her own kitchen tool. We even have a little slot for it in our knife block.
My son recently turned four (which is a tip for anybody in retail -- if you can avoid it, don't have a baby a week before Christmas...). He's a little higher energy and a little more apt to make a mess. So again, we don't we don't trust him with fragile kitchen tools. But he does have his own apron and then can kind of be free rein to just make a mess. I think that's part of cooking with kids in the kitchen - don't worry about the mess. The messier, the better. They'll think it's fun. Get them their own tools, making them feel like they're a part of it like they have their own stuff, and then just make it fun. That’s the biggest thing.
Do you have a favorite meal you make?
Tacos. We make chicken tacos, and we use my secret ingredient. We use the A Teeny Tiny Spice Company. Their RoJo is the secret to my chicken tacos. It’s great! I used to try and make my own spice blends but gave up when I tried that. But that's a favorite, and it's one of the few meals everybody in our house eats.
What's your favorite place you go out to eat in Burlington?
Oh, there's so many good restaurants. It's tough to pick a favorite. It's like you can't pick a favorite kid, you know. But I think for something a little more casual, I love American Flat Bread. If we're doing something a little fancier, Leunig’s is a special place for my wife and me.
What do you love about Church Street?
I love the sense of community. I’ve said for a long time that Burlington and Church Street feel like Vermont's downtown. Vermont's a small state, but it's a great big community. And I think Burlington has always kind of centered that. I love the mix of local stores and national brands, as well as great restaurants. I love the events that bring out different types of folks to downtown throughout the year. I honestly always feel the support from our community, especially during the holiday season.
The couple of months we had to be closed because of COVID, I wound up making a lot of deliveries and shipping around the state to people who tried to support us. And I think that really solidified to me what a community Vermont and Burlington is. Feeling like part of something bigger than just our store is... really special.
Last question is for the aspiring cooks and bakers out there. What’s one suggestion that you would leave them with to get started?
Don't be afraid to try new things, and if it doesn't come out the way you wanted it to, don't be afraid to try again. And also make sure you have a good, sharp knife.
If you're looking for your next favorite kitchen gadget, hoping to upgrade your cookie sheets, or want to add some flavor to your favorite recipe, Kiss the Cook is just the place! You can visit them at 72 Church Street, during the following business hours:
Monday - Thursday 11am-6pm
Friday - Saturday 11am-7pm
Stay tuned for more upcoming interviews with our amazing Church Street Marketplace business owners. They are the heart of the Marketplace and we're really looking forward to sharing more of their stories. To read through previous blog posts, please click below.