In 1999, Bette Powell was on the tennis court when she learned the current owner wanted to close The Cook Store in Mountain Brook. She immediately thought of her daughter.
At the time, Bette’s daughter, Wesley Powell Lassen, was working at the Birmingham-based department store, Parisian.
“How could you possibly want to close an iconic building and a great business like this?,” Wesley recently asked as she scanned the wooden floors, walls and beams of the almost 45-year-old store situated on the bend of Cahaba Road as it enters Mountain Brook Village.
Sam Franks opened The Kitchen Shop in 1975. In 1986, Betty Knight bought the kitchen specialty store and changed the name to The Cook Store.
“I asked her if she would sell it to me, and she sold it to me,” said Wesley. “I did cry for two weeks, because I went from making a salary to making nothing.”
In April, Wesley will celebrate 21 years as the store’s owner. “Every year of my ownership has been profitable,” Wesley, who majored in economics in college, adds proudly.
The Cook Store sells gadgets, pots and pans, knives, functional pottery, glasses, barware and other items for a well-appointed kitchen, but nothing that requires electricity to run it.
“We sell four different kinds of coffee pots – an espresso maker, a Toddy cold water press, a Chemex and a French press. Four coffee makers, no plugs. No blenders. No Cuisinarts,” she said. “But we have a chopper that we sold over 2,000 of after a great advertisement, so that makes us very much of a niche store.”
Customer Comes First
“Our customers are the most important part of each day from the moment the front door is unlocked,” said Wesley, who along with her apricot-colored Goldendoodle, Lucy, greets many of those customers.
Putting the customer first sometimes means sending them to another retailer or helping them realize that they already have the right gadget for the job at hand.
“Whereas we want to sell things, we also want the customer to have what they need. And if they don’t need something today, they’ll need something tomorrow,” said Wesley. “We know our customers so well that their satisfaction honestly does come first.”
Engaging the Engaged
Catering to the customer has helped The Cook Store grow another niche – bridal registries.
“We bow down to our brides and grooms,” said Wesley. Each couple receives personal attention with selections added to an old-fashioned registry. “We invite brides and often the grooms-to-be to explore our store, ask questions, seek guidance and put together the place settings of their dreams. There is no right or wrong way to mix and match pottery or cookware.”
Once registered, a card is created that includes an exact description of the gift, the price and, once bought, the date purchased and the name of purchaser. A giant chalkboard behind the register also features the names of The Cook Store brides and grooms and their wedding dates. “This allows people easily to see who is registered and often leads to an unexpected sale,” said Wesley.
Capping off the personal service, “as the majority of our bridal sales are for local weddings, we are happy to deliver directly to each bride’s front door,” she added.
“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of amazing people who have her back,” contends Wesley, whose tribe includes nine team members other than herself. Her mom is counted among those as she still helps at the store, although not as frequently as she did when Wesley followed up on her suggestion and bought the store 21 years ago.
“We have a faithful group; everyone works as if the store were their own,” said Wesley, who recruits team members with ties to the community.
Suzan Doidge, executive director of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, agrees The Cook Store has a great team: “Wesley and her entire team boast the biggest smiles, friendliest personalities and most down-to-earth spirits of anywhere around town.”
The Cook Store at 2841 Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
This article can be found on Pages 6-7
of the February 2020 Alabama Retailer