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‘Kiss the Cook’ buys local kitchenware store

MIDDLEBURY — Sammy Barnes and Greg Alexander have been willing to hand over the keys to their business if they believe new ownership can take it to the next level.
And they have found that potential in the folks at Burlington’s “Kiss the Cook,” who this week are slated to close on a deal to buy Otter Creek Kitchenware and Electronics on Middlebury’s Merchants Row, the business Barnes and Alexander launched in 2014.
“By combining our resources, we’ll be able to leverage an increased buying power to bring a broader assortment of products,” Barnes said in touting the impending sale of the store, which will pump up the kitchenware and dial down the electronics.
Barnes and Alexander started Otter Creek Kitchenware and Electronics in the Marble Works complex soon after moving to Addison County from the Dallas, Texas, area. They did a lot of prior research and discovered county shoppers wanted more retail options for kitchen supplies and electronics.
“We knew there was a strong demand for a store of this type in this area,” Barnes said.
They stocked their store with an array of popular kitchen tools, appliances and cookware made by such companies as Le Creuset, Lodge, Emile Henry and Cuisinart. They’ve also offered Bose and Sony-brand electronics, including speakers and televisions.
Local response was encouraging, so much so that the partners in 2015 moved the store to a coveted retail spot within the iconic Battell Block on Merchants Row.
Alexander and Barnes re-evaluated their professional and personal plans last fall. They decided it was time to relocate from Vermont to the Charlottesville, Va., area, to be closer to Alexander’s family. But before leaving, they wanted to transfer the business to another entity that could make it even better. They called Luke and Ashley Wight of Kiss the Cook, and were able to make a deal.
Barnes explained the Wights are well prepared to deal with the challenges of running a small retail store in Vermont.
“You’ve got to deal with vendors and their requirements, and you’ve also got to be competitive with other stores — both the big-box stores and the on-line stores,” Barnes said. “What we have to do as business owners is how best to get past those hurdles and provide a way for customers to get the services they need and want. We feel there is still more room for growth and development — but we feel it will happen quicker by combining efforts with a larger store.”
Kiss the Cook has been a family-owned business located on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace since the early 1990s. It was founded by Marie Bouffard and Mike Soulia. The Wights purchased it in 2014.
The Wights have continued Kiss the Cook’s long tradition of offering dependable kitchenware at competitive prices. They carry such items as fry pans, skillets, griddles, grill pans, roasters, specialty cookware, stockpots, woks, a diverse menu of cutlery, cooking tools and bakeware. The store also offers a range of blenders, coffee and tea makers, food processors, mixers, slow cookers and waffle makers. A detailed list of the store’s wares can be found at kissthecook.net.
The Wights had been keeping an eye out for a chance to establish another Kiss the Cook location, but saw few opportunities. Many Vermont towns with large enough retail centers already have a good kitchenware store, Luke Wight explained.
“When we explored where we might open a store, there seemed to be limitations in what we could do, so we were focusing on doing the best we could with our place in Burlington,” he said.
That all changed when Barnes and Alexander told the Wights about the availability of their store. It is established, has a dedicated clientele and is located near Middlebury College.
“As we spoke more and more, it just seemed like (Middlebury) was a really great fit,” Wight said.
It helps that Wight already has a good familiarity with Middlebury. Wight, a native Vermonter, attended South Burlington High School and often played sports in Middlebury.
“I think Middlebury is the quintessential Vermont town,” he said. “It’s got that great community feeling. It’s got a vibrant downtown, but also plenty of rural areas.”
Aside from phasing out electronics and expanding all things cooking, the Wights aren’t planning dramatic changes at Otter Creek Kitchenware — which will soon bear the name “Kiss the Cook.”
“We focus on cooking and food,” Wight said. “That’s our strength. I think we would be doing a disservice to our customers to try and continue the television and speaker business. It’s not a strength of ours and it wouldn’t be a good fit. Instead, we will hone in on trying to bring in some of the stuff we do well to try and fill out some of the categories more fully.”
For example, kitchen cutlery has become a major sales category for Kiss the Cook.
“There are a lot of great knife companies out there,” Wight said. “We do a lot of homework trying to find some great ones.”
The Wights will also try to heighten the shopping experience through special events. The Burlington store offers at least one product demonstration and one food product sample per month. It’s an opportunity to either showcase some of the products they carry, or show people how they can prepare interesting dishes using random foods they keep around the house.
Kiss the Cook earlier this month offered a soup-and-sandwich sampler to its customers. The store will offer homemade truffle samples to Burlington shoppers around Valentine’s Day.
“We try and keep it seasonal and on-point with what we’re doing,” Wight said. “In this day and age, if you are a brick-and-mortar retailer, you need to be a little more of an experience for people. We want to engage our customers in a way that makes us feel like more than an experience, than just a place to shop.”
Kiss the Cook’s prices will reflect the owners’ efforts to keep shoppers in Addison County, according to Wight.
“We want to show that shopping local doesn’t mean over spending,” Wight said.
Meanwhile, Barnes and Alexander are preparing for a new chapter of their lives.
“It’s bittersweet,” Alexander said. “We love living here, but (relocating) is the right thing to do.”
They’ll leave with some good memories.
“We certainly have enjoyed every aspect of this community and have come to love the people,” Barnes said. “We will miss them very much.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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