The Wooden Spoon: a toy store for cooks
August 5, 2014
Linda Valli developed a true interest in cooking while spending her sophomore year of college in Florence, Italy. Not only did Italian cuisine ignite a passion for finding just the right ingredients, she also found herself endlessly in search of the perfect kitchen store.
Finally, in 1987, she decided to create one of her own. With a solid background in sales and retail, Valli bought The Wooden Spoon, a small kitchen store then located on Mill St. in Grass Valley. Two years later, she relocated to a 4,000-square-foot retail space in the Fowler Center on Nevada City Highway, where the store remains today.
Deemed "a toy store for cooks," The Wooden Spoon now boasts more than 14,000 items, and has developed a loyal customer base, some of whom travel from the Bay Area for those hard-to-find items. Valli attributes the store's success to their broad selection, competitive prices and a knowledgeable, personable sales team.
"Running a store requires multi-tasking, but buying is by far my biggest job," said Valli, who attends various national houseware shows annually. "We're always branching out and getting new merchandise. We get shipments every day, so things are always changing."
And if you think Valli is the only in-house kitchen junkie, think again. For example, co-manager Danielle Noble — who has worked at the store since 1997 — has a 35-slot knife block in her kitchen at home. Co-manager Keith Anderson, who has been at The Wooden Spoon for the past six years, came to the store after working at Williams Sonoma in Beverly Hills. Visual merchandiser and website guru Cru Dorsey originally worked at Sur La Table.
"The staff really loves cooking and knows the inventory," said Dorsey. "We love to teach and educate people."
Valli said she strives to offer a huge selection, buy American whenever possible and provide a price range of quality items.
"Do we need to carry 30 different juicers and 12 garlic presses? Probably not," she said. "But selection has always been a priority. We don't carry anything here that we wouldn't want in our own homes."
Customers should be prepared to spend some time browsing the aisles of utensils, cookware, bento boxes, coolers, silverware, tumblers, ice cream makers, candles, fragrances, rugs, doormats, storage containers, gift cards, placemats, aprons, a specialty food section and much more. Popular brands include Oxo Good Grip utensils, Swiss Diamond cookware, Vitamix blenders, Lodge cast iron pans, as well as Le Creuset and Staub bakeware.
The store offers an online bridal registry, a newsletter, gift wrapping and free delivery. In addition to in-store demonstrations, The Wooden Spoon continually partners with BriarPatch to sponsor cooking classes at the co-op's commercial kitchen in Nevada City.
Valli says she works hard to keep prices competitive, as many customers come in to compare items they can find online.
"People are surprised to find that we can match and sometimes beat online prices," she said.
"Think before you hit that button online. As far as I'm concerned, Amazon is the new Wal-Mart. Buying locally helps preserve the local charm and character of a community. Plus, we are what keep the nonprofits going — what goes around, comes around."
With a shared love of all things culinary, Valli says her employees are really an extension of her family.
"I mean, we're open 360 days a year," she said. "I wouldn't be here if not for my staff."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.
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