Owner Talks 13 Years of Success In Walkerton
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
To their loyal clientele, both professional and amateur, New Kitchen Store is the place to go for anything from superior pots and pans to specialty kitchen items and spices from literally all over the world. To locals, it’s where the Walkerton Farmer’s Market is held every Thursday. To amateur cooks and bakers in a three-state area, New Kitchen Store is the place that sponsors those incredible cooking classes once a month.
But to owners, Phyllis and Chuck Wille, it’s been a way to demonstrate a love for their community and to help instill in that community a desire to understand food: where it comes from and the importance of consuming high-quality nutrition from free-trade sources.
More than 30 years ago, though, healthy living wasn’t exactly at the forefront of their minds. Instead, their attention was on selling antiques.
“In 1987, my husband was going to a lot of auctions, and we ended up having to find a way to get rid of some of the merchandise,” Phyllis says. “So, that brought in the antiques, but then the love of it grew as I learned about the products. I’m a history major, so I like history. So as you study things and do things like that, it becomes a passion.”
That passion turned into Triple Cross Antiques & Collectibles in the Wille’s hometown of Walkerton. Although they enjoyed antiques in general, they delighted in beautiful old dinnerware. In particular, they loved matching designs for those who wanted to replace broken plates or bowls from heirloom collections.
Then they discovered that some older dinnerware shouldn’t be eaten off of because they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses, like tuberculosis, in microscopic cracks in the veneer.
“That caused me to start looking for dinnerware that does the same types of things that the old did,” Phyllis says.
It also started the Willes down a path to learn more about food in general.
That led to the opening of Kitchen Store in 2006, where they sold charming and health-conscious dinnerware and quality cookware. But the evolution of their establishment didn’t end there.
“I started finding out that foods were made different,” Phyllis says. “So in doing that, we needed the healthier choices.”
Thanks to their customers’ feedback, they broadened their product line to include gourmet foods within weeks of opening their doors. Later, they also began selling high-end coffees, teas, spices and oils, taking pains to make sure that all their products come from free-trade sources. All the while, the Willes strove to share with their customers everything they’d learned over the years about health-conscious quality food and kitchenware.
In time, that developed into offering reasonably-priced cooking classes. Every month, Chef Brad Hinsley, who teaches at the culinary school at Robert Morris University in Chicago, leads the classes. First he demonstrates the procedures for that night’s menu then the students have an opportunity to make — and eat — the dishes. The evening is full of laughter and conversation as they enjoy the fare, which can be anything from grilling (an annual favorite) to sushi to any number of authentic ethnic cuisines.
Their customers loved what the Willes offered and told their friends, who also fell in love and told their friends. Within six years, Kitchen Store had outgrown its location and moved to a new location just north of Walkerton on Rt. 23. The move came with a name change: New Kitchen Store. And of course, the growth hasn’t stopped.
“When someone has a family member here, their kids want to come to the store,” Phyllis says. “It’s the first thing they want to do. ‘Do you want to see Mom and Dad?’ ‘No, let’s go to New Kitchen Store.’”
Humor aside, New Kitchen Store has visitors from across the nation and beyond.
“We have one lady that comes in from Canada and one that comes from England,” Phyllis says.
With all that notoriety, New Kitchen Store sees great things coming down the pike for them. They would like to expand their business to include a pop-up kitchen for product demonstrations and cooking classes, which means another change of address to a larger building sometime in the near future.
Other than that, they plan on doing what they already do: offering their community the best of kitchenware, foodstuff and service.
“Being lake-bred and having a lake close to us, we’re creating a service there, too, just having products they can use, not only on material that’s healthy to use but also a convenience for people,” Phyllis adds.
New Kitchen Store is located at 330 Liberty St in Walkerton. For more information, you can visit them online at newkitchenstore.com or give them a call at 574-586-2745.