Reflecting Back and Looking Forward, an interview with Carey and Jim Hewitt

Three wooden spoons for 99 cents.  The first sale at The Cupboard.  It was November 22, 1972 in a tiny little shop in the Northern Hotel, sparsely and optimistically filled with a lot of baskets, plants, some local pottery, wooden bowls and some wooden spoons.   Thirty nine years later, under the leadership, hard-work, common sense, and good values of Carey Hewitt, The Cupboard is a central downtown fixture.  The Cupboard employees over 30 people, runs a multi-million dollar business with the intelligent and attentive weilding of pencil and paper, and is as vibrant as ever.  The Cupboard just launched its new website and is dipping its toes into online sales, and Jim, Carey’s son is in process of taking over the business.  I thought it was a fine time to interview father and son, to find out a little more about their thoughts on life at The Cupboard.

Carey, what has been the most rewarding aspect of owning The Cupboard?

I guess it would be seeing both customers and staff embrace this store and work to enhance it.  We often hear from customers that they are happy we are here in downtown Fort Collins, which encourages us, but also challenges us to continually improve.  Our staff has taken ownership in the store and each person works to enhance The Cupboard, whether in buying, displaying, product knowledge, or customer service.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in kitchen retail over the last 39 years?

Nationally, we have seen the consolidation of department stores, the rise of discount stores, and now the emergence of the internet as a selling venue.  In our store, we have evolved with an ever increasing selection as we have expanded, with a greater emphasis on displaying the merchandise.  Recently, we have also developed a stronger marketing program through the newpaper, our website, and on Facebook.

How do you see The Cupboard evolving into the future?

I’ve always wanted The Cupboard to be the best kitchen specialty store we could be.  This means working as a team to buy merchandise that is functional, attractive, and distinctive.  It also means displaying it so that the customer finds it appealing and marketing it well so that our message is heard.  With the advent of internet selling, I feel it is important to offer some of our products on-line so this is a bold new adventure for us.  I do not want to have another brick and mortar store, but instead continually make this one the best it can be.

Jim, What do you remember about The Cupboard as you were growing up?

When I think about The Cupboard growing up, I always think of the staff (some of whom still work with us).  I was always welcomed and felt part of The Cupboard culture.  They saw me grow up from a small boy to the person I am today.  When I went away to college, I always talked about how great the staff was at my dad’s store.

Working at the store in high school, I remember the expansions in 1989 and 1994 and being excited about the projects.  From when I was young through high school, my sister and I would get to choose one ornament each Christmas to hang on our tree.  One of my first was a small nutcracker which hangs on my tree today.

I don’t remember this, but my mom tells the story of me as a young kid.  After shopping with her all day and being told not to touch anything, we entered The Cupboard and in a loud voice I announced, “This is my daddy’s store and I can touch whatever I want!”

When you were growing up, did you ever think you would take over The Cupboard?

I don’t know if I ever thought that I would take over the store.  I chose business as a major because I saw myself possibly being involved in the business.  After my dad told me that he had taken a few business classes and they didn’t help him, I decided to change my major to communication studies.  He told me that running the business boiled down to “how you treat people and common sense.”

Where would you like to take The Cupboard in the future?

As we move forward into the future, I want to make sure that we continue to do the things that we do well.  We have great merchandise and great customer service.  I want the in-store experience to be the priority.  I also want to keep up with the times.  Customers constantly ask us if we sell online.  Our new website will feature a limited amount of products that people are able to purchase online.  I plan to continue to build on this.  I also want to find more ways to communicate with and involve the community around us.

 

The Cook's Soup

The Cupboard Cook’s Butternut Squash-Apple & Curry Soup

Pumpkin and squash soup recipes tend to leave this cook wanting a bit more in the flavor department. This cook wants a soup that can stand on its own for a meal, accompanied by hot cornbread or baked polenta and a green salad or vegetable dish. This recipe for the ubiquitous butternut squash soup takes flavor influences from the south of France and the Near East to yield a more memorable entrée.

 

The Cupboard Cook’s Butternut Squash-Apple & Curry Soup   

Yield:  3 meal-sized portions or 6 first course servings 

 

Equipment List: 

A medium –large pan or stock pot
Immersion (stick) blender or regular blender

Ingredient List:

1 pound of roasted butternut, acorn, pumpkin or any other hard winter squash scooped      out of the skin.
1 granny smith or tart apple peeled, cored and cut into pieces
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter for the pan
2 sticks of celery cut into small dice
2 peeled carrots cut into small dice
½ white or sweet yellow onion cut into small dice
1 clove of diced garlic
28 ounces of homemade or quality low sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon of Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon of Vietnamese lemon curry powder (optional but recommended)
2 ounces of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1-2 ounces of diced Murica Curado other mild hard goat cheese
1½ teaspoons of diced fresh marjoram or ½ teaspoon of dried.
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes:

Lightly toasted pecans, freshly diced marjoram, and croutons (Substitutions: paprika, parsley, thyme, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds)

Method:

In a medium-large pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter then add the celery, carrots, onion, apple, garlic, and a pinch or two of salt, and cook until just fork tender. (Approximately 8 minutes) Do not allow this to burn. Then add ½ of the stock, stirring while allowing this to come to up to heat but do not boil. (~3 minutes) Add the cooked squash and marjoram and incorporate it into the mix.

With the stick blender, process the mixture using a slight up and down motion, being careful not to lift the blender out of the soup while it is still running. Makes a mess! Process until it is somewhat smooth. Then add the remaining stock and the curry powders and process once again for about 1 minute. Allow this mixture to come to heat and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

(Note: This base soup can be held at this stage for later service or allowed to cool and stored for a day in the refrigerator. It also could be put in the freezer for later use.)

A few minutes before service, reduce the heat to low and add the butter, cream, and cheese stirring constantly until the cheese and butter melts. Then process with the stick blender for 30 seconds to 1 minute to incorporate the ingredients and give the soup a bit of body. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Service:

Put a handful of croutons into warmed soup bowls and ladle soup over the croutons. Garnish and serve.

 

NOTE:  The Cupboard Cook will be at the Fort Collins, Colorado store on October 14th from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm, to help celerate the Cupboards anniversary. The Cook will be demonstrating the preparation of this soup along with some other tasty treats. Those in the area please  stop by have a taste and learn something too.

The Cook is Back- Coffee making a difference and creative cooking!

     Welcome back to the blog. Summer is now officially moving back to the southern hemisphere. The Cook’s travels have come to a temporary end, but what great travels they have been. The Cook’s never ending search for the best foods of the world has substantiated the Cook’s belief that the best foods come from products which are grown local to the region.

     Case in recent point, while the Cook was traveling in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, the Cook found wild blackberries growing everywhere. After picking and consuming many kilograms of these huge blackberries, it became evident that these fresh berries tasted nothing like the varieties available in the supermarkets. They were soft, sweet, aromatic, and extremely flavourful. The same can be said of the local salmon. Wild salmon fresh off of the boats, is a whole taste experience different than the store bought steaks and fillets. It is amazing what an extra day or two of processing and shipping does to food tastes and textures.

     Bottom line: eat in season, eat fresh, eat local, and eat sustainable.

     The Cook was introduced to a coffee that is grown in Laos (Southeast Asia) and is marketed in the local Fort Collins, Colorado, USA area by The Coffee Registry. Laos has been a region embroiled in war for decades. The majority of the population lives in poverty. Bolaven Farms formed a cooperative that helped local residents become farmers; an undertaking aimed at providing jobs, not aid. The resulting coffee beans are organic and akin to many of the Sumatran and Indonesian beans, produce a coffee that has lower acidity, is very distinctive in flavor, fruity, yet full-bodied. This has become the Cook’s favored coffee. Not only is the coffee great, but by supporting this project, the consumers provide jobs to these people; provide them with a sense of worth and dignity. We all want that do we not? (thecoffeeregistry.com)

     A new coffee…my oh my, the Cook never imagined that there would be a deviation from the Italian coffee roots, but never say never. Open the palate to all possibilities!

     The Cook has been asked this question numerous times: “How do I become artistic and inventive in the kitchen?. This is a great question, as we all become patterned or habitual in the ways and menus that we cook. Some people are gifted with creative spirits and some are not. The Cook was not one of those gifted with creativity even though the Cook comes from a family of very talented artists and performers. The Cook had to learn and practice.

     The Cook’s answer is two-fold. Most importantly: learn the basics of cooking with all of the products that you and your family enjoy eating. It may be a bit boring but hang with it. Learn what foods and spices work together. A great book to use for a reference is: Culinary Artistry by Dornenburg and Page, published by Wiley&Sons. Develop a “taste palette” and experiment with your newly acquired basic skills. Once you are comfortable with your favorite menus and no longer need the recipe cards, practice with increasing the artistic look or presentation. Keep it simple! Look at the pictures in the food magazines and try to duplicate them. This will lead to your own ideas. If you are a creative person, then have a go. Who was it that said: “we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents”? (Bob Ross-artist)

     Open the palate to all possibilities! Once you have a good working knowledge of the basics, you can now experiment with foods not so familiar to you. When you have a success, add that to your basic menu set and try with another food product. Do not be timid. Experiment by tweeking seasonings and garnishes or cooking methods to your basics. Practice makes perfect!

 

Well – the Cook is out of space so thanks for re-joining the Cook. Next time we’ll get into a few things that the Cook learned. See you then.

 

The Cupboard Cook