The independent kitchen store is a dying breed. City Kitchens, a downtown go-to for serious home cooks and pros alike, shuttered back in 2013. (Kitchen N Things is still going in Ballard though.) Alas, Mrs. Cook's in University Village is throwing in the kitchen towel too. Its last day is January 15.
Owner Carol Bromel is retiring and, with her, so is the shop she named after her grandmother Hylie Cook, who was formidable in the kitchen. Bromel, likewise a force in many if subtle ways, is my old boss. Years ago a scrawny college kid walked into a kitchen store resume in hand—tons of retail experience, loved to cook in her tiny U District apartment—and walked out with a part-time job selling stainless steel sauciers, espresso machines, and ceramic French wares.
So this closure stings like knuckles grating against a fine Microplane rasper covered in lemon zest. I spent some three years polishing copper pots, sharpening Wustofs and Shuns for customers, and gift wrapping Kitchen Aid mixers on Mother's Day. During slow nights I'd flip through recently released cookbooks like Yotam Ottolenghi's latest or Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson who made waking up before the sun to bake bread sound pretty appealing. Sometimes my coworkers and I would rank the worst reader-submitted tips in Cook's Illustrated. (I'm sorry, Nancy from Massachusetts, using a clear lid to protect your recipe card isn't a "kitchen hack.")
This job was a backdoor way to culinary knowledge: I had to teach myself everything I could, testing cookware and recipes, in order to pass along that same know-how to the teen who's getting into baking, or the newlywed who wants to get the most out of the Le Creuset dutch oven their parents just bought them. But beyond the shiny, big, ooh-ahh items, Mrs. Cook's specialized in the granular. There are jam jars, big and small, sold individually—single lids too for 30 cents if that's all you need—and replacement gaskets for your Italian stovetop espresso pot. Did you crack your '90s-era Cuisinart food processor bowl? Mrs. Cook's has spares for that, too. In this age of Amazon, still not everything can arrive at your front door in two days for less than a buck. In that sense the closure of Mrs. Cook's says a lot about Seattle right now.
When the University Village started shifting into an even higher end, modern look in earnest, some time around 2013, the owners wanted Mrs. Cook's to adjust as well—lose the bright orange and lime green exteriors. Well, the longtime U Village tenant held out. (Green and orange forever!) Then last year, the San Francisco–based Williams Sonoma opened its largest 7,000-square-foot concept store in U Village. Mrs. Cook's may lack William Sonoma's ivory white facade and gilded signage, but it'll remain the most approachable kitchen store that fell all along the fancy-kitsch spectrum, never really skewing too far to either end.
It's a place where chefs could come in and buy 24 four-ounce ramekins for service that night. It's a place that I sold Dave Matthews a cake pan that one time (for which I was promptly reprimanded for not telling my manager Amy, the biggest DMB fan, that His Saintliness was in the store; I'm almost positive a picture of him is still tacked in the back room).
It's a place that's having a final sale: Everything in the store will be marked down starting November 13. Mrs. Cook’s will also have a drawing for a $200 mini shopping spree which will be held December 1.
Thank you to my former shop mates and shop managers who taught me how to sharpen blades, soften my customer service voice, ship cast iron pans to customers in New York, count back change, hate standing on concrete floors for eight hours, and love cooking more than I thought possible.