Owner: Deon Foster
Location: Portsmouth, Va.
What is special about The Kitchen Koop? The retailer’s customers say it is the store’s service and great selection of cookware. They come in and stay a while, enjoying the Southern hospitality.
“Dropped in with my spouse after a lunch date just to look around,” writes one customer. “We spent a lovely hour or so with the manager selecting pieces to replace kitchen wares. She was engaging and helpful. Prices are competitive, and the variety of items is awesome. I can’t wait to go back.”
“There is lots to discover,” writers another customer. “Unique finds, a delightful and helpful owner and staff.” Not to mention the owner, Deon Foster, is a Cordon Bleu trained chef who hosts some popular cooking classes.
“I have been taking Deon’s classes for years and the techniques she has taught me make cooking enjoyable,” writes another customer. “Plus, we get to eat what we cook.”
The store is helped by a convenient location in Portsmouth’s Olde Towne with accessible (and free) street parking, a key for many a downtown store, along with high-end kitchenware and gourmet food, as well as wine tastings and the aforementioned cooking classes.
During more than 18 years in business, The Kitchen Koop has built a base of customers that include professional chefs as well as home cooks and foodies. Owner Foster brings her experience traveling the world as a Marine officer’s wife to her love of food and cooking, not the least of which was a gig in London. While there, she studied at an outpost of the famed Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute.
“At that time, it was one of their few schools outside of France,” she says.
Foster spent two years studying at the Le Cordon Bleu and earned a diploma for Cuisine et Patisserie, but being a Marine’s wife had to pack up and move to Stuttgart, Germany shortly after graduation, where she honed her craft by teaching children’s cooking classes. And then she moved again, this time to Portsmouth, Va.
Wanting to take her love of cooking to a wider audience, Foster had kept her eye on the growing gourmet food scene happening around the world, starting back in the 1980s when she first thought about opening a kitchenware store. At that time she made contact with the late housewares rep Joel McLendon, then one of the nation’s largest gourmet merchandising reps. When she shipped back to the U.S., he was among her first calls.
“He remembered me,” she says, adding McLendon helped her set up her store, from the size and scope to the location, which was a former pawn shop. The move coincided with a revitalization boom for downtown Portsmouth’s Olde Towne district. But revitalization is only successful when stores in those districts become successful, and after nearly two decades, Foster seems to be staying put in Portsmouth.
Her cookbook, Heart of the Harbor, which celebrates Portsmouth was part of a recent “Olde Towne Book Stroll” in that city, and her store kicked off the holiday season with a “Holiday Open House” promotion in November followed by an early December Olde Towne Music Festival cookie tasting.