Location: Cary, N.C.
Owner: Dan and Diana Saklad
Square footage: 4,000 sq. ft.
Dan and Diana Saklad put their respective business and retail savvy to good use when they founded Whisk, in the heart of North Carolina’s industry-heavy Research Triangle.
Dan, who has a background in brand marketing, and Diana, who grew up in a retail family, saw how an independent cookware store could meet the needs of a community full of high-tech companies and academic research facilities, by helping people learn to enjoy cooking.
“Our focus is on building a community of cooks,” said Dan Saklad, on the how the store’s popular cooking school works with its retail side. “We have many people in high-powered jobs who come and cook here in our classes. The cooking school is very important to us because it makes the store smell good, and it creates ambience and entertainment.”
Both Saklads love to cook, Dan says. “We’ve combined our skills and built our store from scratch, based on our passion for cooking.” The cooking school provides what Saklad calls “culinary inspiration” to store customers. “We believe that the business is about experience, not about product. Anyone can sell product, but what they can’t sell is experience,” he notes.
And that requires keeping an experienced staff. The store employs a total of 75 people, including the cooking school and retail side. Both sets of employees are valued for their knowledge and Saklad says there is little turnover. “I think we have had two people leave in two years,” he says. “Both times because they moved out of the area.”
In addition to the cooking school, Whisk offers knife sharpening, a bridal registry, gift cards and private cooking classes, that cater to the corporate community in the area, Saklad says, with a number of companies signing employees up for team-building classes.
“We provide whatever they want in terms of team goals,” says Saklad. “It just depends on how competitive they want those classes to be.” (Think classes along the line of Iron Chef or Chopped, he says.) But most classes focus on the joy of cooking, not competing, Saklad says.
“We have a lot of people in very high-power jobs who come to our classes to have fun. They are in a different environment, surrounded by creative people. It is a respite from those high-powered jobs,” he says. “There are a lot of secret chefs out there.”