MAKING A CONNECTION
Photos by RACHEL LOCK PHOTOGRAPHY CINDY HOPPER, CO-OWNER of Sweet!
By uniting their creative forces, they realized they could capitalize on the Kitchen Gallery’s historic foot traffic while adding cooking classes to complement the missions of their existing businesses to promote comfort and connection.
For Hopper, mother of three, the scenario was similar to a time seven years ago when the closure of a cake and candy store in Fairlawn Mall led her to establish her baking specialty shop as a “landing pad” for an online retail business. A lifestyle blogger for three years prior, Hopper wrote about recipes, holiday crafts and the products she relied on to make use of her art degree amidst frequent moves necessitated by her husband’s career with Wal-Mart.
Soon after opening Sweet! October 2009, Hopper discovered that Ree Drummond of Pioneer Woman blogging and Food Network fame was going to teach a cookie making class. Hopper sent her a box of supplies and thoughtfully included a baking kit for her kids. During her class, Drummond mentioned how much she loved the kit, and Sweet!’s business took off, overwhelming Hopper and her husband, who hauled truckloads of packages to the post office to meet holiday demand.
“We were so unprepared,” says Hopper, laughing.
Whereas Hopper’s entrepreneurial epiphany struck her while she was blogging in her pajamas, Brungardt’s aha moment came courtesy of a pithy paperweight following a five-year stint in the corporate world. He was living in Portland, Oregon, at the time and the paperweight asked, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
“I looked at that saying every day and decided it was time,” he says.
He opened Home at Last in Portland “on a shoestring” and provided high-quality nesting items that included gifts like a hand-poured candle at a $20 price point.
While Brungardt and his partner were drinking wine in an Italian plaza, they decided to commit to one another and relocate to Topeka, Brungardt’s hometown. Home at Last opened in Fairlawn Plaza in 2013.
Both Hopper and Brungardt share a belief that a carefully curated life can enhance happiness, from a cast-iron skillet or a sofa, to a paella pan or a pressure cooker.
“We’re using our businesses to connect people with one another, to help them help the people in their lives feel valued and loved and comforted,” Hopper says.
The cooking classes at Kitchen Gallery are designed as a social gathering in and of themselves, Brungardt says. People come to learn skills so they can feel confident entertaining in their homes, but they also enjoy the experience of simply hanging out and connecting with others.
The classes typically cost between $40 and $45 a person with a maximum class size of 12. Small groups and businesses can also book private cooking classes as a fun, interactive way to build camaraderie or bypass conventional holiday party arrangements.
“So many people think they have to put off hosting gatherings until they perfect their space," Brungardt says, "but guests don’t notice or don’t care. It’s the love that goes into the meal that they’ll remember.”
Hopper agrees that the classes help create meaningful experiences for the participants, but says she also finds it personally rewarding.
“I get a great deal of personal enjoyment when I make soup or bake because I think about the person I’m preparing it for," Hopper says. "Our class participants are able to take what they’ve learned home to celebrate with their family and friends."