Setting an easterly course, The Classic Cook has opened its doors in a new location. Originally opening July 2015 in the octagon building on the west side of Pioneer Avenue, the kitchen boutique is now at 378 East Pioneer Avenue, a building formerly occupied by K-Bay Caffé.
“We closed the old store the end of March,” said owner Janie Buncak of the first step toward a busy month of moving, setting up and creating new displays before welcoming in the public at the new address May 5.
Of The Classic Cook’s course for success, the new location, which offers 2,400 square feet compared to the previous store’s 1,100 square feet, is clearly a step in the right direction.
“People are happy we’re open and the reception has been so wonderful,” said Buncak. “I’m very grateful for that. I wasn’t ready for how happy they are. All the well-wishes. The reception of our new place has been unbelievable.”
Buncak’s Homer roots begin like so many others: she came on vacation and decided to stay. Her local employment history led to working as dispatcher for the Homer Police Department, eventually progressing into a supervisory role, a role Buncak described as “very challenging,” requiring strong, quick and independent thinkers with an ability to follow strict protocols. After more than a decade dispatching, the time came for her to do something else, and in January 2015, Buncak and her husband Jim decided to open a kitchen store.
“l thought it was something that would be viable and not in competition with anyone else in the community,” she said. “In a small town you have to be conscious of that and try not to bring something in someone else is doing. Homer isn’t a big city, so you can’t have like three cooking stores.”
What a cooking store also offered was “people that were happy to come into the store. People not having a crisis. I just really needed that change,” said Buncak of the welcome shift from her previous crisis-focused employment.
Her business plan called for carrying high-end, better-best products. To get started, in March 2015 the Buncaks attended an international housewares show in Chicago. With 2,500 vendors and 50,000 people in attendance at the McCormick Center-based event, it’s one of the largest shows of its type in the world. While there, Buncak made the necessary contacts to bring in the different product lines she intended to carry in the store.
When it came to setting up attractive displays, Buncak tapped into the know-how of friends, including Barbara Scalzi, owner of North Wind Home Collection.
“I didn’t know how to display and make it look appealing, but she was great, coming over and helping out,” said Buncak.
As Scalzi remembers it, however, Buncak had no problem arranging the inside of the store. The result?
“Wonderful, just like her and Jim — classy,” said Scalzi. “It looked uptown, very nice.”
Owning and operating a retail business proved to be on-the-job training. There was the rollercoaster of sales peaks and valleys, advertising, social media and creating a web site.
“It’s so multi-faceted, running a small business. My hat’s off to all our small business that do it,” said Buncak. “It’s a challenge just to keep all the balls in the air. It doesn’t just happen.”
When it came to employees, “we were so very lucky. It’s an awesome staff. They’re loyal, really good people,” Buncak said of Donna Beran, Elaine Grabowski and Sarah Sims.
Keeping The Classic Cook going during the COVID-19 pandemic brought new lessons. The store closed for a time, allowing a break to figure out how to do business without having too many people in the store. That led to curb-side pickup and appointments. The plus side of the pandemic was that as people spent more time at home, “they had time to figure out they cooked more and it was amazing how it’s been the other blessing in disguise,” said Beran.
The Classic Cook offered an increasing number of products over the years. Cooking classes proved popular, but required rearranging the store to make room. As the octagon become more and more cramped, a decision had to be made.
“We either had to stay where we were, scale back a little bit, or maybe sell the business. Growth was stopping there just by virtue of the size,” Buncak said. “We chose to expand and grow.”
When the former K-Bay Caffé building came up for sale, Buncak “got the ball rolling” from West to East Pioneer. With increased space, there are new shelves, new lighting, and new displays. Work on the kitchen is underway and The Classic Cook’s first class will be the end of June.
“A Zwilling Henckels chef is coming from New York for a knife skills class and people will leave with their own knife,” said Buncak, eager to offer more classes such as candy making, canning, gourmet classes, wine pairings, classes for adults and for children.
After seven years of operating The Classic Cook, Buncak said it isn’t only the people coming into the store who are happy.
“We’re all very happy,” she said. “Nothing happens without effort and it’s all worth the effort.”
McKibben Jackinsky is a retired Homer News reporter and now a freelance writer who lives in Ninilchik.