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Old-school customer service meets the latest kitchen trends [replay]

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KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, this is Earth Eats, and I'm your host, Kayte Young.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  As you walk through the doors, whether you like to cook or you don't like to cook, you feel welcome and things are accessible.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  What her vision is, is to make it a better world through breaking bread at the kitchen table, if you will.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show, we talk with co-owners of Bloomington's independent, locally-owned kitchen supply store, Goods For Cooks. We hear some of the shop's nearly 50 year history, as it has changed hands, updated and maintained a commitment to some old-fashioned ideals. Plus a story from Harvest Public Media on this season's wheat crop in the face of drought conditions and supply disruption. That's all coming up in just a moment, so stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young.

Iowa has almost 4 thousand concentrated animal feeding operations–commonly called CAFOs ((KAY-fohze)) These are facilities that house large numbers of livestock. Other states in the Midwest don’t have nearly as many of these operations.

But in recent years, laws and programs have paved the way for CAFOs to operate in other states, such as Missouri and Nebraska. As Harvest Public Media’s Eva Tesfaye reports, that’s worrying residents in rural communities.

EVA TESFAYE: In Cooper County, Missouri, CAFOs are a controversial topic.Susan Williams asked to meet in a small local library… and even in this quiet atmosphere she’s nervous about people overhearing the conversation.

SUSAN WILLIAMS: Don’t want the whole town to hear me. :04

EVA TESFAYE:A retired elementary school principal and a farmland owner, Williams became involved in the controversy back in 2018. That’s when a large hog operation called Tipton East planned on moving in less than a mile away from her house.

The size of the operation, about 8000 hogs, concerned her… especially since she grew up on small hog farm.

SUSAN WILLIAMS: just the smell and the waste that you had was tremendous with that. And I couldn't imagine what it would be like with that many hogs. 

EVA TESFAYE: So Williams and some other residents brought their concerns—including what it would do to air and water quality— to Cooper County’s health department. The department responded… creating an ordinance to regulate emissions and the spread of manure from CAFOs.

The next year, the Missouri Senate passed legislation preventing counties from enacting rules on CAFOs that stricter than the state’s.

Cooper County and Cedar County sued over the law… taking the case all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court… which has yet to issue a ruling.

Laws that prevent LOCAL opposition to farm operations are common… says Loka Ashwood… a rural sociologist at the University of Kentucky.

LOKA ASHWOOD: We see that across the country.

EVA TESFAYE: She says there are a lot of lawsuits regarding CAFOs in the Midwest. And in these lawsuits, the CAFOs are more likely to win.

LOKA ASHWOOD: that's where people are fighting the hardest to try to defend their property rights, but they're also losing the most. :09

EVA TESFAYE:Other farm groups argue CAFOs can be an economic boon for rural communities.

Missouri Farmers Care is a group that wants to see agriculture grow in the state.

It has a program that designates counties with the title “agri-ready”. Counties have to agree to a set of requirements that will make the county more welcoming to farm operations.

Mike Deering sits on the board of Missouri Farmers Care and is also the vice-president of Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. He says CAFOs are net positive for the state.

MIKE DEERING: “it's food security, it's the food supply chain and to make sure that we are keeping that local and not having to import, import, import. And so we have to encourage growth,13

EVA TESFAYE: In Nebraska… the state Department of Agriculture oversees a similar designation called
“Livestock Friendly Counties.” It will work with the county to develop zoning laws and permitting that makes it more accommodating to livestock production.
Ashlen Busick is with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, an organization that helps communities protect themselves from the negative impacts of CAFOs.

She works in Missouri and Nebraska and says welcoming CAFOs hurts small livestock producers.

ASHLEN BUSICK: when the county is accommodating for the big ag industry, guess who continues to get pushed out of the market, and guess who can hardly stand to live on their farms anymore because of the stench of the cafos just across the fence 

EVA TESFAYE:The Nebraska Department of Agriculture says attracting livestock operations of all sizes is a focus. And they add a livestock friendly county is more appealing for new projects.

Dodge County, Nebraska has that designation… and Costco opened a poultry operation there back in 2019.

Jessica Kolterman is the plant’s director of administration. She says Costco chose Nebraska in part because of the warm reception.

JESSICA KOLTERMAN: The other thing that they were really impressed with was the welcome they received from the state and the local govt and also from the business leaders in the area. 

EVA TESFAYE: Back in Cooper County, Missouri… farm owner Susan Williams is still waiting for the state’s Supreme Court to rule on whether local governments can regulate CAFOs.

But whatever the ruling is, she says residents have to keep paying attention.

SUSAN WILLIAMS: the fight's not ever gonna be over. I think the public is always gonna have to be vigilant to make sure that the public’s interests are taken into account just as much as any industry :12

EVA TESFAYE:But she’s also optimistic… because she says now people are more informed about CAFOs.

For Harvest Public Media, I’m Eva Tesfaye.

KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest and Great Plains. Find more at Harvest Public Media dot org. 

(ambient sound from inside a retail shop)

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Garlic rocker, the Y peelers, the original microplanes, wood spins, a fish spatula, there's scoops, then tongs, the whisks, the bubble whisk, spring whisk, traverse whisk, flisk, the silicon scrubbies, nat-made scrubbers, little linked chainmail scrubbers.

KAYTE YOUNG:  If you're into food and cooking, which you might be since you are listening to Earth Eats, you're probably familiar with those high-end cooking supply stores, like William Sonoma or Sur La Table, or maybe the big box variety like Pottery Barn or Bed Bath and Beyond are more in line with your budget.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Potato masher, mortar and pestles.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Plastic bag dryer.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Bee's wrap in a roll, that little piggy-style baking grease bin. Salad spinners, lobster or crab crackers.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Shrimp de-veiner.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Strawberry huller, StemGem. The avocado keeper, shears, kitchen shears.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Here in Bloomington, Indiana, we're lucky to have an independent, locally-owned retailer featuring high quality kitchen equipment, specialty foods like imported jams and mustards, fancy vinegars and gourmet pasta.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Chef knives, Asian vegetable prep knives, pro thermometers, your glass scale, the smoking gun, lots of metal straws, glass straws, the atomizer, your shaking tins or shaking glasses, a waiter's corkscrew, a simple corkscrew.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The shop is Goods For Cooks. It's located in an historic building on the Courthouse Square in Downtown Bloomington, and the business itself has quite a history. I visited Goods For Cooks recently and spoke with two of the current co-owners, Sam Eibling and George Huntington. We talked about the various iterations of the shop since its founding in the 1970s, what sets them apart from the national chains, and how they weathered the most difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let's jump right into our conversation.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  My name is Samantha Eibling and I am co-owner of Goods for Cooks.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  My name is George Huntington and I am co-owner of Goods for Cooks, and Sam and I also happen to be brother and sister.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You might know George from his previous role as the General Manager of Blooming Foods Co-op for over 20 years. I started by asking Sam and George to tell the story of how they became owners of Goods For Cooks.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  I had left my previous employment and was debating whether I was ready for retirement or not, took some long walks in the woods, actually went to Scotland and hiked the Scottish Highlands, and pondered my future. Got back to Bloomington and was reading the local paper and saw that the former owner and his wife wanted to sell the business, and I thought, well, I've always admired this store. Charlotte Zietlow started the store back when I was a senior in high school, I've shopped here my entire life, and I thought, well, that would be kind of cool, but knowing that I was long in the tooth, maybe, I was hoping I could find someone of a like mind with fewer years under the hood, if you will, and the lovely lady to my left came to mind. So I approached Samantha and her husband, Doug, one evening, went over to their house and we had some snacks and a glass of wine, and I asked them to consider it, and she can take it from there, because I don't know how that conversation went other than they agreed to do it.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  We had actually returned to Bloomington after about 13, 14 years of traveling around and doing different jobs, and one of the jobs I had while away was working for a privately owned kitchen store in Kansas City, quite a large venture in an older building like this, but very similar in that it was stocked full to the brim with different kitchen items, food and even gardening things. So I had some experience with that, and then George had had the experience of the grocery side of things and also running his own businesses, so it felt very comfortable, almost as though the exact business we needed popped up, because we had the right experience. But we're also both passionate about food, cooking. We gardened quite a bit growing up, both local hilltop gardeners when Barbara Shalucha had the program, and George continues to farm, he's an organic farmer, so everything just fell into place and it worked out for us to purchase.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You mentioned that Charlotte Zietlow was the one who started the business. Can you give me a summary of the history of the store?

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  Yes. Sam and I and her husband, Doug, are the fifth set of owners. Charlotte Zietlow and Marilyn Schultz were the founders of the business back in 1973, and I think they owned the store for a decade maybe. I think they were in three different locations at one point. They made a decision to dip their toes in the malling of America, if you will, and they moved out to College Mall, which was a relatively new phenomenon back then in the early '70s. They discovered pretty quickly that it wasn't a terribly good fit, just didn't feel right, so they moved back down to the Square. The second owner was Bob Swanson, I believe, and I think Bob ran the shop for roughly a decade, and then Bob sold the business to Beth Hollingsworth, who is still in town, as is Charlotte, they both still come in their former stores, and then when Beth decided to sell, she sold to Andrew and Charlotte Apple, who are the couple that we purchased the store from. That is the ownership history of this store, the short version.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Interestingly, the store has shifted slightly in what it has meant to people, I think, as well as what they've carried. Charlotte and Marilyn were very into cooking.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Sam says Beth was more interested in tabletop, and the most recent previous owner, Andrew, was an engineer, and he was much more scientific-minded in the tools and equipment that he brought in.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  I think that the store has kept its core focus but has genuinely reflected the owners' tastes, desires, loves, the things they like, and it's worked.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That leads into my next question, which is what does the store mean to you, and what is your vision of what you want it to be in the community?

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  Sam's very eloquent at explaining that, so I will briefly tell you that we share a belief that food is a common denominator for all of us, and the fact that we sell good food and equipment to prepare said food is something that makes us happy. There's a quote by Tony Bourdain that we like a lot, about sharing food with people and it brings people together, and I think that's part of why we do what we do. What our vision is is to make it a better world through breaking bread at the kitchen table, if you will.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Sam says that when people in the business world ask them what they want to accomplish with the business, the assumption is usually that they want to make money, but she says that their motivations extend beyond financial gain.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Stewarding the shop in a way in which we create a connection with people, and bring more people to the table, not only literally for them to be bringing people to the table, but as you walk through the doors, whether you like to cook or you don't like to cook, you feel welcome and things are accessible. We carry things that are good, so whether it's a $3 item, a 99 cent item or a $350 item, we believe that if that matches your skills and your means, that that will enhance your cooking and your life, and we hope that it does so. And so for us, whoever walks through the door, we look at them as a lifelong connection, where hopefully they come in for coffee making implements now, but later on they get into cooking more complex things, and a lot of our customers leave Bloomington, having been educated here, but then they come back and they bring their kids back, and their kids come to college here. We have people that come in that went to college in the '70s, '80s and '90s and came here, and then they come back and their kids come back.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  For us, that creation of those relations is important, and we think it will eventually allow the business to sustain itself in a climate when ordering online and shipping everything to places is what is common. We think that what people really do want is connection, so that's important to us.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  One of the things that resonates with me is I'm an old-school retailer that believes customer service is what you want to do for people, and that you build lifelong connections, like Sam said, with your customers, and one of the ways you do that is by meeting them where they are and meeting their needs, and that's something that we really strive to do here, and I think we do a pretty good job. We drop the ball once in a while, but overall I think people are pretty happy with that human interaction, as opposed to punching a button on their computer screen.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, which makes me think about staffing too, because my experience is that you have some long time staff, who really seem to know the products and can really talk to people and help them.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  We should probably mention that one of the things that helped Sam and I make the decision to jump in and purchase Goods For Cooks is Andrew, the previous owner, was very generous and allowed both of us to be put on the payroll and actually work the store to get a feel for what it would be like before we made a final decision about purchasing the store, and one of the things that we noticed was the observation you just made, that the staff that he had on hand at the time were very knowledgeable. So, it was important to us that they helped be part of the bridge as we transitioned, if we made the decision to purchase, and we were able to talk to them prior to making the purchase to find out if indeed they were interested in staying on. We were pleased that they said, "Yes, we were concerned about what new owners might be like, we were preparing resumes to move on, but we've met you, we like you, we'd love to stick around."

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  So it was very gratifying, and they really made it work. They took the pressure off of us because they knew a lot of the vendors, they knew the flow of the business, a lot of little details that it's hard to walk in cold and learn, and they knew the answers.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Yes, and when we look for people, you don't have to know everything about food, there's just simply no way to know everything, it's such a vast subject and there are so many niches that you can get involved with, but we let them know that the thing they most need to be is curious and willing to follow up with people, because you just simply won't know the answer to everything. Often our customers know more than we do about the particular thing they're looking to do, so we learn quite a bit from the customers. There are always lots of interesting conversations happening at the shop.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  One of the joys of being here is that you provide knowledge to your shoppers, but it works both ways, they teach us a lot every day, and actually people that are experimenting in the kitchen and creating things often bring them in for us to taste, so that's one of the bonuses. [LAUGHS]

KAYTE YOUNG:  Can you give an example of a time recently when you felt like you learned or discovered something from an interaction like that?

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  It often has to do with spices. People come in and ask for something, and you say, "What are you doing with that?" Sometimes we'll have it and sometimes not, but one of our favorite customers who comes in has a passion for cheesecake, and he's constantly testing out different crusts and flavors, so that's not a hard thing to sample. A lot of customers are into fermenting, so they will share their tips, what bottles explode, what ones don't. Often we get to hear the accidents and the fiascoes, which are great learning experiences, with people sharing what happened or didn't happen well. There was a lot of pandemic discussion around cocktailing and breadmaking, so always good discussions are happening.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm speaking with Sam Eibling and George Huntington, the co-owners of Goods For Cooks in Bloomington, Indiana. After a short break we'll talk about how they decide what to select for their specialty food section, and how their small shop weathered the COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats, and my guests today are Sam Eibling and George Huntington of Goods For Cooks in downtown Bloomington. Let's return to our conversation. With the food items, how do you make decisions about what kinds of things you're going to carry? You're not a grocery store, you're not filling that role, and you have limited space, so what are the criteria that you're looking for? Is it a collection of what people have recommended or have asked for?

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  On the food side of things, several of the items we carry came from customer recommendation, "Have you ever had this mustard?" "Well, no, I haven't," and they'll bring you a sample and you do a little research to find out if you can source it, and you bring it in, it turns out it is good mustard, it's not just myself and the customer that want it; I put it on the shelf and it sells. We were lucky in that Andrew, the former owner, made the decision to bring the most recent spate of food in. The space on that side of the hall became available and he decided to go for it and brought stuff in. For whatever reason, we've become known for olive oil, vinegars, higher end pastas. We have some nice cheeses, but that's a battle we fight sometimes because we get a lot of people that talk about these wonderful, fresh cheeses that tend not to have a very long shelf life, so you bring them in and they don't move quickly enough, which can be a little frustrating, but you try anyway. Jellies and jams have been very popular at this store. Honey is another item that people like to buy here.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  We have a smattering of sauces that you can't find at other stores. Mustard is a little niche category for us. We sell a lot of bakery items and baking decorations.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  There are some niche categories in baking that are challenging to find. Glycerin, for example, makes your royal icing smoother; citric acid, guar gum, little additives that people use in professional baking, and obviously over the past few years people have very much been into baking. We also carry things like almond paste and things you might see in European baking, so it's nice to be able to have those things for customers when they come in. We don't always hit the mark, it can be a little more challenging to find them now because the selections seem to be more limited.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  The supply chain issue is real for a lot of folks, including us, and so availability is challenging sometimes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, I was going to ask about how that's been impacting you.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  Pretty severely for a while. It ebbs and flows, honestly. Sometimes fulfillment rates are very good, other times half of the things we order don't show up, which can be frustrating. A lot of the items we carry on both sides of the store, if you will, both the hard goods and the food, are imported items, and things have been held up in the ports quite a bit, so you'll call one of your vendors and they'll say, "It's here, but it's in a container on a dock and we're not sure when it's going to get here to the warehouse." One of my favorite stories is that a vendor called to ask us why we hadn't paid an invoice, nine months into the pandemic. We did the research and discovered that we had indeed paid and mailed the invoice months ago, which we told him. He asked where we mailed it, and we said, "To the mailing address we had on file." He said he hadn't been in the office for six months, so I said, "You need to tell us to mail it somewhere else!"

KAYTE YOUNG:  You've touched on this a little bit, but I would like to hear more about how did you experience the start of the pandemic, and the initial shutdown situation, and how long had you owned the business when spring of 2020 hit?

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  We took over in September 2017, so we were a few years in. We keep up with the news so we had been watching what was happening in Europe, where a lot of our vendors are, so we knew that something was coming over. When Bloomington shut down, we were kind of in the "donut hall", because we had supplies that were essential to cooking, feeding yourself and food, so there was no clear answer to the question do we shut down completely or not? What we ended up doing was when Bloomington shut down everything, we shut the doors to the public, but our core team, whoever wanted to continue working, came in and we started hustling and filling any orders that came through. We set up a temporary website and put the basics up there and were able to sustain for a couple of months. We opened up the weekend of Memorial Day that year. People have, in turn, been very supportive. People called us and asked us to bring coffee and olive oil, and when it became clear nobody could find flour we found it wherever we could.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  People were asking for tinned fish, pasta, flour and coffee and those sorts of things. We had some really interesting experiences where college students were stuck in their homes and hadn't really cooked. Someone called and said they didn't have any pots and pans and what's the one thing that will get them through? We sold and delivered to her a multi-purpose pan. We did free delivery, so if you lived within ten, 15 minutes of us, staff who lived nearby would drop things off after work in people's porches, which they were really grateful for. It was actually fun, and that connection was there for us.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  It was gratifying too because we had a lot of very loyal shoppers who wanted to support us. We took a look at the numbers and saw that we were doing between 30 and 40% of our projected sales with the front doors locked, so we were really thankful that people remembered us and wanted to make sure that we were okay, and we in turn were able to continue to employ the people that wanted to work and make payroll, so the whole thing worked out pretty well for us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Previously you hadn't offered online ordering, so that was something you had to set up?

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Yes, we're not computerized. We price things with a hand pricing gun, and we ring it up with a relatively old-school register, and we counter-inventory by hand, which has worked for 50 years, and we've kept it that way, but that meant when we wanted to put something online, we had to enter it all by hand.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Once the brick and mortar store reopened, they did not keep the online ordering. They found it tricky to maintain accurate inventory when people are purchasing items from inside the store. They also noticed that most of their customers were ready to come back in.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  As soon as they felt comfortable leaving the house, we discovered that they craved that human interaction and wanted to come in and shop in person, that it hadn't evaporated totally.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  We did curb-side and did some deliveries for at least another full year. Every once in a while someone who needed something would call.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What did you learn about people's cooking habits during the pandemic, through what they purchased?

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  This is my observation, and I'm sure Sam has some too, but I found there were basically two groups that we encountered. Some were folks who didn't do a lot of cooking and were interested in learning how to cook, so we worked very hard to explain to them that they didn't need to buy the most expensive thing on our shelf, that as a beginning cook maybe this is what you want to use. Then we also had the second group of shopper, not the beginner but someone who knew how to cook but it was time to upgrade, "I'm spending a lot more time in the kitchen and I've been using this knife for 25 years and I'm going to treat myself a nice new chef's knife." Those were the two groups that I felt we interacted with a lot, the newbies and the ones who knew how to do it but wanted to upgrade a little.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  I think behind that, a lot of people suddenly had more time on their hands, or they didn't have more time on their hands but their focus and priorities shifted, there became freedom to explore some depth within their cooking. Breadmaking was the most obvious one, but people working on fermentation and more complex recipes, even cocktail mixing and enjoying what company they could have, so it was really interesting to see people delve deep into certain things that they were interested in. Initially the thinking was that it was going to be over within a few months. We were obviously in a good business for the pandemic, if there is such a thing. People needed what we were selling. So, there was the idea that when the pandemic ended things would go back to normal, people would start going to restaurants and so on. Because the pandemic has been so prolonged that didn't happen, so habits were formed of table setting and we're seeing that people are buying dishes and place mats.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  I thought that paper napkins were going to be huge, but it was actually cloth napkins that became much bigger sellers over the pandemic. People wanted that ritual, they wanted to comfort themselves through a meal, through food, so it has been interesting to see that it has gone on long enough for that to become habitual and continue in people's lives.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I would love to hear a little more about your approach to dishes and linens and some of the more beautiful items for the home that I notice in your store.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  To be different from big box stores and have a unique collection, you need to associate with a lot of different vendors, which is the same with the food. If you want a selection in the shop you have to have many vendors, we probably have 250, some of which we might not order from every week, some we might order from once a year. So, if you want that creativity that's the way you have to go, which means a lot of paperwork and behind the scenes work to get things in. However, I think it pays off. Because we're not Pottery Barn or William Sonomor or Bed Bath and Beyond, we don't have the capacity or space to stock things like place settings, but now that's no longer the norm and a lot of people ask for casual dishes when they start setting up their homes. I think particular to Bloomington and maybe some other college or art-centered towns, people like very unique combinations and we find that they will buy lots of bowls and dishes that maybe don't match, including a lot of cat dishes and dishes with Ninjas and dragons on them, Japanese ceramics.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  It's been fun to put those colors together, research different vendors and see what the seasonal coloring is and then bring it in and mix and match it, and I think people like that. When we get sets of things in, whether it be towels, or hot sauces, we tend to break them apart because in a set they will sit in the shop forever because nobody wants to buy what you tell them is a set. I think that's very Bloomington. We know our own minds and style, we know what we want, and I'm not buying a striped towel, I only wanted a polka dot.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  Sam makes a couple of good points, and one of them is we're not afraid to try things. Sometimes it's a leap of faith. "That looks interesting, I think people might like that." She's got good taste so usually she's right. If not, we discount it to move it and try something else. You just have to have an entrepreneurial spirit, if you will, and believe in yourself and your gut. If you gut tells you it'll move, chances are it will. We taste a lot of the food that we bring in, we get samples, and that informs some of the decisions we make there. The other point that Sam made, which is a challenge, is it's a lot more work. A lot of shops have a dozen vendors, large warehouses and they carry a lot of things, but the same things that everybody carries, and it is easy to do the ordering, because you tap into their vast warehouse and order everything you need. We're dealing with a lot of small vendors, 250 is not an exaggeration, and it takes a lot more time and effort to do that.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  But that has helped us because in the pandemic, when one place was out of something, we knew two others that we could get it from. It didn't always work out in our favor, for example, we had things delivered after the holidays that we had planned on selling during, but you keep your sense of humor and think, well, we don't have to order that this year, and you move on. If you notice, we change a lot of stuff on the hard goods side, we've moved things, and often if you move something people buy it because they see it, so sometimes it's just a matter of refreshing your displays.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I was thinking about how important it is to have those unique items and seasonal collections coming in, both for your window, because it is a window shopping area on the Square, to attract people in, and also for what people are hit with when they walk in the door and make them linger.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Yes, that's our evil plot!

KAYTE YOUNG:  And in terms of the food you carry, diamond kosher salt will bring me into the store. When I run out of that I know where to go, and then I'll browse and see something I love.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Well, that came out of Samin's book.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Sam is referring to Samin Nosrat's popular book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which recommends diamond kosher salt in the recipes.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  As it became popularized by her book, we looked around and it was nowhere to be found in Bloomington.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  It was very challenging to find a supplier for that one, but we did, believe it or not.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  It probably took us about four months to find somewhere that we could buy it. We always have it in the back of our mind, okay, we want to get this. The other thing is caster sugar.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was the other thing that I've come here for.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  You can't find caster sugar anywhere.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  I'm sure you can put it in your blender, but if you blitz it too much it becomes powdered sugar, so there's a very fine line.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm speaking with Sam Eibling and George Huntington of Goods For Cooks in Bloomington, Indiana. Stay with us to hear about the built-in problems of selling cookware designed to last for generations, and learn the best image to place on an item if you want it to sell in Bloomington. We'll be back after a short break. This is Earth Eats.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young, and my guests are co-owners of Goods For Cooks, Samantha Eibling and George Huntington. What other services do you offer?

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  We have knife sharpening and can grind down small nicks. We also still deliver to people's homes, within reason. We do gift wrap, which is very popular over the holidays, and gift baskets. We do registries, they're old school, however, not online for all your relatives, but older generations like calling into the shop. That's how we still do it! Basically if it's possible to do it for you, without it being too burdensome, we'll try to do it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And helping people shop? For example, they have a brother-in-law who's really into food, but they're not and don't know what to get.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Often it's just a conversation, whether it's the person looking for something or for family, we ask what they like to cook or what they're interested in, and that usually reveals the best thing to recommend for them.

KAYTE YOUNG:  As someone who does cook a lot, our kitchen is stocked with all the things we need, so when we come we're really browsing, or we discover something that we must have, or we want just some of those beautiful items that we can't resist because they're so lovely, like a bowl.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Our plan has worked! We're very aware of the fact that if you're selling good quality items and people purchase, they won't come back to replace them. They haven't bought an inexpensive pan that's going to fall apart within three years, they've bought something that may be a generational piece, like an iron pan or a higher end pan, so they're not coming back for that. What they're coming back for is conversation, the towel that wasn't there two weeks ago, or maybe they're upgrading a piece of equipment. But it's more about the conversation around food and gathering than it is around replacing that pan, or they've given that away and now they're getting the top of the line one. It can be an issue because if you're selling stuff that really stands the test of time, you have to have other things to bring people in.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We definitely come in for gifts.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  I'd say that's one of the things that works very well for us. If you sell someone a nice piece of equipment or some really good food and they like it, they come back in wanting to give it to their brother-in-law, and so it works! It's a referral system, if you will, yes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What are your most popular items or categories?

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  What do you think on the food side?

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  On the food side, you laughed at, or I think you validated, my vinegar things. The oils and vinegars do very well for us, and I think part of the reason is that we do have a tasting station, and if somebody says, "Which one of these is best?" we say, "Well, I like these two or three, would you like to try them?" And they're able to taste them and it makes a big difference. So I'd have to say that of the categories over on the food side, we're well known for the oils and vinegars, and people do come in to buy them.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  You have to have a Steve. If you can get a Steve, who is the most enthusiastic person you'll ever meet about selling vinegar and oil, then that will be your best category. I had a woman come in who showed me a picture of an oil bottle on her phone, and she said, "I don't know why I need to buy this, but I was here a year ago and it's been on my phone and I need to buy this." And I say, "Oh, you met Steve," and she says, "What?" "You had to have met Steve, there's no other explanation."

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  I would say jams and jellies also bring in a lot of people, especially the ones from Europe, because we have quite a contingent of Europeans in town due to the university, and just to see the joy on people's face when they see their favorite marmalade from childhood, it's really rewarding.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  There are a lot of opinions about marmalade too, exactly how coarse or fine it should be and which ones are best, depending upon the European you meet, so you learn things like that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Really interesting.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Yes, and we have a lot more Swedish and Nordic food now. When people come in from that area of the world, they get super excited. We have something called cat's tongues around the holidays, which is chocolate that looks like a dog bone, and a Hungarian person came in and literally became giddy. It is not a high-end product, it is not gourmet, it is what you got in your stocking as a kid, and it thrilled him.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It's the nostalgia and finding something that you can't find here, yes. That's nice.

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  The holidays are a lot of fun for us. As a matter of fact that's what I'm working on when we finish talking today. We place our Christmas orders and sometimes hard goods as early as February. Most of the food orders go in in April and May. It's fun to find those things that help people relive those joys from the holiday season, and it's really rewarding, like Sam said, when people come in and they go, "Oh, my god, I haven't seen this since I was a child, this is so great that you've got it."

KAYTE YOUNG:  And even if you're not nostalgic for it because you grew up with it, the packaging is different, it looks old world and you want to put that in someone's stocking or have it as a gift. Having those candies and different kinds of baked goods is really nice, and I'm sure is fun to shop for.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  It can be. I have to say, in February the last thing I want to see is anything with Santa Claus, or a snowman, or red and green. It's a lot after the holiday season. But on the hard goods side, in Bloomington, if it has a cat on it, it will sell. I cannot tell you how many things we look at in catalogs, and we're like, "Well, it'll sell, it has a cat." There are a lot of cat people in Bloomington. There are also dog people, and they're picky because it has to be their breed. A cat can just be any cat, essentially, cats on mugs, on towels, on dishes, that's huge. Kitchen linens is a category that's grown wildly, and when I worked in Kansas City, there were three aisles of towels, and I feel that the important thing about linens is that most of the time they're affordable, so no matter what's happening in the economy or in your life, you can't afford to replace pots and pans but you can get a $7 towel and your kitchen feels different. We sell a lot of snarky or inappropriate towels, aprons, which are old-fashioned. Do you see a lot of your friends answering the door in an apron? No.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  But we sell aprons like you wouldn't believe. I think it could be the nostalgia of your grandmother having worn one, your mom wore one, you put one on. It's a huge gift item. We sell a lot of iron. We're very much into purchasing and selling things that will last, so iron and quality knives, those sell quite well. We also love to bring in local vendors, so we have woodworkers that make a lot of our cutting boards or turn wood bowls. We have Chris Bush's pottery, and Frank Pearsall's bowls are gorgeous, and those sell as well as anything we get from a larger manufacturer. I think in Bloomington especially, people know the value and appreciate handmade, well done things.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And would want to support a local artist. Is there anything else you want to say about the store, or what it means to you?

GEORGE HUNTINGTON:  All I want to do is pay a compliment to my sister, who makes it a joy to come to work every day. It's special, I chose well when I chose a partner, so I'm happy. They say you shouldn't go in business with family, but there are exceptions to rules like that.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  That's really nice. We do a good job, I think, of complementing each other, and we've always liked each other, so we hung out before. We're different in age, we have a large family that spans generations and so it's always been easy to get along with each other, and we like similar things and have similar aesthetics. We tease each other, but that's okay.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Well, thanks so much, I really appreciate this.

SAMANTHA EIBLING:  Thank you, we appreciate you coming in.


KAYTE YOUNG:  That was George Huntington and Samantha Eibling. They're brother and sister co-owners of Goods For Cooks, along with Sam's husband, Doug Eibling. Goods For Cooks is located in downtown Bloomington, on the west side of the historic Courthouse Square. George Huntington served as General Manager of Blooming Foods Co-op from 1994 to 2015. Samantha Eibling also currently teaches yoga with Bloomington Yoga Collective, also in downtown Bloomington. You can find more information on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Samantha Gee, Abraham Hill, Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey

many different bottles of vinegar and oil arranged on a bar, with shelves of bottles in the background

The extensive collection of vinegar and olive oil is a big attraction at Goods for Cooks, in part because customers can taste before they buy. And, because they have Steve, a staff member with a passion for vinegar. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“As you walk through the doors, whether you like to cook or you don’t like to cook, you feel welcome, and things are accessible…” --Sam

“What our vision is, is to make it a better world through breaking bread at the kitchen table, if you will.” --George

This week on the show, we talk with co-owners of Bloomington’s independent kitchen supply store, Goods for Cooks, Sam Eibling and George Huntington. We hear about the shop’s nearly 50 year history, as it has changed hands, updated, and maintained a commitment to quality goods and face-to-face customer service. 

Plus a story from Harvest Public Media about midwestern states attracting large scale livestock operations even while rural residents oppose them.

Connecting over cookware

If you are into food and cooking, you are probably familiar with those high-end cooking supply stores like Williams Sonoma, or Sur la Table. Or, maybe the big box variety, like Pottery Barn or Bed Bath & Beyond are more in line with your budget. 

Here in Bloomington, we are lucky to have an independent, locally owned retailer featuring high quality kitchen equipment, specialty foods like imported jams and mustards, fancy vinegars and gourmet pasta. 

The shop is Goods for Cooks, it’s located in an historic building.on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington, and the business itself has quite a history. I visited Goods for Cooks recently, and spoke with two of the current co-owners, Samantha Ebling and George Huntington. We talked about the various iterations of the shop since its founding in the 1970s, what sets them apart from the national chains, and how they weathered the most difficult days of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Music on this episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

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