Too many cooks in the kitchen this time of year?
Send them to Kelly Colacioppo at Cook’s Station. She can keep them busy for hours, or all day.
Colacioppo has been catering to professional and home cooks her entire life. But her most recent undertaking is 11,000 square feet of just about anything related to cooking and food – plus a little bit more.
As COVID-19 shook the local economy in August 2020, Cook’s Station opened at 515 Buncombe Street near Heritage Green in downtown Greenville.
“That was the disappeared year,” Colacioppo says. “But we made it through.”
The building may be new, with its fresh black and white exterior, large bright windows, ample parking, and the cheery strip of umbrella-topped tables outside.
But the location is familiar to Greenville’s long-timers.
“When people asked where we were going, whether they were young or older, I’d say, ‘It’s where Gene’s Restaurant used to be,’ and they knew where it was. It cracked me up because Gene has been closed for 15 years,” Colacioppo says.
Nothing about Greenville is new for Colacioppo, who worked with her father, Russell Ballentine, and her grandfather, James Roy Ballentine, at the family’s restaurant supply store, Ballentine Equipment Co. on the west side of Greenville. Her dad died two months before the new store opened.
“I worked with my granddad, even as a kid. The only time I wasn't working at Ballentine was when I was in college.”
In 1997, Colacioppo opened Cook’s Station on Main Street in the West End. Ballentine continued to offer the commercial supplies and appliances; Colacioppo took over the gadgets and gourmet equipment.
The new business is a distillation of the two (minus restaurant appliances and supplies) – with more inventory, new partners, cooking classes, plus food, wine and beer.
Growing the business has meant growing what the business does, Colacioppo says.
“I don't think one thing can support a business anymore. Each part of this depends on the other part. You have to grow, or you're not going to make it.”
Along with a new café, the ground floor is full of knives, gadgets, cookware, barware, gift baskets, jars of food like jams – anything to do with cooking.
Colacioppo describes the store as a “culinary-type gift shop.”
But … “We've got socks, some earrings. I'm trying to keep it like a market.”
And each item is gift-wrapped. “I started that 25 years ago, and I will never stop. That's the best marketing.”
Private events are also a winner, as are cooking classes.
The cooking school is upstairs, along with a showroom for appliances – managed by her husband, John, who left the construction business to join her 15 years ago while she was still in the West End.
“We look different than any other appliance store,” Colacioppo explains.
Fine china and other specialty items for gift registries are interspersed among the appliances.
Displays aside, the Colacioppos have no problem working together. “He works up there. I work down here. Then again, we're never at a loss for words.”
Downstairs, the café kitchen prepares a breakfast menu, a sandwich menu for lunch, charcuterie boards to order, and packaged meals to go. Some dishes are staples, but the chefs enjoy cooking something different every week.
People pop in for a sandwich to eat on the patio or at the small bar and seating area inside, or they pick up dinner from the cooler and take it home.
And what goes better with lunch or dinner than wine, beer – or olive oil?
“We had wine on Main Street, but it might have been 40 wines. Here we’ve got hundreds,” Colacioppo says.
Customers can buy a glass to drink or a bottle to take home. The store also sells beer.
But olive oil is a surprising favorite. Olivelle is olive oil, curated like wine, she explains.
“It’s from a company out of Montana. The owner is brilliant. She's young. She's the 13th person in the world to be like a wine sommelier, but for olive oil. She infuses it. It's all organic.
“It's like having a separate business. We've got a lot of separate businesses.”
As they moved across town, the Colacioppos gained new partnerships, which grew out of Kelly’s friendship with Allison Spinks, who owned a store called Kudzu on Augusta Road in the West End. The two kept each other company in the days before the area became a go-to spot.
They schemed and dreamed, and when Spinks closed Kudzu, her family – Allison’s husband, Steven; his brother, Whitney; and his brother’s wife, Dana – decided to join the new Cook’s Station on Buncombe.
While the Spinkses have mostly returned to their other businesses, they are welcome partners and serve on the board of directors. Allison almost always arranges the displays. "I call her my display angel."
Regardless of the building, the number of partners or even the inventory, owning a small business is not what most people imagine.
“Coming in at 5 a.m. and staying until 10 at night … That's all I’ve ever known. My kids have grown up here,” Colacioppo says.
“You've got to be prepared to work long hours, put your heart into it and not make what you expect to make. But, on the other extreme, when my daughter called and needed something, I could take off quickly.”
The family lives nearby. The children, ages 16 and 21, work at the store some days. Colacioppo says she adores her family, her neighbors, her staff, and her customers.
“Sometimes on Saturday, I get tickled. People spend hours in here. It's fun. Women, mostly. I think they feel safe here,” she says. “I'll walk onto the patio or into the small bar area and see a woman drinking a glass of wine, working on her computer or just relaxing.
“I love my customers.”
Colacioppo encourages Greenville to love its hometown businesses in return.
“I hope they support the local people when they can. I hope they support my nice partners, the Spinks family, and all the businesses I've grown up with. That is what has given Greenville the atmosphere that people love.”
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Cook's Station in Greenville features cooking classes, cafe and shop