In the winter of 1991, Professional Home Kitchens (aka, PHK) planted its tender rootstock in a tiny 350 square foot office-showroom on northeast sixty-fifth and Ravenna Street in Seattle, Washington. Without fanfare, this family centric business incorporated. Composed of Stan Barrett, his father Ron Barrett, a retired civil engineer, acclaimed kitchen designer, Richard Landon and steadfast support manager, John Selogy, their mission was to introduce professional appliances and furniture-grade cabinets to homeowners in the Greater Seattle area. Frank Weldon performed deliveries using the old family vehicle, affectionately known as "the beer can van," a '73 Dodge Sportsman with custom Tommy Lift.
The early-90s could be characterized as a struggle to define core values, and PHK seemed often at odds with the prevailing business climate. Appliance dealers tended to approach the customer with aggressive, "Won't be undersold!" tactics, eroding client confidence. Factories traded customer support for slick marketing campaigns (several have now since ceased operations). By affirming relationships above transactions, PHK hoped to generate a higher degree of client and employee loyalty and trust, although this ideal would not come without testing.
Concurrent with "the root determines the fruit" maxim, a defining moment occurred, forever changing the direction of PHK. A prominent local business leader ordered a custom French range through PHK, only to witness the Florida-based, US importer repudiate its Sale Agreement, unable to refund the client's deposit. PHK stepped in to assist and in gratitude was awarded the US distributorship. The client suffered no financial loss and became one of our greatest advocates.
In early 1994 a second store was added in Bellevue, Washington.
In late-1994, a series of extraordinary events unfolded for Professional Home Kitchens, leading to the discovery of Lacanche. Client, John Thompson, visited our Bellevue showroom with a tiny Cluny photo, torn from a European magazine. He later became the first official Cluny owner in North America. Next, a visiting German appliance representative - Udo Horsman - casually suggested a visit to Domotechnica, the world's largest appliance fair in Cologne. Third, longtime college friend with can-do enthusiasm, Tom McKinnon, offered to join Stan in his quest for the ultimate French range. Lastly, a kindly foreign benefactor offered a modest, unsolicited gratuity for helping his daughter, an amount sufficient to make the journey.
After a personal epiphany revealed this seemingly random sequence of events, Stan and Tom gathered some courage and blindly boarded a plane for Frankfurt. This would begin the adventure of a lifetime. With 1,600 exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors, Domotechnica proved to be an overwhelming experience. On the fourth and last day with no Lacanche sightings the clouds parted, and before their eyes were the most rapturous assortment of Lacanche ranges on the planet!
Lacanche Export Director, Jean Jacques Augagneur (currently GM) then invited Stan and Tom to Burgundy, where he articulated his desire to build strong brand identity fully undergirded by factory support and customer service. Art Culinaire's home-spun approach and proven track record seemed a natural fit. From that point, a natural affection and enduring cultural respect was forged between these two emerging organizations. Annual visits to France only strengthened the bonds.
In 1997, PHK affirmed its love affair with Lacanche, jettisoning all other foreign and domestic products to focus exclusively on the range our clients overwhelmingly supported. Service Manager, Gregg Overman joined the team adding decades of proven experience. In 1999, Steven Waag and his exceptional high-tech talents brought email, networking, and frenchranges.com to this fledgling organization. Jodi Forsell (MA, Accounting) brought her love of numbers and then recruited bookkeeper, Dana Johnson, to help make all the numbers make sense. Marketing guru John Isley taught the team about healthy communication and the ever-vital art of managing conflict.
The new millennium launched some big changes. Lacanche formally passed an extensive safety inspection by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Art Culinaire - officially renamed to reflect its redefined purpose - moved from a 700 square foot Bellevue office-showroom to a 9,000 square foot warehouse and former winery in picturesque Woodinville, Washington. Lacanche then redesigned its Burgundy facility to include high-tech precision laser cutters and welders, preparing steel once painstakingly sheared by hand. The ensuing refinements produced a dramatic impact on sales, as word of this remarkable little range company spread, often through referrals and personal testimonials via internet chat forums.
As a team building exercise and to provide a hand-crafted gratuity to Lacanche owners, Art Culinaire technician Jeff Schackman and Stan Barrett spearheaded winemaking after hours and on weekends, usually with young children helping out. Excess warehouse capacity facilitated hosting several fledgling wineries, providing the added benefit of on-site expertise and a revenue stream. This collaborative atmosphere produced Woodinville Wine Cellars' first two vintages acting as négociant, the 1999 Bear Creek Syrah and 2000 Merlot , four and six barrels, respectively, of surprisingly refined premium wine. Over the ensuing years annual production multiplied to cases numbering in the thousands and a new business was born. Award-winning winemaker, Sean Boyd, soon commenced his attentive care, patiently nurturing fruit-and-barrel through the customary two-plus year process from grape to dinner table or cellar. Tammi Tompkins began her tenure presiding over a passionate bevy of amazing winery volunteers eager to assist with special events, production and bottling. Lastly, Brandy Schuster provided grace and competance to the administrative staff as Lacanche demand burgeoned.
To round out the decade, a new crop of Art Culinairians at varous junctures added healthy doses of energy and enthusiasm, critical to sustaining a multi-generational enterprise. In addition to ever-cheerful Crista Bisson acting as shipping and delivery coordinator, Eric Unger adds his technical skills, Victoria Lane tirelessly leads the sales efforts, Eileen Geraghty capably directs our marketing efforts, and Ryan Reese works his film magic for service and sales teams. For the winery, Joscelyn Riach brought her sales enthusiasm and expertise. Stan's sons, Taylor and Reese Barrett, offered their youth and energy to the testing and shipping effort.
Each team member exudes sincere appreciation for the ever-changing needs of Lacanche clientele, being fully committed to providing timely and effective solutions to an ever-growing community of culinary enthusiasts. As the Internet generation all are savvy at communicating Lacanche culture and technical solutions via innovative technology, including web site, email, podcast, DVD and print media. Our desired goal is to use high-tech systems to maintain high-touch personal relationships with range owners, realizing a product is really only as good as the people supporting it.
To Eternity and Beyond (2010-Present)
Although the seasons of life dictate an ever-evolving team, individual contributions cannot be undervalued. As one valued former employee recently wrote:
"I hope that you know that I still look at Lacanche as a part of the history of my own life, which I consider good history...I still take pride in my part of the history of Art Culinare and the part that I played in it's formative years...I gave a large portion of my livelihood, life and passion in the years that I worked with you to make (Lacanche) a reality...As a man that I respect wrote recently, 'As we share this calling of humanity called life, let's try to be a bit more appreciative of the small contributions made in our behalf. Let's be a bit less demanding and a bit more supporting. I will try to lead by example.' Thanks again for the things that I learned from you, and the joy of being a part of the beginning of a great company."
Our work cannot really be finished until each Lacanche owner is happily cooking for friends and family, growing in the understanding of their authentic, historic and culture-based appliance. We are always open to constructive contributions regarding the Art Culinaire mission statement. Feel free to join the conversation. Members of the Lacanche community can now be found online at the Lacanche Owners Forum. All questions, anecdotes and musings welcomed.