What's a cupboard without a kitchen?
That's what customers at the Coastal Cupboard store in Mount Pleasant often asked, so when the opportunity arose, the owners pounced.
Since August, Coastal Cupboard has taken over an adjacent vacant store space in the Belle Hall shopping center and turned it into a gleaming new kitchen for cooking classes and demonstrations.
The store also gained an additional 1,100 square feet of retail space for its "functional" inventory: cookware, bakeware, tools, gadgets and the like.
The kitchen was christened at a grand opening Nov. 14 and had its first run of cooking classes last week.
Store owner Brad Pitner and chef Kim Underwood say they're thrilled with the response from class participants.
"They're learning and they're excited that they get to meet and interact with the chefs," says Underwood.
Underwood will serve as the house chef, conducting her own classes and demonstrations as well as lining up those led by local restaurant chefs and others. She expects an average of three to four classes will be offered each week.
Classes are aimed at a mix of skill and interests, including gourmet and novice cooks, couples, harried moms and kids only. Private parties also may be arranged.
"Really, there are endless possibilities with this kitchen. We've just touched on the tip of the iceberg," Underwood says.
For now, the cooking classes are demonstration only, not participation. But Pitner says wine is poured throughout, and generous tasting portions are offered. No one should go home hungry, he adds.
Originally, the plan was for the kitchen to occupy a modest corner of the store. But Pitner says once work got under way, "It blew up. This kitchen was supposed to be way more simple and less showy than it is. One thing led to another."
The kitchen area, about 700 square feet in all, features a professional dual-fuel cooktop and oven with a griddle and a grill and a camera on the prep and cooking area. A large flat screen overhead projects the action to the 16 seats in the audience.
Pitner says not only had customers been asking for classes, but sales of the functional merchandise also took off as the economy turned worse.
"We decided that expanding that part of the store made the most sense. We noticed a big increase in people cooking at home."
Underwood, who has a background in catering, as a personal chef and some restaurant work, says it's always been a dream of hers to have such a kitchen.
"It's a lot of work but when it's your passion, it's not a lot of work."
Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-4886.