Kitchen Barn: Still crazy busy after all these years

January 30, 2020

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Some simple favorites at Kitchen Barn: Brown Sugar Bear, Next Trend Garlic Twister, and Kuhn Rikon vegetable peeler.

Walk into Kitchen Barn in Virginia Beach, home to 100,000 kitchen gadgets and five full lines of cookware, and you’ll be greeted by a warm and friendly face with a head full of knowledge.

The broad smile might belong to Annmarie King whose thick salt and pepper hair is held back in a ponytail, or chef and storyteller Matt Starcher, ‘Mattdad,’ also with long thick hair, pulled back in a bun. You might hear their voices before seeing their faces. King and Starcher know something useful and nuanced about every single product at ‘the barn.’

Joel Feldman opened Kitchen Barn in 1975 in Virginia Beach to meet the cooking needs of everyone on the cooking spectrum, from kitchen novice to culinary black belt.
King and Starcher feel as if they’ve learned from the best.

“Joel is brilliant,” says King. “He hires the right people.”

“Joel’s a retail genius,” says Starcher, Kitchen Barn’s chef and general manager. “To keep a retail business going strong for 45 years, you either provide exceptional service or you establish yourself as the bottom-line price guy and price matcher.” Feldman is unapologetically not that guy. Instead, he has succeeded making Kitchen Barn an indispensable resource to anyone in the kitchen—residential or commercial.

Not a light touch or pushover, Feldman’s high standards for his staff are more than urban myth.

Annmarie King has been a bubbly and popular Kitchen Barn fixture since Feldman hired her 13 years ago at the former, smaller store in Hilltop West Shopping Center. If King can’t tell a customer how to use a product, and why they will love it, it’s not barn-ready. Training the staff to meet Feldman’s standards and achieve her level of knowledge takes time.

“We have to know a lot about a lot of things. ‘Why does this measuring cup have rivets?’ ‘Why is this $5 more?’ ‘Why won’t this one rust and this one will?’ ‘Why is this measuring cup the one and only you’ll ever use again?’ Our customers trust us. We have zero tolerance for BS,” says King. If you don’t know, you better ask.”

Martha Glasser, a home cook and baker, knows Joel Feldman’s track record for getting it right. Glasser has been a Kitchen Barn customer since 1980. Her connection dates back to taking classes by cooking icons Janie Jacobson and Rachel Sancilio. “Joel stands behind every product,” says Glasser. “His knowledgeable staff, Annmarie, Linda, and his sister Sherry, are so amazing. It’s truly a local business and his dedication is a treasure for the entire region.”

Change happens. Everyone cooks.
“Parents bring their kids in to cook now,” says Starcher, a culinary school grad and cooking instructor. “We have chefs, dads, and kids of all ages. They grew up with Food Network, Instagram, and YouTube. Kids can cook.”

Starcher will make customers fall in love with red meat in a cast iron skillet or tell a story about his high school bride and their four kids. He’ll take packages to a customer’s car, hoping to squeeze in a little more bonding time. “When you think of cooking, I want you to think of me,” he says. Like a sponge, he’s trying to absorb everything he can from an old-school business wiz, whose instincts for success and longevity he compares to Sam Walton.

King also gives her boss huge props for keeping the barn doors open for 45 years. “He doesn’t connect with everyone, but when he does, it’s a lifelong connection,” says King. In no small part because of Feldman, they have unique team synergy in a warm environment filled with friendly people who love to cook—and share that passion with customers.

“People know they can come in and ask a question, or talk about cooking—and we don’t expect anything in return. The trick to knowing what people want is to “shut up every now and then and just listen.”
Feldman’s secret to longevity: “45 years of loving on my customers.”


Annmarie King’s Top 5 Kitchen Products

1. Brown Sugar Bear—keeps out moisture (and clumps).
2. Oxo Measuring Cup—no hands needed, can read overhead.
3. Next Trend Garlic Twister—chops garlic and ginger to nuts.
4. Lilypad Sealed Cover—forms an air-tight seal.
5. SwiftStrip Microplane—pulls herbs right off the stem.

Matt Starcher’s Top 5 Kitchen Products

1. Kuhn Rikon Vegetable peeler—life changer, thanks to chef Todd Jurich.
2. Handmade cherry artisanal spatula—made in Floyd, Virginia.
3. Santuko knife—wedding gift and go to knife for 25 years.
4. Breville Immersion Blender—multi-use, can be used in a hot pot of soup or for mixing/chopping.
5. Lodge Cast Iron—rinse and ready, lasts a lifetime.

- Lisa Richmon

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