The Main Course in Fish Creek Offers "Toys for Cooks"

By / Photography By Terese Allen & | January 17, 2017
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The Main Course


“Toys for Cooks” is the subtitle of the kitchen supply store that’s located in the Top of the Hill shopping complex in Fish Creek. A perfect nickname, as far as I’m concerned, since every time I’m in there I feel like a kid in a fantasy playland. Fondue pots! Immersion blenders! Cast iron skillets shaped like Wisconsin! The place makes me downright giddy.

The Main Course has been a source for cookware, dishware, culinary tools and accessories in Door County for more than 25 years now. I’ve been stopping in there for nearly that long, not just because of the amazing selection, but because of its owner, Julia Frater, a dark-eyed woman with a calm presence and a knowledgeable, caring way with customers. I think of her as the fairy godmother of foodie gadgets.

With the holidays upon us, I thought it would be a good time to turn to Julia for some gift-buying inspiration. Read on for insights and suggestions from Door County’s kitchen supplies expert.

Terese: What would you say makes the Main Course products different or distinctive from other places?

Julia: I like to think that most of what we sell—and I say “most” because it is always being fine-tuned—earns its space in the kitchen. That’s a mantra of sorts for me. Gadgets are fun, they are numerous, people love them, but they should really work as well as be intelligently designed.

Terese: How has your line of products changed over the years, and why? What used to be popular and what’s all the rage now?

Julia: In the early years, specialty foods and bulk specialty coffees were a novelty, and it seemed customers couldn’t get enough of them. Initially we had a mix of food products and housewares. I brewed coffee and served it in the shop back when there were no coffeehouses anywhere. I sold a nice selection of olive oils, but now we have oil bars everywhere. There were also no specialty foods in the grocery stores then.

All that has changed greatly, and several years back, I made the decision to devote the whole store to just housewares, with only a few food items. Over the time I’ve had this shop, there has been an explosion of new products on the market—celebrity chefs are prevalent, color has become a major player in the design of goods and innovation has exploded. It wasn’t difficult to decide to devote more space to cookware; there was so much to choose from. Rather, it’s difficult to pare down my selection from all that’s out there to buy.

Julia Frater
Terese Allen

Terese: Wellness is very much on American minds these days. How has this affected what kinds of kitchen supplies people buy?

Julia: I think customers are eating at home more, and therefore cooking more (it’s normally healthier than eating out). It seems they are also shopping at farm markets more, with the local food movement, and eating more veggies. There’s a lot more interest in tools and gadgets that cut vegetables every which way, such as mandolines, julienne peelers, choppers and spiralizers. I think I must have a selection of five different mandolines and four spiralizers right now! It’s definitely the latest trend.

Terese: How about Door County-centric items? What do you carry that’s specific to regional ingredients?

Julia: Door County is known for its cherries and apples, and Wisconsin for its cheeses; so of course we always have cherry pitters, and apple slicers, dividers, and corers. Cheese-serving boards, slicers and knives are always available and perhaps the most sought-after items. I’m pretty particular about cherry pitters, and I have pitted a lot of cherries, so I know how they work. My co-workers and I will always share with you our personal preferences. If you ask, we will give you an honest answer based upon our experience—and they do vary! I encourage my staff to share their own experience and opinions.

Terese: How about your own cooking: what kind do you like to do?

Julia: I personally love Mexican spicing and cooking. I also love to make rustic breads. I was given some sourdough starter, and have enjoyed using the Brotform bread-baking baskets, baking stones and cast iron pots to create the steam oven environment. It’s so satisfying to make your own bread!

Terese: What’s the most fun or best part of your work?

Julia: I love conversing with customers and love to hear their experiences, challenges and what they’re hunting for. I learn a lot from them and I love a good hunt myself; so I am happy to go off in search of something for them, often learning about a great new item in the process. I also encourage them to give me honest feedback on things they have purchased—good or bad—as this helps me with future choices. I can’t try everything in the shop, so my customers help me, and I stand behind what I sell if they really are dissatisfied with something. They seem to enjoy that we care about that. And we really do. Another best part: just hearing that customers are entertained by the selection of things in the shop! A compliment brightens our day.

Terese: People in your store always do seem happy to me—not just your customers, but you, too.

Julia: I hope I reflect the happiness of my customers when I’m in the shop. It’s why I’m still in there, talking about gadgets and doo-dads with them. It’s because they come, and are happy to be there interacting with us, that I’m still there. I appreciate their business and support.

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