“We have something for everybody at Bekah Kate’s,” says owner Rebekah Stelling. “Madison day-trippers are a huge part of our business, especially in the summer and fall. And Madison people come for the cooking classes too. Maybe because the classes are not expensive and offer a more intimate feel.”
Rebekah had the idea of opening her own kitchen and home store after working at Madison’s Douglas China as a buyer for over three years when she was out of college. Rebekah and her husband, Mark, wanted to move to Rebekah’s hometown of Baraboo and start a business. Along with the help of family and friends, they purchased and renovated a historic 1886 building on Third Street in downtown Baraboo in 2004 and named it Bekah Kate’s after the nickname her mother gave her.
Bekah remembers everything falling into place. “The store took off immediately. After our first weekend, I thought food was not going to be the focus of the store, but it was decimated. Customers bought everything, so we quickly expanded the categories that did really well. By year two or three, we moved over to the additional space to use as the kids’ clothing area.”
For those not familiar with Bekah Kate’s, I would invite you to take the drive, walk, bike, whatever, to her store not only to shop, but to take in the experience of retail therapy in a historic setting. “I love the looks on people’s faces when they come into the store for the first time,” says Bekah. “It’s so unexpected to think you are going to a kitchen store and discover a 4,000-square-foot building. I love to experience this with the newbies, and they are so delighted, especially for people who love cooking stores.”
Bekah and her dedicated staff have done an excellent job presenting people with a feast for the eyes—high ceilings with original metal ceiling tiles, and brightly lit and warm interiors with sprawling space to feature the latest and greatest in kitchen and home wares. There’s also a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes. At the time of this writing, they are not doing in-person due to COVID-19, however Bekah hopes to do some Zoom classes into spring for people to learn recipes.
The cooking classes are theme based, like pizza, focaccia, soups, Thai and Italian cuisine, or suggestions from customers. “Appetizers and wine pairings are popular classes because we sell a lot of wine. It’s mostly demonstration-style classes, not hands on. But we do kids’ cooking classes, and that is hands-on cooking. We tailor the kids’ classes so they each have a work space.”
Lambs & Thyme, a wholesale food company specializing in dips, is run out of Bekah Kate’s. Bekah was selling their products in her store 10 years before buying the company, and has now owned Lambs & Thyme for about 5 years.
They also make their own fudge and offer a variety of delectable options. “We come up with little ways to expand the business,” says Bekah. “We have to keep evolving. People don’t understand with small business ownership, it’s the constant evolving and learning that you have to do. I happen to love that, but if you don’t, it will be a hard industry to survive in,” says Bekah.
Always an advocate for independent businesses, Bekah believes more people want that independent-business shopping experience and getting away from the big-box stores. “We try to stay competitive with pricing, but most people are willing to pay a dollar more to get expert information and exceptional services.”
Sure, there are the generalized recommendations. Bekah believes every cook should have a good set of knives and a zester or micro-plane, but she also likes recommending items for personal touches and tastes, like an assortment of flour-sack towels, teas, and olive oils.
During COVID-19, Bekah saw a run on baking items, like loaf pans, and thinks this will continue while people are at home. Bekah shares on her blog some comfort food recipes. One of her all-time favorite recipes involves making Dutch baby pancakes in her Le Creuset braiser. “You throw the ingredients in the blender, blend it all, and put it in the oven. Total comfort food.”
The store also uses different displays throughout the seasons to encourage customers to make their homes either more festive or more inspirational. For example, “We always do a salad display in January,” says Bekah. It’s their way of motivating customers trying, perhaps yet again, to satisfy their New Year’s resolution to eat healthier.
Making resolutions and goals are worthy of the ambitious, and Bekah fits the mold. “I handle all the IT, social media content, and marketing for Bekah Kate’s. If it doesn’t get done, it’s my fault!” She’s active in the community, in numerous organizations, and in finding ways to better herself and the business. “Part of the key with having a small business and family is that I’m able to step away a lot because I have the world’s best staff. We work as a team, as a family, and we are really close, so it makes it easier to step away when I need to.”
As a fellow Baraboo resident, I look forward to many more years of innovation and bringing comfort to our homes through Bekah Kate’s products.
Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.
117 3rd Street
Baraboo, WI 53913