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Posted May 6, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Cavernous kitchen: New specialty shop offers everything a cook could need

Bunny Johnson holds a bucket full of high heat spatulas
Bunny Johnson, co-owner of Around Your Kitchen in Front Royal, holds a bucket full of high heat spatulas under a wall full of kitchen gadgets. Rich Cooley/Daily

Jay Olexa co-owner of Around Your Kitchen
Jay Olexa, co-owner of Around Your Kitchen, turns on a gas burner in a classroom where he and Johnson will offer cooking demonstrations. The store on Main Street opened early in March in response to a need for specialty kitchen stores in the area. Rich Cooley/Daily

modern Tupperware products
The specialty kitchen shop on Main Street carries modern Tupperware products. Rich Cooley/Daily

set of ice cream bowls
A unique set of ice cream bowls and dishes are available at the store, which offers items that many people cannot find elsewhere. Rich Cooley/Daily

Jay Olexa turns on a gas burner
Co-owner Jay Olexa turns on a gas burner in the classroom where cooking demonstrations are done. Rich Cooley/Daily

food saver containers
The unique kitchen shop even carries modern Tupperware products including unique food saver containers that preserves refrigerated foods longer. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- A new store in Front Royal offers up everything you didn't know you needed for your kitchen -- from an apple-peeler-like device to "french" green beans to a reusable nonstick baking sheet liner called SILPAT.

And if neither of those suit you, there's surely something in Around Your Kitchen that begs to be bought: Coffee makers, wine glasses, fondue pots, cocktail sets, gravy boats, knives, cookbooks, tongs, dish clothes and more are organized and displayed according to their uses in the kitchen, hence the name of the store, its owners say.

Jay Olexa and Bunny Johnson opened the shop early in March and decided to arrange their products based on what they do as opposed to just mixing everything together like most other stores, they say.

Starting on the left, a "Plan It" section features a basic but eclectic mix of cookbooks and recipe cards, Johnson explains. Next, the "Table It" display offers pieces to add to the tableware you already own, from specialty salts and peppers to square plates. The "Prepare It" portion of the store follows, featuring food preparation and storage gadgets -- some of the bestsellers in the store -- including a Shark can opener, an apple peeler and a mandoline for slicing veggies.

In between, a flat screen TV plays Julia Child cooking shows, and two chairs provide a place to sit and watch for a spell. Bowls and pots hang from the ceiling, and a display of aprons hangs from old shutters.

Two tiers of this month's special products -- knives -- are featured in the corner, followed by an array of cookware and cake baking and decorating supplies, followed by the "Serve It" section featuring glassware, platters and other products for serving food, and lastly, the "Relax and Enjoy It" portion of the store featuring coffee and tea products.

While the shop offers many unique kitchen items, several familiar brands are also available there, including Tupperware, Wilton, Fiesta and Rada cutlery.

Olexa and Johnson, however, say it isn't the store's inventory that stands out as much as it's their ability to help their customers pick out -- or even hunt down -- the right product.

Both are veterans of the food service industry -- Johnson is a manufacturer's representative, pitching products to the hospitality industry for the companies she represents. Olexa works for a wine distributor.

They moved to Front Royal from Washington five years ago, and the idea for the business came when they figured other residents were feeling the same way they were: "We got tired of driving so far for anything for the kitchen," Olexa says.

The idea of promoting a friendly, thriving downtown was also appealing, especially since they thought their business would go hand-in-hand with the wine and cheese shop next door.

"Whether you are a transfer or you've lived here your whole life, that's the reason you live here," Johnson says.

They say they realize their competition comes from big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart, which carry lots of kitchen products, but at Around Your Kitchen there is actually someone there to tell you how to use them -- how to care for them, how to choose items that save you money in the long run and how to make your kitchen work go easier, Olexa says.

They even pride themselves in the ability to track down items their customers have been unable to find, like bagel guillotines.

And beyond that, Olexa says they try to sell items that are high quality, long-lasting and reasonably priced.

The appeal of quality kitchen products is two-fold, they explain. First, popular cooking shows have given people a desire to spend more time in the kitchen, according to Olexa, and second, people are wanting to save money by cooking at home and are wanting to spend their money wisely on products that will last.

Johnson says customers are starting to realize that the products they buy from Around Your Kitchen will do just that -- and will last even better than the name-brand items available at big-box stores, which are still lower quality, she says.

"I can tell you exactly how it's made and why it's not the same," she says.

The store is currently open Thursday through Sunday, and on Saturdays there is usually some kind of demonstration or sample.

It also features monthly trade-in programs: Bring in your old item and get a discount on a new one. For May, the product is knives. Useable items that are brought in are donated to local charities.

Other themed promotions and events are in the works, to keep the mood lively and keep people coming downtown, Olexa says.

More than just a store

Around Your Kitchen at 126 E. Main St. in Front Royal has its sights set on being more than just a store where you can buy kitchen products. Its owners, Jay Olexa and Bunny Johnson, plan to offer cooking classes at least once a month taught by local chefs.

The first classes will begin this month and will be held on Sundays from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Each class is hands-on and limited to 10 students, and will take place in a classroom in the back of the store.

Classes are $25 or $35 and include a small parting gift that matches the theme of the class.

* On May 31, chef and owner of Apt. 2G and Element, David Gedney, will teach Cutlery Basics, including how to know which knife to use, how to sharpen knives, how to cut up a chicken, and more. $25.

* On June 14, chef Marco Pantano of the Hilton Garden Inn in Winchester will teach "Pesto 3 Ways," demonstrating how to make gnocchi and three types of pesto. $35.

* On June 21, chef and owner of Foster Harris House in Washington, Va., John McPherson, will teach "Summer Appetizers," demonstrating how to make warm weather appetizers using fresh and local ingredients. $35.

Around Your Kitchen is open Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.

For more information call 635-5961 or visit www.aroundyourkitchen.com.

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