by Victoria Ryles
photos by Lauri Bridgeforth
Susan Dolinar’s kitchenware emporium, Nibblins, is a haven for all who love food and enjoy preparing it. This culinary treasure is nestled nearby in the Rutherford Shopping Center, north of Winchester. Susan and Blair Dolinar began Nibblins as a small mom and pop operation in the Apple Blossom Mall in a kiosk/byorder bakery they set up in 2003. It morphed into its current and larger enterprise when the Dolinars accepted the invitation to lease the present and more substantial location on Thanksgiving of 2011.
Dolinar’s previous career role was a CPA, which surprises her customers, who associate her only with cooking. But baking and cooking are things both she and Blair are passionate about. Her fortieth birthday was a wake-up call for her to do something special with her interest in gourmet cooking and desire to share this knowledge.
Susan is therefore pleased to offer her customers, epicures and amateurs alike, high quality kitchenware, along with unique and creative foods, many imported from Germany and other locations in Europe and the United States.
Available are many varieties of specialty items including teas, coffees, oils, vinegars, red cabbage and sauerkraut, spices, baking mixes, and jams and jellies. The spacious and colorful interior is clearly organized in a user-friendly fashion, with sections for entertaining, gizmos and gadgets, baking needs, knives, electronics, microwave tools, bar accessories and gifts.
Dolinar says, “One of our goals is to find those gadgets you can’t easily find elsewhere.” Nibblins is not a franchise, and thus has more options for acquiring specialty items most large box stores aren’t able to purchase. For example, the popular Breville coffee makers and food processors are not easily found locally. Most anything cooks need and might drive out to a larger city to purchase, say to a Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table, can easily be found at Nibblins, or special ordered. Dolinar says, “Just the right product can make a distinct difference to your recipe and make it taste better, like when you use a special baking dish for a ‘gratin’.”
In addition, Dolinar says, “Being located in a smaller city allows us to get to know our patrons better and offer more personalized service. I react to my client’s needs a little more quickly than the large chain stores.” Many of her staff have culinary training which results in more helpful guidance.” Dolinar has taken classes with the American Institute of Baking in Kansas as well as high level courses at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. Enthusiasm plus training help Dolinar meet her clients’ needs.
“Nibblins customers usually come in with a certain product in mind, like a cherry pitter, or just because we carry better quality cookware.
Sometimes they’re seeking advice to see if they’re getting just the right item that will help them most with their cooking challenges.” She encourages shoppers to think about investing in higher quality cookware, which will last a long time, compared to cheaper products which need frequent replacing.
Some of the most popular items at Nibblins include gifts, or gift baskets, especially of homemade fudge, chocolate and candies. Doublewalled stainless-steel ice buckets, Madeleine Bakeware, popover pans, as well as the bulk olive oils and balsamic vinegars from Greece are also desired items.
Dolinar has a loyal base of customers and enjoys this location, but faces challenges as well. One of the biggest qualities needed in her line of business is courage. “It’s like gambling every day. You have to be brave enough to try new things and not get upset if they don’t work. Just because you like something, it doesn’t mean others will like it too.
I don’t need to go to Las Vegas – I gamble every day. We might give the illusion of being a franchise, but we’re actually a mom and pop operation like many others and struggle as well.”
But the rewards are many, and they usually come from interactions with customers. Dolinar delights in sharing food stories with them, and says, “We learn from our customers, like other uses for our products.” She adds, “Our aim is to help our customers have fun with preparing food. We like to provide them with the best culinary experience, which is an individual one for each person, whether it’s eating or creating the right jellybean, a piece of fudge or a five course French meal.”
Classes and More
Besides maintaining a huge array of singular stock, Nibblins proffers other services as well.
Cooking classes are available throughout the year. There are many varieties, such as “The Perfect Cut,” featuring steaks; “Healthy Series,” focusing on Paleo diet tips; “German I,” learning about the cuisine of Germany; “Knife Skills,” practical skills for cutting fruits, vegetables, herbs; “Hors-d’oeuvres with Six Star,” creating party treats; “Chocolate Decadence” (no explanation needed); and “Marvelous Macarons,” baking challenging treats. Many more classes are described and can be reserved online at Nibblins.com.
Susan Dolinar usually teaches the baking classes, while Blair specializes in cooking classes and demonstrations. Also, chefs from nearby restaurants, regional restaurateurs, and caterers such as Kim James from 6 Stars Catering lead classes as well as demonstrations. Classes are interactive, or hands-on, while demonstrations leave the cooking to the chef, who prepares as he or she instructs.
Some classes are aimed at children or teens who are interested in learning to cook. In the “Mommy and Me” or “Heir and a Parent” class, parents take a specialized cooking class with the junior chef in their life and they work as a team. Alternately, the “Young Chefs Series” for 8-12 year olds shows kids how to make “super snacks,” “lunchbox favorites,” “carnival foods” and more.
Sometimes, vendors of cookware come and conduct demonstrations; a recent one given was by Le Creuset. Nibblins often holds two to three classes each week, and they’re often in the afternoons, or evenings and weekends. Holidays feature fun events as well, as in the special Valentine Dinner class in February. Watch for Kids’ Cooking Camps coming this summer as well.
Dolinar’s Nibblins also offers bridal registry and private parties: “Let us host your next celebration, team building workshop, or event.” Private party cooking classes, she says, can be a great way to make special events more memorable, such as bridal or baby showers, company parties or birthdays. Participants celebrate with food, with many crowd-pleasing menus to choose from.