Jill’s Table now has a new table…and a new kitchen…and a new website. But a warm welcome by knowledgeable staff, unique gadgets, hard-to-find foods, and popular cooking classes are still on the menu as Jill celebrates 15 years of business in the Market district.
“We looked at our 15 year anniversary as an opportunity to make a few changes and refocus,” explains owner Jill Wilcox. What started as a project to update the kitchen’s appliances morphed into a bit of a store makeover, with a new location for the expanded kitchen area and a new store layout that she feels improves the flow of the space. “The renovation gave us a chance to zero in on what is essential to a home cook. We want people to get as much enjoyment out of food as we do.”
Wilcox was pleased that the entire renovation required the store to be closed for only three days, and that the regulars are as happy with the changes as she is. “We’ve had nothing but positive feedback from our customers. We moved the cash desk to the front, so now we can greet people as soon as they walk in. One of our regulars told us it feels like a good old-fashioned general store.”
A general store with a European flair, that is — Wilcox says the new design was influenced by the many shops that she has visited in Europe, where she has sourced many of the exclusive products that you will find on her store’s shelves. “It’s incredibly important to keep up with trends,” says Wilcox, who regularly attends industry shows and travels to foodie destinations.
The store carries a number of exclusive and branded items, including olive oils that are produced for Wilcox in Tuscany; tea towels made by a Swedish company that has been family owned and operated since 1692; a Jill’s whisk, wooden spatula, and chef’s knife; an ipad holder for easy recipe reading, along with Jill’s own hard-copy series of cookbooks, and more.
There are also whimsical items like food-themed socks, wine glass lamp shades to create unique table mood lighting, and fun and funky ring holders to keep jewellery safe while you’re working in the kitchen.
With a nod to the new generation of online shoppers, Jill’s Table offers a selection of items that can be purchased through the website (jillstable.ca), including themed gift baskets for every occasion, from the chocolate lover’s basket to the charcuterie entertaining board. Wilcox recognizes the importance of a well-branded online presence and has recently created a new staff position — a marketing and events coordinator who will also maintain the store’s online presence, from the freshly updated website to social media like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
Jill is self-taught in the kitchen and she believes that learning to cook is an important basic skill. “We want people to get as much enjoyment out of cooking as we do. We want to get more people cooking and eating together around their dinner tables on a regular basis.”
To that end Jill’s Table hosts a series of cooking classes, some delivered by local chefs who demonstrate how to make the different dishes. In the newly renovated kitchen, a screen has replaced the mirror over the counter, to provide a better view of the preparations. Afterwards guests enjoy sharing the meal together at communal tables. Classes can focus on anything from pizza, pasta or vegetarian to different ethnic dishes, and offerings change with the seasons. For the 2015 winter classes, menus range from hearty soups and stews to Italian, Moroccan and Latin American dishes. There are also smaller hands-on classes where participants help prepare the meal or learn kitchen basics, like knife skills. With the new kitchen, Wilcox also plans to offer daytime classes this year, including corporate team-building sessions, providing an interactive experience and opportunity for staff to break bread together.
Another way Wilcox is sharing her passion for home cooking and the practice of family meals is through the Jill Wilcox Foundation, which she launched in 2012. The foundation raises funds and grants donations to food-related and learning projects that support women and children in need. The 2014 recipients included Reconnect at the Market, an alternative education program at Thames Valley District School Board that re-engages students who have left school without graduating. Jill conducted a cooking class for the participants in the program and provided grocery cards and food totes, containing some essential kitchen items for the students.
The foundation also supported the building of a culinary garden at Merrymount to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits that will be used in the organization’s kitchen. This year it is Jill’s goal to conduct cooking classes for some of the families that use Merrymount’s services.
As she reflects on the past 15 years, operating a store that is open six days a week, being involved in the community and in other projects that are important to her, Wilcox says, “Retail is taxing, and the challenges seem to be getting bigger all the time. I might slow down a bit, but I’m really excited for the next chapter.” She plans to continue conducting culinary tours twice a year in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, which she has been involved in for the past five years. This year she also plans to set sail with Oceania Cruises in June, to host a food lovers’ Mediterranean adventure.
115 King Street, London
Kym Wolfe is a local writer who enjoys cooking when she has time, and family dinners all the time. www.kymwolfe.com