Dean & DeLuca Embraces Local Partnerships

Robin Knight (left) and Amber Abram of Emily Kate's Gluten Free Bakery showcase products in Kansas City.
 
Showcasing gluten-free cookies, cupcakes and mini bundt cakes inside Dean & DeLuca’s Kansas City store, one of the company’s 11 retail food shops in the United States, bakery owner Robin Knight of Emily Kate’s Gluten Free Bakery beams with pride about how far her business has evolved in such a short time.
 
Just two years ago, Knight was gearing up to start Kansas City’s only dedicated gluten-free bakery, in addition to working full time as executive creative director for C3 Creative Consumer Concepts, a marketing and design agency. Now her gluten-free sweets are featured at one of the most iconic international brands in gourmet food, and she loves every minute of it.
 
“It’s so exciting for a brand like Dean & DeLuca to embrace local brands, and it feels really great to be part of it,” says Wright, who started her bakery after her two daughters were diagnosed with gluten intolerance as teenagers. “I love a challenge.’
 
For Dean & DeLuca, the 40-year-old company recently implemented a strategy that involves offering more local brands (bakery included) and expanding their fresh food selection to include fresh meats, fresh seafood and fresh produce, marking a turn toward uniqueness in the marketplace.
 
Dan Greet, general manager for Dean & DeLuca in Kansas City, describes the process as “getting back to our roots. The uniqueness to Dean & DeLuca is the story behind each product. Having the full ecosystem in our store makes us a one-stop shop again.”
 
Sara McMonigle, category manager for bakery, pastry, coffee and candy division for Dean & DeLuca, says the entire company is embracing local like never before. In Kansas City, they have carried bakery sweets from Overland Park, Kansas-based 3 Women and an Oven for years, but now are bringing in new local vendors like Emily Kate’s, Donutology and Cedar Street Toffee. They also carry strong local brands like Messenger Coffee and Christopher Elbow Chocolates.

“We’re bringing in the best of the best, from all around the world, as well as our front door,” McMonigle says. “Customers are more familiar with brands within their local community and that helps drive sales.”
 
“It’s a great time to be local,” says Andrea Johnson, who runs Overland Park-based Cedar Street Toffee with Teresa Spiess. “Our toffee is made with whole almonds and double sides of chocolate. We started with semi-sweet and developed a dark chocolate version. It’s really delicious.”
 
Emily Kate’s Gluten Free Bakery is primarily a wholesale bakery with some retail on the side, working out of a 100 percent gluten-free facility in Prairie Village, Kansas. 
 
“We make everything gluten-free, from five-tier wedding cakes to blueberry streusel bars,” says Knight, who founded the bakery 1½ years ago and still works full time at the design agency. She did hire a head baker, Amber Abram, who is thrilled to be part of the team.
 
Dean & DeLuca carries gluten-free mini bundt cakes and a variety of gluten-free cookies from Emily Kate’s, including snickerdoodle and chocolate chunk.
 
In addition, Emily Kate’s baked goods are available for daily purchase at a variety of Kansas City area shops and cafes including Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village, One More Cup in Waldo, POUR Coffeehouse in Olathe, Unbakery and Juicery in Brookside, and at Urban Table in Prairie Village for weekend brunch. 

Sara McMonigle of category manager for bakery, pastry, coffee and candy division for Dean & DeLuca.
 
McMonigle says that gluten-free resonates with more customers today, and sales are climbing. Clean label desserts are another influential trend. “People are finding the cleaner the label, the better it tastes,” she says. “Even in our chocolate division, this is definitely a direction we are going.”

Dean & DeLuca’s bakery strategy is three-prong: Promote local brands. Carry customer favorites like Florida-based We Take the Cake (one of Oprah’s favorite things). And finally, do some baking at store level.
 
“We’re trying to get back more into baking off our own muffins, baking our own scones — doing more of that type of stuff in house for quality control,” she says.
 

A bold new initiative

 
With the launch of new offerings, the Kansas City Dean & DeLuca market—known primarily as a destination for gourmet products—will now become a source for all grocery needs from pantry goods to specialty items and, now, the highest quality meat, seafood and produce. 
 
The new selections feature best-in-class farmers and suppliers from the United States that have been hand-selected by Dean & DeLuca’s senior category manager Matthew Bell, specializing in meat and seafood, and lead produce merchant Hanna Kyle, alongside Dean & Deluca Kansas City’s general manager Dan Greet and executive chef Justin Cain. These unique product selections (many sought after by top restaurants and chefs) are now available for the at-home chef. 
 
“There were a lot of things going in food that people weren’t aware of in the past. Now the cupboard has been pulled back,” says Justin Cain, executive chef at Dean & DeLuca. “People are really interested to know where their food is coming from, how it has been taken care of, and what’s it been treated with. I think it’s really moving forward with the way we eat.”
 
Founded in 1977 by Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca with the opening of its flagship store in SoHo, New York, Dean & DeLuca has grown into a multi-channel retailer of gourmet foods, wines and kitchenware with operations throughout the United States including Charlotte, Kansas City, Georgetown, and St. Helena and international licenses abroad. Immediate plans include two new retail locations to open this year in Plano, Texas, and Bethesda, Maryland.

Dean & DeLuca also announced the launch of its full-service catering program beginning April 20 in Kansas City and the additional markets of New York City, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, and St. Helena, California. The catering program has been conceptualized by the recently appointed executive chef Brian Bistrong, who came to the iconice New York brand in March 2017 with years of experience in the culinary industry working with acclaimed chefs such as David Bouley, the late Bernard Loiseau and Wolfgang Puck.

The culinary team will work with clients to create a customized menu featuring quality ingredients and innovative presentation. Full-service catering menus have been created by Bistrong in partnership with each market's culinary team. The resulting menu features a mix of both classic and inventive dishes.

And from a unique selection of gourmet products, clients can find takeaway gifts for guests, or even set up an exclusive "Dean & DeLuca Pop Up." The customized pop up will allow guests to fill their own canvas bag of goodies with items such as candles, nuts, cookies, truffles and macarons.