350,000 – That's how many people have walked through the doors of Cooks | Bellecour since 1973 to take a cooking class. And, since the first one led by Chef Jacques Pépin, they’ve hosted approximately 23,000 classes with notable chefs from across the country and globe.
This isn’t just a cooking school though. It’s an independent brick and mortar retail shop that has stood the test of time thanks to the visionary leadership of Karl Benson and Marie Dwyer, and their ability to adapt to the changing needs of home cooks. Currently, they are No. 2 among specialty independent retailers in the U.S. for Wustof sales and No. 4 for Le Creuset sales.
Most recently, the addition of Chef Gavin Kaysen’s Bellecour bakery helped take the business into its newest phase as a fully immersive space where you can buy a croissant, learn how to make a croissant, or buy all the tools to make one at home (that among many other sweet and savory dishes).
What’s the recipe for longevity? A dash of inspiration mixed with innovation and layered with a strong sense of community. That special blend has resulted in one of the rarest of milestones for a small business as Cooks | Bellecour (formerly known as Thrice and then Cooks of Crocus Hill) celebrates its 50th anniversary in the Twin Cities this year.
Marking the moment with a nod to its past, Cooks | Bellecour hosted five special cooking classes at the original St. Paul location in September.
In addition, Cooks | Bellecour offers a special bakery item to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It's in collaboration with Baker and Author Zoe Francois. She was originally a cooking class teacher at Cooks | Bellecour when she was launching her career. Not only is she coming back to host a class, but there's also a special treat anyone can take home: Zoe's Diva Celebration Cake, available at all three Cooks | Bellecour locations (Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina) from Sept. 20-Oct. 1.
“The business has been through many iterations but one thing has been consistent through the years, Cooks | Bellecour is a gathering place and a source of connection for generations of home cooks,” says owner Karl Benson who originally joined the business in 1995 just 10 days after meeting then owner Martha Kaemmer. “We know families who have memories here with their parents or grandparents and now they’re bringing their kids. We’re so humbled that Cooks | Bellecour has played an important part in their lives and memories.”
Since its original opening in 1973 as a “Cooking School with a store attached,” Cooks | Bellecour has evolved along with the ever-changing retail landscape adding (and in some cases removing) new locations, partnerships, and offerings. This cherished neighborhood destination, which originally began with a team of six, now employs 125 people across three locations. Cooks | Bellecour is a powerhouse player on a national and international level, too, attracting some of the culinary professions top chefs to teach cooking classes and ranking #2 among specialty independent retailers in the U.S. for Wustof sales and #4 for Le Creuset sales.
“Cooks of Crocus Hill was born in the age of the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child,” says owner Marie Dwyer who joined the business in 1992 with an eye for design, marketing, and merchandising. “Over the years, we have survived the onslaught of big box category killers, recessions, the e-comm take-over and a pandemic. Although we’re sometimes a little black and blue, we continue to draw on our creativity and innovation to deliver unique culinary retail experiences allowing us to thrive and keep our doors open another day.”
As a testament to their entrepreneurial resilience, Benson and Dwyer have reinvented Cooks many times in the 30 years since they took over the business. Their latest move is a partnership with Chef Gavin Kaysen that resulted in a change to the business name and the growth of the brand yet again.
“If there is one thing I have learned in my years of being in business it’s that curiosity can lead to vulnerability which then leads to inspiration,” says Kaysen who originally hosted a pop-up in the North Loop location of Cooks in 2020. The bakery has made over 400,000 pastries since that first pop-up. “The partnership that we have together started with curiosity and has led us on a path that is both exciting and inspiring. I am honored to work alongside Karl and Marie. They are experts in what they do and this partnership has been a great addition to my life both personally and professionally.”
Since the first class with legendary Chef Jacques Pépin, the cooking school has hosted approximately 23,000 classes for over 350,000 people and welcomed notable chefs including Lynn Rosetto Kasper, Marcus Samuelsson, Deborah Madison, René Redzepi, Magnus Nilsson, Diana Kennedy, Sean Brock, Thomas Keller, Molly Yeh, and others.