New EYB feature: Discovering independent cookbook stores

Celia at OmnivoreIt's a pretty safe bet that every one of our members would love to spend time exploring bookstores that specialize in cookbooks. And so we've decided to offer a new EYB feature highlighting those  stores. Now you can discover (or get reacquainted with) a store near your home - or plan a new target destination when you travel.

And to make this as strong a feature as we can, we're asking our members to help us. We already know of many great stores, which we keep an ongoing list of  (you can view them here), but we'd love to learn about more - especially those treasured by our members. So please share the names of independent cookbook stores that you know, love, admire, or are just plain crazy about. Add a comment to this posting, or email us at info@eatyourbooks.com with the name, address, and owner (if you know it). We'll do the rest.

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To start this series, we're visiting Celia Sack, owner of  Omnivore Books on Food (at 3885 Cesar Chavez St.  San Francisco, CA). Omnivore sells new, antiquarian, and collectible cookbooks, making it one of Alice Water's favorite stores. We asked Celia about what makes Omnivore a special place - and which cookbooks are her personal favorites:

EYB: In the days of Amazon domination of book sales, what drove you to create an independent store, specializing in cookbooks?

Well, first, I love a good challenge. Don't forget, I also opened at the bottom of the recession with the assumption that there's nowhere to go but up. But truly, I think anyone starting a business, from a small independent like mine to a behemoth like Amazon, needs to decide to just be better than the competition. That means finding a new niche - in my case, antiquarian cookbooks and foreign imports, a welcoming physical shop, and a love of customer service and schmoozing.

EYB:  Amazon accounts for around 30% of cookbook sales.  Why do the customers in your store prefer to come to Omnivore?

I think the above answer addresses that pretty well - find a niche and fill it. But, also, I provide a huge service for the neighborhood: I hold multiple weekly author events here where the public can attend for free and meet their culinary idols, which is something Amazon doesn't offer. And I give a lot of advice!

EYB: Do you specialize in any particular areas of cookbooks?

I carry just about everything except blatant celebrity cookbooks from TV shows, and diet books.

EYB: What are the big sellers at Omnivore? How are they different from Amazon's bestsellers list (which seem to be mainly diet books!)?

Ah - that's funny, I just said I don't carry diet books! I'll bet they also sell a lot of Rachael Ray & Paula Deen, which I don't at all. I sell cookbooks that are a bit more challenging to my customers because they're a curious lot. They love to try new things. I think my bestseller in the last year was Ottolenghi's Jerusalem. I even teased Yotam that I was going to rename my shop "The Ottolenghi Bookshop."

EYB: What type of books do you like to cook from yourself?  Do you have a favorite cookbook of all time?

I love cookbooks that teach me to try new methods or ethnic cuisines. I love The Sunset Cookbook, which has a lot of Asian and Latin American recipes. I also love the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and Sunday Suppers at Lucques because they tell you why you're doing what you're doing - lessons I can use outside of their cookbooks.

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So if you're near San Francisco, or visiting, drop in and introduce yourself to Celia as an EYB member. You'll definitely learn something new!

And please don't forget to email us or post a blog with the name of your favorite cookbook stores - whether it's near your home or one that you found on your travels. Oh, and it should go without saying, that we'd also love to hear from owners who'd like to have their stores profiled here.

Celia at Omnivore



9 Comments

  • ellabee  on  10/17/2013 at 6:01 PM

    When did Omnivore Books open?

  • sisterspat  on  10/17/2013 at 6:01 PM

    Thank you for the recommendations, greatly appreciated. I agree, I have Jerusalem and just love the book. If I ever make it back to SF, I will stop in.

  • Christine  on  10/17/2013 at 6:13 PM

    I'm still kicking myself for not stopping here when I visited San Francisco a few years ago. Unfortunately, I really didn't have much room in my suitcase and was travelling with companions not much interested in cooking. I think if I had gone in, I would have had a hard time reining myself in!

  • FuzzyChef  on  10/18/2013 at 1:28 AM

    Ellabee: they opened in 2008, right after the crash.

  • ccav  on  10/18/2013 at 9:53 PM

    Thanks for adding this feature! It's wonderful to have a resource to find cookbook stores, and get an inside look at them. Hopefully it benefits the bookstores as well as they get a wider audience. So far of the listings I've only been to the delightful Bonnie Slotnick's shop in NYC, which I highly recommend. I found some gems there, and Bonnie herself is a gem. Looking forward to visiting the others!

  • vickster  on  10/20/2013 at 7:56 AM

    A wonderful independent bookstore with a large, comprehensive cookbook selection: Chaucers Bookstore, Santa Barbara, Calif. Est. 1974

  • amc  on  10/25/2013 at 6:58 AM

    Please bear in mind when interviewing these bookstore owners that Amazon is trying to put them out of business. It might be kinder to only ask them one question about Amazon. Three out of five questions was excessive.

  • Jane  on  10/25/2013 at 7:37 AM

    amc - I asked Celia specifically whether she thought that there was too much mention of Amazon and she said no, that they are very relevant to her business. 70% of cookbook sales in the USA are not through Amazon so there is plenty of room in the market for specialist cookbook stores to thrive.

  • a  on  10/31/2013 at 6:04 PM

    I am so lucky to have Omnivore in my neighborhood & I make a point of feeding my cookbook addiction there because I want Omnivore to STAY in my neighborhood.

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