Saturday, March 13, 2004

Meet Paul Frohlich

Paul is the proprieter of one of the top specialty food stores in San Francisco, Yum (sadly Yum closed, you can find Paul at Boccalone at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza)

Located at 1750 Market Street, Yum carries most everything to make a cook's heart sing. From childhood favorites like marshmallow fluff to a selection of over 100 exotic spices, some of which you've probably never heard of, Yum not only offers up great selection at reasonable prices, but does it with grace and style. And where else might you expect to find balasmic vinegars stored in a chrome medicine cabinet?

Read on to learn more about who and what has inspired such a fabulous store.

This store is so unique in breadth and depth of products, what inspired you, was there a niche you were trying to fill?
There is and we're not there yet--I've lived in NY, London, Paris, and San Francisco and it struck me that in all those cities have some sort of food hall--San Francisco didn't. It used to be Oakville Grocer and Macy's Cellar. The wonderful thing is the breadth (of those places) and it inspired me. It's about the quality of the product. There is a reason why everything ends up on the shelf. We don't deal with many distributors--we buy as much as possible from producers. Our customers are always asking us questions, the less middlemen the more info we can gather direct from the source and pass on to them.

Who did you have in mind as your customer? Who shops here?
Before I had this store I was a manager at HomeChef in Laurel Heights. Along with very loyal neighborhood support, a proportion of HomeChef's Customers were people buying to cook for someone else--private chefs and caterers not necessarily "eaters". By comparison, here it's everybody who can't wait to open up the Wednesday Chronicle food section. We do some mail order and we ship on a daily basis. It's fun when people come back here again and again. I've been most surprised that we've become a destination for people who bring their friends and family from out of town.

What is your philosophy towards cooking and shopping for food?
Recipes and classes say you have to do this and you have to do that but that's only half of it. After a class you have to make the recipes your own. The rules work for someone but that doesn't mean they work for everyone. I wanted to remind people to break down the barriers. When we do menu suggestions, we keep them light, and not too structured. We want people to do what works for them. We want people to feel a sense of enthusiasm, where cooking is no longer a chore.

Tell me about your obsession with bottled soft drinks!
We wanted to build a wine section, but very quickly it looked like any other wine store in the city. There are some really great wine stores in the city and it wasn't doing them or us any favors. What could we do that would create the breadth and playfulness? We chose something that was quintessentially American. When the economy started to tank I wanted to offer people something they could readily indulge in. The $12 bottle of wine wasn't it. We have over 130 different sodas and they have to be in glass bottles. It's a different formula in glass bottles, it's all about quality. I actually have a list of others, but we're tapped out in terms of room right now. There are another 38 more I'd like to carry...

What else makes the store different?
We do tastings on an informal but regular basis. We have a frequent shopper program and offer 2% back as a thank you to our customers. We don't sell them but we offer cookbooks as a reference for people who come into the shop and want to look something up. The layout and displays in the store are the way they are because I like things just so. Everything here is here for a reason.