Part 2 - Interview with Nach Waxman, Owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters

Last week we shared the history of Kitchen Arts and Letters, and the experience of the store's founder and owner, Nach Waxman.  This week we hear about the customers at Kitchen Arts and Letters. Along with the variety and depth of books carried, the customers are the soul of the bookstore according to Waxman. Check out part 2 of his interview, plus advice for anyone who wants to write a cookbook!

What do you want customers to experience when they come to the bookstore?

I really regard the experience in this bookstore as what it should be for customers who want to discover it. They're not coming and saying "Do you have X, I couldn't find it as Barnes and Noble." That's not as much fun for us. We want them to say "Oh my god, I never knew that there's an entire book on 'name a subject.'"

So the books you carry aren't your usual bookstore fare.

No, we carry self-published works, and we have an active out of print operation. We find books for people without charge, we will do searches without obligation and we also let them know about things that may be very useful and interesting to know about that they may have never heard about because the book has been unavailable for 30 or 40 years.

Can you talk a little bit about your customers?

Well, we really, really want people to come to the store. We do the things that a store has to do to stay in business, in terms of internet and mail order, but that really has never been my impulse, or the impulse of the store, we want people to come. And happily they do. Not only from New York City and from the vicinity but from all over the country and very much all over the world.

There's not a day that goes by without people in from Brazil or Venezuela or France, or you name the country, on a regular basis.

A substantial portion of the customers is people who do work connected with food. The very concept of the store when I first was thinking it though has always been that the core that was going to keep it going was people who are active in one way or another in feeding other people. Everybody from the farmers in the processes to the restaurateurs to the people, our wine section, people in the wine trade, wine sales people, they come in on a regular basis.

Somebody coming in to buy a father's day present or a birthday book from Martha may drop 25 or 35 or 40 dollars, it's not uncommon to have a chef or a caterer or something drop five- or six-hundred dollars or more in a shot.

First thing, plain and simple, those customers are our economic flywheel.  Yes, when the restaurant business has a cold, we sneeze.  It goes without saying that it's definitely part of it.

The second impact of this type of customer, this core customer, is it really enables us to run a store at a much higher level than what we would have to do if we were just trying to go for broad, popular, more popular audience.

The third impact of having this sort of high level customer is the level of discourse here is high.  The conversation is really interesting, it's extremely common to have two people talking about a subject, a culinary subject, or a gastronomic subject, and other people join in, and many of them are people who know a great deal more.  We know a whole lot, but our customers know a hell of a lot more than we do.  And we've learned from them over the years.

What makes a cookbook publishable?

It's really hard to know, it's a lot about instinct and personal judgment, it's hard to say what a given publisher would feel about a book. But if your cookbook is going to make it, it's got to have a handle.

A handle is a simple statement that explains what the book is and through that statement gives a hint as to whom the book is for. Who is going to read the book and how are they going to use it. I've often heard a handle described as what you say to someone at a cocktail party when you're introduced and you only have 8 to 13 seconds before their eyes float across the room.

To define your handle, think about what it is about your body of material that can make somebody feel, "Oh, I really need to see this." Think about what goes into your decision to choose a book and take it home with you. After you know what you want, think about whether there are twenty thousand other people who want to pay to take that baby home with them.

For more wisdom and great books, visit Kitchen Arts and Letters. The store is located at 1345 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY.