I was a senior in high school in February 1983 when I reached out to a boy I'd dated a bit there, Dave Koropp. He was by then a freshman at the University of Illinois, and imagine - I wrote him a letter addressed to his dorm and I had to walk all the way over to Student Resources to buy a stamp! Ya see, when Dave left for college, he'd given me the idea that he might enjoy hearing from me ... so long story short a few days after his receipt of my letter we began dating and now we're married.
My sorority roommate Christine had a gushy lovey constant flower-sending boyfriend one time who we called "Hallmark." That is not a nickname I'd give my beloved even though he's been my Valentine for 35 years now. I've told you all before that he's the greatest, of course (which explains the three and a half decades thing) but he's not one to gush. (Christine dumped Hallmark, so maybe it all works out as it should.)
So naturally I took note one morning last August when Dave looked up from his part of the Sunday paper and said "this woman reminds me of you." He was reading a New York Times article on a cookbook author named Erin French and he said something like "she found a way to open this great restaurant in the middle of nowhere Maine and runs it exactly like she wants and is really happy doing it." Naturally, I grabbed the paper soon's he put it down and read about Erin and her new cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, because this had all the earmarks of a GUSH! It was; in fact, for all of us it is a hugely inspiring story about a woman who:
- loved to cook and started a hugely successful dinner club in her apartment (she made food, and friends donated to cover her costs), so then she;
- started a little restaurant she called "The Lost Kitchen" in her building with her husband, even though she had no chef training, and that was packed and popular too, but then;
- she had a horrible divorce that left her penniless and without a restaurant so she acquired a very vintage Airstream trailer and tore it apart inside so she;
- could create a mobile home + kitchen and be a sort of traveling restaurant, which also went really well.
This woman was going to find a way.
So next she settled in her tiny hometown of Freedom, Maine and got up the courage to lease space there for The Lost Kitchen restaurant in a gorgeous renovated 1830's mill. That’s where you will find her now, four days a week, eight months per year, but she offers only one sitting and only a prix fixe menu, to 40 people and that's all—because she likes it that way. She rejected restaurant norms to be open all hours and create a large menu because she wanted her guests to feel like they were in her home for a 3-hour dinner party: click on the video (below) about her and you’ll get right away why:
The Lost Kitchen sells out for the entire year—all 5,000+ seats —in minutes—YES, minutes—after she opens the phones— yes phones for—reservations!
Thursday the 15th we offered one of our lovely cozy, casual cookbook demonstrations featuring Erin and The Lost Kitchen and I thought about that August Valentine morning gush every step of the way, doing the things I love for me and PPB, reading the book, planning the menu, editing the menu, working with my lovey co-chef Cathy, shopping for and making the food and talking to a full house about it. So what Dave said about Erin is indeed true about me and PPB, an off the beaten path bookstore with a kitchen: "she is really happy doing it her way." Who needs a Hallmark when your high school sweetheart knows you better than anyone and still likes you??
Speaking of happy doing it her way, I've something to tell you:
I'm opening a Prairie Path Books Annex* at 102 N. Hale Street, Wheaton in July!
It’s a wee 750 square feet, which is perfect and cozy because while we will sell books of course, and cards AND lovelies like candles and blankets and glassware because we know what you need when you read:
the Erin French aspect is that just as she wanted an intimate dinner party feel for her "restaurant," I want to build at 102 N. Hale a lovely, furnished space that mimics how readers live and gather, and invite you in for very frequent, well... gatherings.
Gatherings to inspire curiosity and conversation, those designed to appeal to anyone with ideas and an open mind— no matter in what format you read.
Ya know? I’m excited! More later, friends.
*FAQ - are we closing PPB Wesley street? NO, we are adding an Annex on Hale Street. Huzzah!