Books and Food: A Great Combination

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Independent bookstores are often known for carrying unique sidelines that set them apart. Some have added food products to the mix, and another is creating a cookbook of customer recipes. Whether they view the products as a great gift item, an opportunity to sell locally sourced goods, or to strengthen community ties, booksellers are selling food with great success.

Since Kenny Sarfin opened Books & Greetings in Northvale, New Jersey, he has carried a wide selection of food items, including chocolates, caramels, gourmet pasta, soups, coffees, teas, and various holiday candies.

“It’s such a great gift item,” he said, adding that food can easily be paired with a book. “If you’re getting someone a book about Italy, throw in some pasta. If you’re getting a kid’s book for a birthday party, why not add some candy?”

Books & Greetings also sells homemade pies from a local farm, and Sarfin also uses them as an incentive to encourage customers to make larger in-store purchases. Customers receive a free pie for every $50 that is spent in the store. Or, they can be purchased for $10.

Additionally, the store holds a regular event called “Book and Brunch,” where visiting authors are invited to the nearby country club to do a reading. Customers purchase a ticket to the brunch, which includes the book and the meal.

“The author speaks, and then mingles. Everybody really has a great time,” he said.

Last year, Readers’ Books in Sonoma, California, began selling organic farm fresh eggs with great success. Sonoma, an upscale community with many gourmet shops and eateries is an ideal place to sell locally sourced food items. The store receives the eggs every week from a local man who raises the chickens.

“People just love those eggs,” said Andy Weinberger, co-owner of Readers’ with his wife, Lilla. It’s such a huge hit. We have a list of people we call when they arrive, and they’re gone in a day.”

Weinberger pointed out that Sonoma is “wine country,” and therefore has a high demand for gourmet items. So, Readers’ has added more locally produced food, like homemade jams, olive oil, honey, pasta sauce, and cheese to its inventory mix. Much of this comes from local chef Sheana Davis, who owns The Epicurean Connection Shop. Davis is a loyal customer, who purchases many of her cookbooks at Readers’, and caters some of the book events. The relationship between the two businesses gives them plenty of opportunities to cross-promote.

Though Weinberger admits he doesn’t make much on food alone, “it makes a great sideline,” he said. “And now, when people think about Readers’, they don’t just think about books. They think about food, too.”

Harvey Finkel, owner of Clinton Book Shop, in Clinton, New Jersey, told BTW that he has received many cookbooks from various community organizations. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be kind of cool to have one for the bookshop?’” he said.

Finkel started sending out recipe inquiries in the store’s newsletter, on its Facebook page, and on fliers throughout the community. Customers have been generally enthusiastic about the idea, and the store has received several recipes from customers, bloggers, and even a few authors.

Finkel said he is certain there is a connection between food and books.

“Food is for the stomach, and books are for the mind,” he said. “They both fuel us to keep us going.”

To publish the cookbook, the store is working with Morris Cookbooks, who “make it really easy,” said Finkel. Everything is done online, and he can select the way he wants it to look. The company suggests a price to sell the books, based on number of recipes and printing costs. When it is completed, the company will ship the books to Finkel, who will sell them in the store, at events, and eventually online.

“It’s a fun thing to do, it gets people involved, and maybe we can make a little bit of money for the store, too,” he said.

For the books’ design, he made sure to choose a layout that includes a space where the submitter typically inserts a personal note relating to the recipe. Finkel is encouraging those who send in recipes to use that space to mention their favorite book, “so we’re actually learning a lot about them, through the recipe, and what they read.”

Finkel urges other bookstores to use his idea.

“It’s a great community building event,” he said. “We all have to eat. A lot of people love food, and we know people love books. It’s a great connection. Do it!”