|"Colonel" De Stewart talks about his business and desire to help the community of Rabbit Hash as he takes FTM on a tour of his new world headquarters and gives a glimpse into his life. FTM file.|
"The folks working for me are organolepticians. Their whole sensory system is wired differently that the rest of us. Simply, they are "Super-Tasters" and because of that they can smell it, taste it and help determine what will make your dinner taste the best it can," he says. "I tell our staff that we are having the second most intimate relationship that we can have with our customers. We're going into your kitchen and helping to feed your family. That's a relationship that's sacred and we take that very seriously."
He jokes that perhaps his "butt-rub" spices are the most intimate, a joke he has obviously told many times.
I joined Stewart at the new world headquarters of Colonel De's Gourmet Herbs and Spices store at the historic Hiland Building, located at 118 N. Fort Thomas Avenue, to talk about the upcoming Rabbit Hash Bash fundraiser that is set to take place this Saturday, March 12, in the parking lot at the same address.
RELATED: Rabbit Hash Bash To Be Held at Colonel De's in Fort Thomas
The walls have been stripped down to the drywall. There are stainless steel appliances, mixers, grinders and tables that point to a budding destination point for not only Fort Thomas residents, but those who seek what the Colonel's Super-Tasters have.
RELATED: Buy your tickets here
|Stewart in what will be the commercial area at the Hiland Building. FTM file.|
I ask him what I should call him, as he gets a minute to eat his bagel and coffee from Fort Thomas Coffee. With his signature bushy, white handlebar mustache, it only seems right to call him the Colonel.
The Rabbit Hash Bash will actually be the second event that's been held at the unfinished store. The 10-year anniversary of Stewart's signature store at Findlay Market was held previously at the location.
"This has been the most interesting ten years of my life. When one opportunity comes, it's brought two or three more with it that I didn't originally see," he says. "It may be a function of just saying yes more. I do like to say yes, but when we started, it was a very opportune times for our industry. We were there at the right time with the right idea."
Stewart said The Food Network helped clear the way for his growth, now entering his fourth location.
"24-hour food programming has made our culture and society more bold in the kitchen. We were always kind of afraid of mixing two things together. They you see someone like perky-little Rachael Ray and we said 'if she could do it, I know I could do it.'"
That boldness carries Stewart and his business inclinations into new ideas that take his staff in multiple vectors all the time.
Take for example, his now signature mustache which adorns his logo and hangs in the window to greet passerbys on North Fort Thomas Avenue. The mustache brand took his original store, "Herbs and Spice and Everything Nice," which was the name of his cable cooking show, and transformed it to the Colonel De you know today.
"When I first opened I was clean shaven. I asked a friend to draw a logo and to make me a logo of a guy that won't scare children and looks like everyone's old, fun uncle. It was great, so we put it on our sign and hung it up, but people would tell me that I didn't look a thing like my sign."
"I was upset one day and told my wife, Susan. 'Alright, there are a lot of things in this world that I cannot do, but by golly, one of the things I can do is grow facial hair!'"
Stewart has had his now signature mustache for seven years.
Keeping with the bold theme, Stewart believe the move to Fort Thomas will transform his business even further, from a retail-heavy store to selling his spices in bulk. He plans on trying to form relationships with local restaurants and provide them with wet and dry ingredients.
"The concept of selling in bulk has been the hardest thing because we, (as consumers) are so inculcated to going into the store and picking up that jar and everybody swears that amount is an ounce. Rarely is it an ounce, so to be able to come into our store and talk with our employees about what you're fixing for dinner that night, 'I don't know if my family is going to like it... I need a teaspoon.' Bingo! Here's your teaspoon, come back and tell me how it was."
Stewart said that was a differentiator for him.
"I don't want spices to sit in your cupboard. I want to see your spice rack bare," he said.
Stewart says that he projects his bulk business to eventually account for 60% of his business.
Finally, his boldness also comes into play when his philanthropic side enters into his fast-paced world. Like a lot of Northern Kentuckians, Stewart was heartbroken when The Rabbit Hash General Store burned to the ground in February.
"That was my secret escape, where I could go and clear my head. I'd sit and watch the river go by or have a picnic on one of the picnic tables or go down and hear one of the concerts in the old general store. It was so relaxed and laid back and I know most of the people that live there," said Stewart.
"I was sitting at home watching the news of that building burning and I literally sat there and cried my eyes out. I couldn't help it, the emotions just welled up in me. If you've been down there, you have strong memories like that. There's nothing subtle about Rabbit Hash."
Two days later on a drizzly, raw day Stewart was there, mud up to his ankles in front of the shell of a building that was the Rabbit Hash General Store.
He was there with longtime friend, Don E. Clare, head of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society. He looked at him and boldly said, "We've got to do something."
And so, The Rabbit Hash Bash was conceived. And it grew from a pig roast to one of the largest high-end tent events the city has seen. Bands are volunteering, restaurants are donating food and drinks.
"I can't believe the response. You don't just donate six cases of pork tenderloins, but that happened with this event. That's a lot of freaking meat!" said Stewart. He said the 30x80" tent should come with its own lions and tigers. Smoke from the meat will began billowing from the center of town around 11 a.m. Celebrity chefs will begin constructing their own menus, which includes a V.I.P. event and tour.
Businesses from all around the region are donating silent auction items. Stewart, a self-proclaimed history nut said he has his eye on a singed piece of wood from the general store. It was from the floor, which was taken from a decommissioned wooden barge, which he dates back to approximately the 1790s.
"Everyone is going to look at it like it's just old, burned wood. But this is ancient. And it's history," he said. "I've always known that Northern Kentucky has had a very warm heart, especially when faced with a tragedy, but you think about that landmark and there isn't another. That was it. We see this as one community, in Fort Thomas, supporting another in Rabbit Hash."
Colonel De Gourmet and Spices will open in Fort Thomas on Friday, April 22.
Rabbit Hash Bash - Saturday, March 12 from noon to 6:00 p.m.
Rabbit Hash Bash "patron" tickets are $50 in advance and $75 at the door. That ticket will include two drink tickets, music and food under a big, white tent located in parking lot behind the Colonel De Headquarters.
Rabbit Hash Bash "VIP" tickets are $125, in advance only, and will include a private welcoming reception with local celebrity chefs, an open bar, music, swag bag of goodies, a private tour of the new headquarters and tickets to the Colonel De grand opening.
All proceeds will benefit the rebuild of the Rabbit Hash General Store. A GoFundMe page that was set up is seeking $250,000 for the rebuild effort and has reached over $57,000.
|Looking out at the front window at North Fort Thomas. FTM file.|
|Stewart demonstrating the commercial grinder. FTM file.|
|This picture depict the five different areas at the large location. The majority of the space will be for production. FTM file.|