If you live in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, you’re probably already familiar with the depth and breadth of kitchenwares at Frattallone’s Ace Hardware at Cambridge & Grand, kitty-corner from Ramsey Middle School. If you’ve instead assumed that one Ace Hardware is pretty much like another in terms of its kitchenwares, you are in for a very welcome surprise: this particular Frattallone’s/Ace, one of nineteen Twin Cities stores owned by the Frattallone family of St. Paul, is completely unlike the others. For sensibly priced, sturdy, practical cookware and kitchen tools, it is simply unrivaled; for customer service, it’s as responsive and supportive as our very own Mississippi Market.
And because Frattallone’s is a member-owner of the largest cooperative in the United States—Ace Hardware, begun in Chicago in 1924 as a buying cooperative of small hardware merchants—we think it’s fitting to profile this fine store and the terrific job it does to keep us all in well-thought-out and-manufactured kitchenwares.
Assistant store manager Chad Olson is the kitchenwares manager, and in his two and a half years at the helm, he has deepened and broadened the lines carried at the Cambridge & Grand store. “This is the only Frattallone’s like this,” he says. “The other Frattallone’s Ace stores carry a limited line of kitchenwares, but this store is really special.
It first opened in 1904, and there were originally five different businesses in this one building. Our lawn and garden department used to be a stables; the kitchenwares department used to be a mom-and-pop grocer. One of the early owners’ daughters, Nancy, ran the cookware department for around thirty-five years; she was very passionate, very knowledgeable about it. Nancy still comes in sometimes, and she tells me, ‘This was my baby,’ and I always tell her, ‘And I’m just babysitting,’ says Olson.
Olson was the assistant manager of the cooking school at Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater, an experience that he says has played an important part in the way he approaches stocking the store’s kitchenwares. “I worked with fifty of the best chefs in the Twin Cities,” he says, “and that experience, along with my retail experience, has helped me build up our stock. I’m on good terms with the people at Cooks of Crocus Hill; we carry complementary lines, and if they don’t have something that a customer’s looking for, they send the customer to us, and vice versa.”
Much of the kitchenware’s depth of stock can be traced back directly to Nancy, who built up, for example, the canning section (Italian, UK, and American jars, glasses, and bottles), the intelligent selections of bakeware (hard-to-find Chilean tinned steel springform pans in a pleasing number of sizes), and the savvy selection of smallwares (Kuhn-Rikon carbon-steel–bladed peelers, Forschner/Victorinox Fibrox chef’s knife, Luminarc mixing and condiment bowls). Some of the sprightliest selections are Chad’s additions: colorful linens, Portuguese stoneware and glassware, the complete line of Tennessee-based Lodge Manufacturing’s cast-iron cookware, and locally-made NordicWare.
Customers have become very interested in where merchandise comes from. Many of them are particularly supportive of local products, and we now carry NordicWare’s cast-aluminum, enameled Dutch ovens. Those are a good example of what being a small store with an intense commitment to customers means: many people would come in looking for enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens but end up thinking they were too heavy—either they, or the person they were buying for, were older and not able to lift heavy pots anymore, or they had wrist or hand problems. NordicWare is a wonderful company making top-quality products in St. Louis Park, so we brought in their enameled Dutch ovens, which are made to cook like cast iron but with a fraction of the weigh.”
Unlike most retail stores, which regularly move merchandise around to the frustration of many of their customers, the Cambridge & Grand Frattallone’s approaches layout differently. “Some of our customers have shopped here for 50–60 years,” Olson says. “We want them to be able to locate a product that they may only need every five to six years without having to search for it, so we keep staples where customers expect them to be.”
As the kitchenwares department has expanded, Olson has instituted trainings for store employees so they’ll know where to find pressure-cooker gaskets, pie-pin covers, countertop meat grinders and sausage fillers, finger-mounted citrus peelers, replacement percolator knobs, and all the other arcana that keep customers’ kitchens purring. Not surprisingly, Olson remains the go-to person for customers with unusual requests or the need for advice.
Prowling the compact, well-filled, well-curated shelves of the Cambridge & Grand Frattallone’s Ace Hardware is one of the delights of cold, blustery days. It’s a Saint Paul tradition!