UNIVERSITY PARK -- Maybe it was retail therapy that got to Kandy Kaak.
Whatever it was, it prompted her to call her son Scott Palmer, a Lakewood Ranch resident from Anchorage, Alaska. The call was followed by a lengthy text, a voicemail, and at least another call. Kaak's excitement was over a store called Oil & Vinegar, and she wanted to open a franchise location with her son.
"When I walked into the store, it was so beautiful and pulled me in, and I started talking with the employees and their passion and knowledge made me realize it would be great to open one here in Sarasota," said Kaak, a former tour director who worked six years for Holland America Princess Alaska.
Kaak and Palmer announced plans to open Oil & Vinegar, a 1,300-square-foot store on the second level of the Mall at University Town Center. The 880,000-square-foot mall is scheduled to open Oct. 16.
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Taubman Centers is leasing space in the $315 million regional mall off of University Parkway and Cattlemen Road, set to draw shoppers from Tampa to Fort Myers. The mall will also feature Dillard's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers and American Eagle Outfitters.
Palmer wasn't too sure about a cooking oil store, having seen several in the Sarasota area.
"On Lakewood Ranch Main Street, I've watched a mom-and-pop oil and vinegar store open, and a buddy and I walked by and I said I had no idea how that would survive and make a profit," Palmer said.
It turned out that mother knows best. The two chatted at length with the company's chief executive officer Matt Stermer and took a road trip to Palm Beach Gardens -- the only existing Florida store -- and Palmer was hooked.
The stores offer spices, pasta, ceramic ware and desserts. The main attraction is highlighted on the amphora wall, where more than 50 oils and vinegars are suspended in amphora-shaped glass against a backlit, faux stone wall.
"To me, it was a culinary gift shop -- it was no longer oil and vinegar," Palmer said.
Oil & Vinegar was founded in 1999 in Oosterhout, Netherlands, and has 16 stores in the U.S., and 70 stores in nine countries.
Palmer and Kaak have franchise rights to Central Florida and Tampa Bay, reaching up to Orange County, down through Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Hillsborough, into Manatee and Sarasota counties. The family has rights to open three locations over the next five years, with a second store to come within the second year of opening the store at the new mall.
Palmer said what makes Oil & Vinegar stand out is the parent company has sole rights to suppliers in key oil-making states to provide hard-to-find oils, whereas many independent shops use the same national distributor.
"You can tell that it's handmade," Palmer said.
Opening an Oil and Vinegar store costs $239,000 to $435,000, according to the company's franchise information. The chain also collects a 5 percent royalty from gross sales and requires stores to invest 3 percent of sales on local marketing. Palmer and Kaak are planning food and wine events throughout the year and to partner with local charities and non-profits.
Being in a regional mall at an intersection that already generates $500 million in sales made perfect sense, said Palmer, who worked in commercial real estate for CBRE in Tampa.
The shop is expected to hire eight to 10 employees, mostly part-time, and expects hiring to start in mid-summer, Kaak said.
While the two are working on a recipe for success, Kaak has also dived into her case of sample oils and vinegars for cooking.
"One of my favorite things to do is to make a cake made with vinegar--balsamic cream," she said. "It's absolutely delicious, and I never would have thought of putting vinegar in a cake. That's what's so exciting about the store."
Palmer wants to educate the non-foodies about the different vinegars and tastes. The balsamic cream vinegar has a sweet, creamy base that can be spooned out, Palmer explained, adding that education is key for customers.
"They might not be foodies at all, so the first thing is to get them tasting the product," Palmer said. "It's to get them trying some things, finding out their personality, find out what foods they like."
Customers should sample the product, Kaak added.
"When you go into our store, you can literally taste everything," she said. "If there is a jar of something and it's not on our tasting table, we will open the jar so the customer can taste it before they take it home."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.