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Business

From storage space to The Palette Pantry

5/4/12 | By Tony Russo

SNOW HILL — The success of The Palette, the restaurant owned and run by Phil Cropper over the last three years, has been primarily the result of commitment to local, quality food. Because it is centrally located, the Green Street restaurant has established a reputation with diners in every direction, drawing people from Salisbury as well as the greater Berlin area and Pocomoke.

When he opens The Palette Pantry this week as part of the monthly Snow Hill First Friday event, Cropper will deepen the town’s retail appeal by complementing without competing with the other area area shops.

Although the town has no shortage of restaurants each has its own niche, and Cropper expects to capitalize on his niche by providing what might be best called a take-out DIY experience.

The hard work that was so critical to the restaurant’s success had to do with Cropper's commitment to making as much as was reasonable from scratch using local sources. The result was distinctive spice blends, salad dressings and rubs that defined The Palette food. The Palette Pantry will be an extension of that, offering people who enjoy their meals at the restaurant to bring some aspects of it home for later use.

“It gives us an outlet to get our products out,” Cropper said.

Moreover, it gives him an opportunity to help promote Snow Hill as a culinary destination and, with any luck, help drive traffic and revitalization to the Downtown area.

The idea for a gourmet shop was born of the small number of active storefronts along Green Street. Cropper has had the shop as the restaurant’s office and pantry since it opened. Recently he decided that making The Palette pantry, The Palette Pantry was really just a question of organizing some of his stock more efficiently and adding other items to make the shop more appealing.

His first concern was not to compete with other gift shops and businesses in the area. Ann Coates, who owns Bishop Stock Art Gallery, already provides quality beer and wine as well as some other gourmet items and there are gift shops around town that have much of the gift market covered. From Cropper’s perspective there was no point in duplicating effort, especially given that the idea is to eventually broaden the notion of what is available in Snow Hill.

Tied to that are the tags he’s designed to attach to each of the items for sale — “Gifts from the Kitchen, Historic Snow Hill Maryland” — that are part of branding The Palette Pantry as much as the town.

Cropper has been approached increasingly over the last few weeks as he prepared to open by people wondering if the new place will have a deli or be an alternate food destination. Although he will have pre-packaged ice cream and cheeses from Chesapeake By Farms, there will be nothing representing an additional food store. He doesn’t want to be a grocer, just a purveyor of high-end items that compliment other food.

“We decided to focus more on the gourmet line,” Cropper said.

To that end, he carries some glassware and service sets and expects to deepen that, but the better part of the shop for now focusses on the stock of his own creation. He joked that even though he wasn’t open yet he’s been have trouble keeping his infused olive oil on the shelves. When people hear that the items used to prepare their meal are available for sale, they tended to not want to wait until this weekend’s opening.

As the fall approaches, Cropper said they will begin carrying jams made from local sourced fruits. Local sourcing will remain as important to The Palette Pantry as it has been to The Palette restaurant.

Cropper combated his desire to be able to offer jams as part of his opening stock with his desire to source the ingredients locally. In the end he decided it wasn’t worth it to have fruits shipped in for the project.

In their stead, local slow perishables will be available from the pantry. Items like potatoes, onions and tomatoes that have a long shelf life will be available based on restaurant demand. Cropper envisions a chalkboard telling customers which organic local produce is available each day.

As he was putting together the items he would sell in The Palette Pantry making sure people could buy the tea blend he uses for his iced tea was a no-brainer. As with the rest of The Palette’s menu items, it draws inquires regularly. It’s odd for the iced tea to stand out in a meal so when it does it is something people want to be able to reproduce at home.

For more information about The Palette Pantry including hours and contact information visit their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-palette-Pantry.

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