Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

Shackford’s is hosting free cooking demonstrations today, featuring fondue and raclette cooking.

Executive Chefs Alex Espinoza, formerly the chef at Peju Winery and now on staff at Shackford’s, as well as Chef Patrick Merkley, will conduct the demonstrations.

The demos are one of the changes that Merkley, who has co-owned the store with his wife, Alix, for six months now, are introducing.

Merkley commented that he didn’t make any changes without first consulting previous owner John Shackford.

“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Shackford who with his family built a hugely successful business,” said Merkley.

“I ran all the ideas I had past him, and he approved of everything, from the cooking demos to some of the new vendors we have introduced.”

Shackford is still in the store several times a week, and likes what is happening there. The look and feel of the store have not changed – when long-time customers walk in, they’ll absolutely know they are in Shackford’s.

Merkley said the sale of the store was years in the making.

“My wife reminded me that years ago I said that owning Shackford’s would be a cool retirement job,” said Merkley.

It was an idle comment until six or seven years ago, when he casually mentioned to Shackford that he might be interested in buying the business. That began a long, slow conversation between the two men.

“Over the years, we spent about 30 minutes talking about price, and the rest about the kitchen store itself,” said Merkley.

“Mr. Shackford was very clear that he wasn’t going to sell to anybody who didn’t share his vision.”

In late 2017, Shackford called Merkley and said, “It’s time.”

Merkley describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. He spent his career in international banking, engaged in building brands and Business Developments.

He created a consumer product called ATMSafe, which was marketed globally. The work meant an inordinate amount of global traveling which exposed him to foods from around the world.

“When my oldest daughter started college, I was launching ATMSafe. To help with expenses I started a catering business. I’d spend two weeks on the road and then two weeks cooking.”

Shackford’s will benefit from his expertise in the kitchen.

“We’re going to build a demonstration kitchen to teach classes and test every product that comes in the store. Want to see how well a knife works? Take it in the back and try it out.”

Shackford’s is open every day except Sunday, at 1350 Main St.

Lost decade…

Alexis Handelman, owner of ABC Bakery, was recently congratulated in this column for being in business for 19 years, and for being the best at what she does. That was a mistake. Oh, she deserves the accolades, but it’s actually been 29 years. And she’s been the best throughout.

See you downtown!

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Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association and also the author of “Lies That Bind – How Do You Arrest Somebody Who Doesn’t Exist?” Reach him at 257-0322 or craig@donapa.com.