Stonewall Kitchen, the York-based specialty food brand, is closing its cooking school at the end of December after 13 years, citing the pandemic, and plans to open its first Stonewall Home store into the same space in the spring.

Jacob Ouellette, spokesman for Stonewall, said in an email Thursday night that the decision to close the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School was based on numerous factors, including that guests have dramatically changed their desire for in-person cooking classes “and the online environment through our virtual cooking classes hasn’t resonated with our consumer base. The good news is there is a future for the current space where the cooking school currently operates, with a Stonewall Home store to open in its place.”

Stonewall Kitchen explained its decision in a company-wide statement to its employees.

“We have loved every minute of our renowned cooking school, with our stunningly talented staff and welcoming hundreds of guest chefs from around the world to create special experiences for thousands of our guests,” the announcement said. “While all our other retail stores have come back from their COVID closures, the Cooking School unfortunately never did … it appears that our guests have changed the way in which they dine out, possibly for good.”

Ouellette said the company is trying to place the existing team members into the many available positions throughout the company.

Over its lifespan, the cooking school offered a wide range of demonstration classes in a kitchen that occasional culinary teacher Mindy Fox described as “a really terrific setup, an incredible high-tech, great setup with a beautifully laid-out classroom situation.”

Before the pandemic, the school offered classes year-round, often twice a day, for some 30 to 40 students each. There are still classes scheduled through the end of the year, many of them sold out.

The subjects of the classes have ranged widely, and encompassed beer and wine tastings, cookbook signings, celebrity chefs, cuisines from Asia to Italy, and lots of lobster. Fox, a cookbook writer who lives in Portland, remembered when she was planning classes being told that “lobster always sells out.” Each class, which typically cost $55 to $85, has included a meal made from the recipes that the day’s teacher was demonstrating.

Students have come from Maine, as well as around the United States and the world, according to several teachers, often taking a day of their visit to Maine to spend an afternoon at the Stonewall Kitchen campus taking a class, shopping at the Stonewall store, and enjoying the beautiful plantings.

Vanessa Seder, a cookbook author and Portland resident, began teaching at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School when she was pregnant with her daughter some 10 years ago, “and they were just so sweet, and they threw me a shower for the baby. It really felt like a family for a while.” Earlier this month, she taught a class on Modern Thanksgiving. She learned Wednesday that the school was closing its doors.

Stonewall Kitchen was founded in 1991 by partners Jonathan King, a talented gardener, and Jim Stott, an amateur cook who had a knack for turning King’s harvest into delectable jams and jellies. They began in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, selling at a farmers market but after they won a coveted award at the prestigious Fancy Food Show in New York City several years later, the company got a lot of press and grew by leaps and bounds, eventually reaching national markets. In 2019, a Boston investment firm bought Stonewall Kitchen.

“While the closing of the school certainly feels like an end of an era, Stonewall Kitchen is excited to announce that we will open our first Stonewall Home store in the spring of 2022,” the company said in its statement to employees. “Inspired by some of our more recent acquisitions and successful entrance into home goods, our new store will offer a wide variety of specialty home décor and products.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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