We’ve never met another person who loves aioli and mayo more than Alyce Morris, our Director of Retail Operations. She proudly proclaims that she is on “Team Aioli” and might have been the happiest person in the building when our Farmhouse Mayo was released last January. As one of our biggest cheerleaders, Alyce oversees our Retail Division, which includes 10 retail stores along the East Coast, a Cafe and a Cooking School and has spent the past 16 years with us ensuring that our guests have the best experience possible when they visit one of our locations. When she isn’t visiting one of our stores, you can find her jammin’ to tunes in her office.
Alyce has seen our company grow tremendously since first joining our family, right down to sharing the York Store stockroom with our production “facility” at the time. She shared with us some of her past memories and explains how important our retail store experience is for our guests.
Q: What was your first role with the company?
A: When I started working at Stonewall Kitchen, I was the General Manager of the York Store which was a tiny (and wonderful) hole in the wall just down the road from our present day location. Our back room shared the same space as production and some nights I would go home smelling like garlic or whatever was going into the jars or bottles that day.
Q: Why did you choose to work for Stonewall Kitchen?
A: Although I was living in Portsmouth when Stonewall Kitchen was founded, I wasn’t familiar with the company at all. In fact, when I moved to South Carolina in the mid-90’s, the only retail I could imagine for me was in clothing where I had already spent many years working for The Limited. I was happy when they transferred me south, but then J.Crew lured me away from them and in December 1999, I happily returned to Portsmouth to “settle down.” I wanted to transfer with J.Crew, but they didn’t have a management position open in Kittery, so I went to work at Esprit. After 2 months, I wasn’t happy with my choice and my mom saw an ad in the paper for the Stonewall Kitchen Company Store in Portsmouth and suggested I apply. When I asked her what Stonewall Kitchen was, she simply replied “when you love someone, you give them Stonewall Kitchen.” Imagine my happiness and joy when I showed up to that interview and realized it was food I’d be selling, not kitchen cabinets!
Q: As the Director of Retail Operations, you’ve opened several stores in your time. What’s your favorite part about opening a new location?
A: I have opened a few Company Stores in my time – Chestnut Hill (now closed), our expanded Flagship Store/York, North Conway, South Windsor, Avon (now closed), Rochester, Cooking School, National Harbor, Nashua, Newburyport and the Cafe. I love building a brand new team (usually from scratch) and collaborating with all the different teams that are critical to a store opening going smoothly. The planning begins so far out and there are a lot of moving parts. I’ve been in open fields with Natalie (our Executive Vice President) that would eventually become malls, on construction sites wearing hard hats, in wonderful old buildings with basement ceilings so low I couldn’t stand up straight and not so wonderful buildings, all trying to find the perfect fit for Stonewall Kitchen. The real fun happens during the store set up when you put a bunch of crazy people together (who might not know each other so well) with a tight timeline in place, not enough sleep and lots of stress on hand. I’ve wet my pants on several occasions from laughing so hard! That is a good measure of a successful store opening, in my mind! Somehow it all comes together – lots of hard work and hard play and at the end, you couldn’t feel more proud.
Q: How do you pick a favorite product when you have seen so many come and go over the years?
A: I am on Team Aioli right now. Aiolis on EVERYTHING because mayo makes the world go around, just like cheese does. For Thanksgiving, I always make the pumpkin soup with our Maple Pumpkin Butter and we have to have our Farmhouse Pancake & Waffle Mix on hand at all times. It would be a crime to run out of that at my house. The kids have grown up on that and nothing else will do for a weekend morning breakfast or weekday night dinner – it has to be Stonewall Kitchen pancakes or none at all! And of course, everyone has their favorite jam on hand. My favorite is the Black Raspberry!
Q: Visiting a Company Store is such a unique experience for our guests. What is your biggest piece of advice to new store managers when you hire them?
A: Stonewall Kitchen retail is not your typical high pressure retail. The product truly sells itself. We want the stores to be fun for our guests and the only way for that to happen is for the store staff to have fun. If we’re not having fun, we’re doing something wrong. Offer to open anything and everything for our guest to taste! We are lucky that we can do that and sampling is a huge part of making the guest experience nothing but positive.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time away from Stonewall Kitchen?
A: I am a couch potato in the winter and spend summer free time next to our pool or in it. I grew up on Seabrook Beach and water is a necessity in my life for summer fun. And tunes – gotta have music to accompany whatever I am doing in my free time (preferably 70’s songs – lots of Earth Wind & Fire, KC & The Sunshine Band, the Bee Gees, etc.)!
Q: Can you tell me an interesting fact about yourself that someone might not otherwise know about you?
A: For a girl who doesn’t get out much (or own a pair of sneakers), I’ve hurt myself a lot over the years. I have broken my nose twice, have had several concussions and a case of whiplash or four. I sprained my ankle BAD playing tennis, and even fractured my left elbow during a new store set up and didn’t find out until several days later. I’ve broken the middle finger on my right hand by hitting the bottom of a swimming pool when I dove in and I’ve been on the back of an ATV and got my right leg pulled under the back tire so that my whole body followed. I have an incredibly high tolerance for pain and will avoid a trip to the doctor/ER even with broken bones. My poor mom has always had to worry about me and continues to do so! When she asks who is traveling with me for a store visit, she is hoping they are responsible enough to keep me out of trouble. That is a lot of pressure (as Sharona* knows)!