September 18, 1995 in Nation/World

Hallett Farms Specialty Market Stays A Step Ahead Of Trends To Give Customers Rare Products

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Tom and Cindy Hallett have a knack for having their spoons in the right pot at the right time.

Hallett Farms Market & Cafe was one of the first places in the Spokane Valley where a coffee maven could order an espresso. Now, it’s a place microbrew buffs can choose from 135 different beers and Cajun cooks can spice up their cuisine.

The Hallett’s recipe for success is spotting burgeoning food trends while avoiding food fads. And to make gourmet go in Spokane, they say, one pot isn’t enough. They always keep several on the burner at once.

“I think it would be really hard in Spokane or the Spokane Valley to just focus on one thing,” Cindy said.

Hallett Farms definitely opts for diversity. The store at 14109 E. Sprague stocks just about everything. From staples like gourmet coffee to trendy eats like wine-flavored pasta, the Halletts have to constantly balance hipness with marketability.

“Food is as trendy as interior decorating…it’s amazing,” Cindy said. “But things come and go.”

The Halletts go to the International Fancy Food show every year to see what’s hot. Then they have to decide what will actually sell in Spokane. Long before espresso became the rage, they decided high-octane java could catch on.

“They’ve bought from us for about 10 or 11 years,” said Linda Bray, manager of 4 Seasons Coffee Roasting, the first of the Spokane coffee roasters. “(But) espresso didn’t really get big here until five years ago.”

More recently, the Halletts declined to board the sushi boat. It was popular in Seattle, but they didn’t think it would do as well here. They decided the opposite was true of Cajun food and spices, which have since become a big seller for them.

Carrying other items, like Northwest wines, might not seem like much of a gamble at first. Those seemingly safe bets have their own inherent problems, though. If a trend gets too big, grocery stores pick up on it, and the Halletts have to find even rarer, finer varieties to keep customers happy.

Hallett Farms must be doing something right, because amid the aromatic store aisles and small cafe tables are people who consistently seek out culinary gems there.

“I think it’s pretty unique,” said Linda Smith, a regular who stops by the store each day.

“The foods are different, there’s a lot of stuff you can’t find in regular stores.” She pointed to a plastic bagful of colorful legumes. “Like these Cajun beans. These are the best beans I’ve ever had.”

For customers who are skeptical of a new salad dressing or dark-as-motor-oil beer, the Halletts use their deli cafe and catering service as vehicles of introduction.

“We sell what we serve, that’s become a big thing,” Cindy said. “The store and the deli help each other.”

The Halletts didn’t always have such a system. The business had to go through a few incarnations first.

Hallett Farms started in the 1970s as just that - a farm. Tom and brother Joel raised fruit, but needed extra income during winters.

They started making peanut brittle and other candy. That became so popular, the brothers nixed the farm altogether. They opened a small deli, candy and gift basket shop in Liberty Lake in 1979.

The brothers went their separate ways in 1984. Tom and Cindy started the market and cafe on Sprague, and Joel started Hallett’s Chocolate & Treat factory on the North Side. The split was amicable, though - Hallett Farms still sells Joel’s chocolates.

The store also still sees a good turn in gift basket sales, especially during the holiday season. One of its competitors in that department, Simply Northwest, is just down the street.

De Scott, who owns that business at 11808 E. Sprague, said her store and the Halletts’ don’t have to fight it out for customers. In fact, their stock varies enough they actually refer patrons back and forth.

“We have our separate niches,” Scott said. “If I don’t have something, I’ll call Hallett’s and see if they have it. If they do, I send customers there.”

There is no such detente on the espresso front.

While Hallett Farms offered the drinks long before a latte could be had from a drive-through, gourmet coffee vendors are now everywhere.

That’s OK, Tom said. If his coffee sales ever slip, there’s more to Hallett Farms than just a caffeine buzz.

“There aren’t many places that have as many aspects to their business as we do,” he said. “We did it to be competitive - you just can’t do business on occasion (of trends) and expect to stay in business for a long time.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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