In the days before cooking shows proliferated on TV, enticing everyone to explore the culinary arts, Sam Eppley opened Sparrow Hawk Cookware in downtown Colorado Springs.
The independent store, which opened in 1979, started as a gift shop but quickly shifted its focus to cookware when Eppley realized those items were his best sellers.
Over the years, he has meticulously curated cooking, baking, dining and entertaining products, based on the needs and requests of a loyal customer base. He also saw the need for high quality gourmet kitchen items in Colorado Springs.
At the family-owned and -operated business, Eppley’s brother, Allen, is at the store with him daily and his wife, Christine, is often present.
Eppley credits Sparrow Hawk’s staff with helping make the store what it is today. Depending on the time of year, there are anywhere from six to a dozen people on staff. Eppley’s brother has been with him at the store since the beginning. His other staff members range from five to 25 years in service.
Even through the COVID-19 upheaval in 2020, Eppley said Sparrow Hawk was able to retain its staff throughout. Consistency over the years has helped the team develop a deep knowledge of the products, which they can then pass on to customers, Eppley said.
“We have by far the largest selection of kitchen items in the state, as well as a staff that is incredibly knowledgeable,” Eppley said. “So when you come here, you have both selection and service.”
Eppley spoke with the Business Journal about his career, Sparrow Hawk, and the flood of people turning to cooking during the pandemic.
Tell us about yourself and your professional background.
I was not born in Colorado Springs, but I was raised in Colorado Springs. I went to Colorado College for my undergraduate and I have an MBA from UCCS. I started the business 42 years ago after I graduated from UCCS.
Talk about starting Sparrow Hawk Cookware.
At that point in time, it was probably a little more of a gift store than just a kitchen store, but within a few months I could tell that the kitchen items were the things that people wanted the most. So we devoted the most space to our gourmet food and gourmet cookware.
What need did you see in the community when you opened the store?
I wanted to be downtown and I just felt there was a niche there where people actually at that time were experiencing
an interest in better quality cooking things for the home. Not just utilitarian — they were trying to get into some different types of cooking. Cooking as a hobby, not just cooking to eat. So I started doing it that way and it just has grown since.
How has the business evolved over the years?
We’ve obviously grown in size. We’ve always been downtown, but we started in a smaller location. Now we have 8,000 square feet between the store and the warehouse.
What do you sell and what’s most popular?
We sell everything for preparing food at home and entertaining with food at home. So anything as far as cookware, knives, the utensils that you need to serve that, the plates, the stemware, glasses, all of that.
Right now, breadmaking is really popular, so anything having to do with that. Pizza and pasta are both very popular, so pasta makers are very big right now. Any of the wine glasses and wine accessories are really popular. Cutlery is really popular — all the knives because everybody’s cooking at home. And then all of the better quality pots and pans. That includes brands like Woll, [Zwilling J. A.] Henckels and Le Creuset. Those are all really popular.
Why are breadmaking and pasta popular now?
Well, I think it started with the beginning of the lockdown and the pandemic when people were having trouble both getting out and getting those products. They were sold off the store shelves, so people started learning to make them themselves. But they found out that they could really make a higher quality product than they were buying in the store, and it’s also a fun thing to do and it’s easy to do. So that’s kind of stuck with people, I think. They’ve really stayed with that.
What types of food do you enjoy cooking yourself?
I love grilling — mostly steaks and hamburgers — and I love pasta and I also love cooking chicken and roasting chicken. With the pasta, sometimes I make my own and sometimes I buy it at the store — it just depends on how much time I have when I get off work.
What are some of your other hobbies?
My wife and I love to travel. Our last trip before COVID was to Italy, which has wonderful food. We’ve also enjoyed traveling to London and Paris. We also really enjoyed India, which also has wonderful food.
Do you ever get new food-related ideas from your travels that you then try to bring to Colorado Springs by offering new supplies in the store?
Absolutely — we get new ideas all the time from traveling. And then with the equipment to do it, what usually happens is when I get back, I start talking to my manufacturers and my reps and see what specific equipment they have that I can offer in the store.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
Definitely during the initial shutdown, we were only able to do our online and ultimately curb service, so that was difficult because you couldn’t have as many customers. And it’s definitely impacted us not to have as many office workers downtown or as many tourists. But on the positive side, people still have to eat and so they are looking to our products to do a better job of that at home and to have more fun with that at home. So that part’s been a positive.
What do you enjoy most about the business?
I really like working with the people and seeing how they get excited about learning new cooking techniques and going into different areas of cooking that they haven’t explored before and how really it’s quite easy to do — they just need a little
coaching on it.