Bringing Vodka and Vinegar To The Valley

KimWeiss

Kim Weiss, owner of vomFASS in Jackson Hole and Sedona, speaks candidly with Jackson Hole News & Guide about running the unique local business.

By Emma Breysse

Whoever said you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar never patronized Kim and Gary Weiss.

The Weisses opened vomFASS on Broadway across from Town Square in 2010, selling a wide range of oils, vinegars, spices and alcoholic beverages in refillable bottles. The store also offers classes intended to provide an evening of fun and to show customers how to use its ingredients.

Four years later the Wilson couple run three of the 300 vomFASS stores worldwide. Since opening, the Jackson Hole location has come to occupy the No. 12 spot in the world for vomFASS stores.

For Kim Weiss that’s a long way from her roots as a lawyer, first in Beverly Hills and then in Jackson Hole. If the shift was a shock, Weiss has yet to regret it, though the summer’s townwide hiring woes do have her a little concerned.

Weiss took time out from helping visitors and locals test their taste buds this week to sit down with the Jackson Hole News&Guide and discuss life as a small-business owner and the niche she and her husband try to fill in the Jackson Hole community.

Q: Is this your first foray into running a Jackson business?

A: I was a practicing lawyer here for a couple years, and I had my own law office, so if that counts as a business, then no. If it doesn’t count, then yes.

Q: That seems like quite a shift from law to vomFASS. What made you decide to go into the vinegar business?

A: I had been practicing [law] in Beverly Hills for 18, 19 years when I moved here in 2007, and it was a shock to practice here. A few other things were kind of jarring to me as well. As someone who super-loves to cook, the town didn’t have a whole lot of places for what I thought of as essential ingredients at the time. We happened to be in Europe on a vacation, and I ran across one of these stores in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It had this strange name and it’s got all these barrels inside, so I thought, “OK, we have to go check that out,” and I was hooked. I loved it. I bought a few things, took them home, lied on the Immigration form. I said I didn’t have any food.

When I started to run out of the product, I got kind of desperate. I went online, and I tried to order it from Europe, and they wouldn’t ship it to me. I found a U.S. store in Madison, Wisconsin, and I ordered it from them, and they had this little box that said if you’re interested in franchises check this box. I kind of thought I would never do it, but I clicked the box and the guy called back, and I think it took me three weeks to return his phone call because I was busy with other things. Here we are, four years later.

Q: It sounds like you’ve been doing well since then. What are some things you’re excited about?

A: It was our four-year anniversary last month, and we opened a second store in Sedona, Arizona, last May. We’re opening a new store inside the new Jackson Whole Grocer, which will be very small — it’s more like a kiosk really, with our bestselling oils and vinegars and spices. And we’ve just signed leases to open another store in the Venetian in Las Vegas, right next to Tao, and that will be March of next year. We’ll also be in the farmers market in Jackson this year.

Q: What are some of the challenges of running a business in Jackson Hole you maybe weren’t expecting when you were a lawyer?
A: Well, the seasonality. I don’t think that’s uncommon. But you know that there’s ups and there’s downs. You know that summer’s the big time, the busiest time, but you don’t really have a sense for how dramatic the swing is until you’re actually doing it.
Or trying to find employees, because obviously that’s a huge challenge this summer, and the first time we’ve had this much difficulty. I’ve heard that from other business as well.

Q:What are the major differences you’ve noticed between practicing law in Jackson and running vomFASS?

A: Actually I have found, being a business owner here, I feel very welcomed. I feel much more a part of the community. As a lawyer, you know, you’re pretty isolated. You’re talking to your clients, court officers and opposing counsel. As a business owner here I’m talking frequently with my neighbors and the other merchants on the square. We are talking about things like “How’s business?” or “How’s your traffic levels?” And people are pretty supportive, and we’re talking about the issues. It’s a pretty supportive community.

Q: How do you see your store fitting into the Jackson community? What kind of role do you try to fill?

A: I think that what vomFASS offers is a really fun place to go either on a date night or when you have people come in to town. It’s just a fun thing to do. It’s an experience; it’s not a shopping trip. We hope shopping is part of what people will end up doing here, obviously, and clearly they are and we’re very grateful for that. But we think of it primarily as an experience. And it’s a fun place to go. It’s a fun thing to do. We’re a small community, so if you open up a business that directly competes with something that’s already there then you’re trying to build the better mousetrap. By opening a business in what you perceive to be a hole, you hope that other people will perceive that as well and that other people will value what you’re contributing, and that is what’s ended up happening.

Q: As one of the businesses that’s open all offseason, what drove that decision?

A: We are closed two days a year — Thanksgiving and Christmas — and that is it. We used to close New Year’s Day, but then we had people come and say, ‘We’re here, we want you to be here.’ Actually my franchise agreement requires me to be open. And I generally, when the Snake River Grill is closed, we will shorten our hours to from 10 to 6, where usually we’re 10 to 8. But if you’re going to be a place where people think of you as a fun place to go … you pretty much have to be open all year round, in my thought process. So even if we weren’t required to be open, we would still be open. The only concession we make to the offseason is shortening our hours.

Q: What do you do to keep interest up during the offseason months?

A: We try and do more Scotch classes. We offer those once a month in the offseason, not at all in the high seasons. We hope that people are going to redeem their private party gift certificates. That’s a great time to do that is in the offseason.

Q: What’s your top-seller here in Jackson?

A: Sour cherry vodka! It’s actually 8 percent of our total sales, which, if you look at it, that’s a lot of sour cherry vodka. We also sell a lot of calamanzi vinegar — more than any other store in the entire vomFASS system, actually.

Jackson News & Guide
http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/news/business/biz_quiz/bringing-vodka-and-vinegar-to-the-valley/article_8d187dff-0192-5fe9-81e5-de7a6a8799ac.html

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