On the tenth anniversary of community culinary supply store Hill’s Kitchen (713 D St SE) owner Leah Daniels greets nearly every customer entering her store by name and with an offer of cake. Ten years feels “bigger,” she said “—maybe it’s the double digits. It feels even bigger than eleven years.”
“I can’t believe it’s been ten years,” said a customer who identified herself as Amy, as she purchased cake boxes and nonpareils. “You’ve actually been here for three administrations,” she adds, using a particularly DC way of marking time.
A long-time resident of DC, Amy had been in Chicago during the Obama campaign, and returned to discover Hill’s Kitchen open in December of 2008, just before Obama’s first inauguration. “So, when I came back, everything was better,” she said.
Daniels opened Hill’s Kitchen May 17, 2008 in the renovated row house at 713 D St SE it still occupies. She said that the vision and layout of the store hasn’t changed much in ten years. “We put a lot of thought into how we wanted to organize the store aesthetic in the beginning,” Daniels said. “I wanted it to be the aesthetic shopping experience of a Williams-Sonoma, but with practical tools like at Sur la Table.”
Care went to into every aspect of the renovation of the townhouse. In a nod to the historic nature of the Capitol Hill District and the 1884 townhouse in which the shop is located, the cabinetry in the shop reflects the different phases of the building’s construction. Cabinetry in the front of the shop, part of the original construction, has wainscoting and textured glass, whereas in the rear of the shop, denoted by the fireplace, cabinetry is modern and simple with clear glass in doors.
“These are home cabinets,” she said. “The products are grouped on the shelves in a way that feels like you’re in your own home.”
She said the product line has changed over the last ten years in a significant way: “more,” she said. “I can’t get rid of old things, but I keep adding new things.”
Daniels said the increase in product lines is driven both by customer demand and by her own interests. “They don’t stay here if customers don’t love them, but they don’t get in here if I don’t love them, too.” She points to the insulated wine tumblers lining the counter. Daniels said she selected them because she thought they were interesting, though not a product she herself needs. She ordered four different colors and sold out immediately. She’s reordered three times.
Daniels graduated in 2002 with a degree from Carleton College in Minnesota. Afterward, she spent six years as a manager at Riverby Books (417 East Capitol St SE), an experience that she says helped her determine her future entrepreneurial career. “That’s where I learned that I love retail,” she said. “I’m not sure I knew before that.”
A lifelong resident of Capitol Hill, Daniels said her parents were a tremendous impact on both her business philosophy and her business. “My parents are a big part of the store and my life,” she said. Both parents, Stephen and Maygene, have worked in the store. A photo taken by the Hill Rag on opening day shows her father sporting a Hill’s Kitchen t-shirt behind the counter.
Both parents attended the event held at Hill’s Kitchen May 17, the day of the shop’s tenth anniversary. Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson jointly announced “The Small Retailer Property Tax Credit” (SRPTC). SRPTC offers a refundable commercial property tax credit to DC businesses of up to $5,000 a year and will benefit an estimated 4,400 small retail businesses. The only criteria, Mendelson told Hill Rag, is that a business must gross less than $2.5 million.
In DC, Daniels said, “There are a lot of regulations. There are a lot of rules. There are a lot of taxes.”
“It is really a nice sign that the council, both the chair and our local council member, are trying to work to get retail to come and stay,” she continued.
At the same event, Mendelson and Allen presented Daniels with the “Hill’s Kitchen 10th Anniversary Recognition Resolution of 2018,” which declared May 17, 2018 “Hill’s Kitchen Day” in DC.
Introduced by Councilmember Allen, the bill expressed appreciation for the “bravery, expertise and tenacity of Hill’s Kitchen’s Leah Daniels,” noting that the business has survived “a major recession, the Internet, sequestration, Snowmageddon, second grade field trips and federal government shutdowns,” and is “devoted to Capitol Hill, Washington, and the Washington Nationals in equal measure.”
Daniels said she was moved by the resolution. “I was really touched,” she said the next day. “There may have been a few tears.”
She said the resolution, and the time taken by Charles Allen and the DC Council to make it were very significant. “To be recognized for what I do every day means a lot,” she said.
“I credit so much of my store to the community we are in,” she added. “We wouldn’t be here without such strong community support.”