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Connecting in the Kitchen

Story by Julianne Winkler Smith
Photos by Ginny Williams Photography

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Like many Cary residents, Dan and Diana Saklad chose
to relocate here because it’s touted as one of the best places to live, and they wanted to establish roots after moving frequently throughout their marriage. But unlike most transplants, they arrived 13 years ago with no jobs awaiting them—and a nebulous entrepreneurial dream seeded in their hearts.

Dan had been in advertising, steadily ascending the corporate ladder and the pay scale. Unfortunately, the higher he rose, the less happy he became. When they landed in Cary, Dan changed his career trajectory and opened a franchise. Diana chose to stay home with their two children and focus on cultivating their Cary roots.  

“We knew we eventually wanted to run our own business,” Dan explains, “so a franchise was a good intermediary move for us.” But, Diana adds, “We were still ‘working for the man’ and knew this was just a stepping stone to our ultimate goal.”

Over the next several years, they kept dreaming … and talking … and shaping their vision. “We’ve done a lot of global traveling,” Dan says, “and we always ended up in a kitchen store, so we felt this ‘ah-ha’ moment about what we could do.” And, according to Diana, “Cooking together has been a passion of ours since we first met, serving as a stress reliever for us through the many seasons of life. It brings us a sense of peace and allows us to be creative.”

With their idea for a kitchen/cooking business solidifying and their kids almost ready to leave the nest, they knew the time was right to launch their unique, local venture. In September 2013, the doors of Whisk opened—and, as envisioned, it was no typical kitchen store.

“We were very careful to investigate the marketplace to find the gaps we could potentially fill,” Diana explains, and Dan adds, “We knew we couldn’t just do a kitchen store—that’s just products and anyone can do that. We wanted to create a true experience.” They looked around at the big-name companies in this niche business
and intentionally worked to differentiate their brand and, simply, do it better.  

The Saklads had two primary goals for Whisk: They wanted to be an integral part of the community they love and bring together people with a common passion, creating a culture within the community that they could nurture and expand. They purposed to establish a place where people with no other commonality would have a reason to come together and form a bond.

“More than a kitchen store, we wanted to be a destination,” Dan says, “so we had cooking classes from the beginning.” In fact, they opened the doors with 25 cooking classes scheduled for the first month. By month two, every slot was filled. Diana adds, “We thought we’d have a kitchen store with cooking classes, but we are actually a cooking school with a kitchen store.”

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“Food is the great equalizer,” asserts Dan. “Food and cooking have been bringing people together for thousands of years. And it still does.” He talks about how customers and staff engage in daily conversations that might initiate on the topic of pot roast but that soon morph into heart-to-heart revelations of childhood memories, instantly connecting individuals who otherwise might never have spoken. “Despite where you’re from or how much money you make,” Dan continues, “we can all come together over the joyful experience of food.”

Since Whisk opened its doors, the successes keep stacking up—evidenced not only by the awards they’ve received, like the Global Innovator Award from the International Housewares Association, but also by the breadth and depth of community they have created.

“The recognition we’ve gotten for our innovative approach to creating this food experience has been amazing,” Dan says, “but that’s not what keeps our passion ignited. It’s our customers … our community.” This truth is evidenced by the numerous letters the Saklads receive sharing stories about how the Whisk community has changed lives. “This place often provides a haven, a reprieve for those whose lives are in a dark place,” Diana adds. “We support and encourage each other, and the impact is incredible.”  

Is Whisk a kitchen store? Yes. Is it a cooking school with hands-on learning meant to instruct and embolden the chef in all of us? You bet. But more than that, Whisk is a destination on life’s journey—an experience that inspires joy, passion, and connection.

Visit whiskcarolina.com to learn more.