A bookstore dedicated to cookbooks, Read It and Eat, is scheduled to open its doors in Chicago’s upscale Lincoln Park neighborhood in April.
Esther Dairiam, a native of Malaysia who moved to the U.S. in 2001 and has lived in Chicago since 2011, told PW during a telephone interview that Read It and Eat will provide customers “with culinary-related experiences through carefully selected local and imported food-themed books, events and demonstrations.”
Approximately 1,000 square feet of the 1,950 square-foot space, in what was previously an ice cream shop on North Halsted Street, will contain cookbooks, food histories, food science, travel books, novels with culinary themes, and reference books about food and cuisine; 500 square feet will be dedicated to a kitchen and prep area, in which signings, demonstrations, tastings, hosted meals and food related discussions, as well as cooking lessons will be held; the rest of the space will be used for storage.
“Even though there will be plenty of events and demos,” Dairiam said. “It still very much will be about the book.”
Dairiam, a management consultant for a large corporation who has no previous bookselling experience, explained that she was inspired to open a bookstore that specialized in cookbooks during a 2012 culinary tour of France led by Madelaine Bullwinkel, who is the chef at the Alliance Francaise in Chicago.
“We visited a bookstore, La Librairie Gourmande, in Paris. It has only food-related books; as a person who loves cookbooks, I thought it was a great idea,” she said. Since that tour, Dairiam said, she has been “refining the concept.” She also attended a Paz & Associates workshop for prospective booksellers in 2013. She currently is in the process of hiring staff, including a store manager and a bookseller, as well as an events manager.
Despite the risks in opening an independent bookstore, and opening one in Chicago’s famously competitive market, Dairiam is confident that she will successfully fill a niche. “I know that independents are becoming more prevalent these days,” she said. “And especially with cookbooks, customers want to come in and look at what’s out there; they’re more hands on.”