With about 70 stores nationwide, Sur La Table is the second-largest specialty cookware retailer in the U.S., after Williams-Sonoma, which has about 250 stores. Both companies have strengths and weaknesses, but one recent development will level the playing field somewhat: Sur La Table will follow Williams-Sonoma’s lead and begin selling its first-ever series of branded books this spring. Andrews McMeel bought the rights at auction and plans three books in 2008 and four in 2009.

The books, all jacketed hardcovers with lay-flat bindings, will be sold in all Sur La Table stores as well as in bookstores, warehouse clubs and grocery stores (though they won’t be sold at Williams-Sonoma). Kirsty Melville, executive v-p and publisher of Andrews McMeel, said she had been looking to expand the company’s cookbook publishing program since she arrived two years ago from Ten Speed Press. “The underlying theme to all of the books will appeal to cooks who have a passion for cooking. Sur La Table is known as a place that is a trusted authority in the culinary world. We’re trying to build on that [reputation].”

The first book in the series is Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes by Marie Simmons, pubbing in April with a 125,000-copy first printing. It gives detailed descriptions of the items on the shelves in a typical Sur La Table store—roasting pans, cast-iron skillets, fondue pots, etc.—along with recipes that use the items. For each book in the series, the writer collaborates with editors from Sur La Table and Andrews McMeel.

Other books in the series include The Art and Soul of Baking (Oct.) and Knives Cooks Love (Nov.), plus four as-yet-untitled books in 2009. Despite the obvious connection between the books and cooking utensils, Melville said so far there are no plans to sell the two together. However, she said Sur La Table will promote Things Cooks Love next to some of the equipment used in the book.

Sur La Table sells cookbooks from a variety of publishers at its stores and will continue to do so, as it makes room for its own books on the shelves.