Susan Dolinar’s Nibblins store is located in rural Winchester, Va., about 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley near the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is where Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania come together. The town of about 25,000 people is home to commuters who work in Washington as well as people who both live and work locally. The town sees frequent visits from tourists who stop by during their tours of nearby Civil War battlefields as well as college students from Shenandoah University and people from surrounding rural areas who prefer to shop in the smaller city as opposed to the Washington metroplex.
“We’re in sort of a rural area, so we draw people from an hour away,” says Owner Susan Dolinar.
Nibblins, located in the Rutherford Crossing shopping center, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. Started as a holiday-season cart that operated in a local shopping mall, Nibblins now has about 4,500 square feet of display space for kitchenware and specialty food products, including a candy counter that does a brisk trade in house-made fudge. (Dolinar actually makes the fudge herself in a nearby commercial kitchen.) “It’s amazing how many people like fudge,” she says.
The shop also has a 600-sq.-ft. kitchen where classes are offered for both children and adults. This summer, Nibblins is offering very successful children’s day camps, each with its own culinary theme. For June’s Italian-themed day camp, youngsters aged 8 to 12 made pizza and stromboli from scratch. “They were there with their hands in the dough, mixing the oil into the flour with their fingers,” Dolinar says. “With kids, I have them do as much as possible with their hands, while with adults I might teach them how to use the food processor.”
“Even the picky eaters ate everything they made,” adds Nibblins Marketing Director Elise Stine. “The parents sneaked in early and tried to sneak bites off the kids’ plates, and then they wanted the recipes.”
In July, the kids’ camp concentrated on American foods, while August’s kids’ camp has an international theme. Adult classes cover a wide range of topics, with titles like “Oodles of Noodles,” “The Thrill of the Grill” and “Tribute to Julia Child.”
The classes are taught by local chefs and caterers. The Thai cuisine instructor is a woman whose husband was a missionary in Thailand for 17 years. An Indian woman with a pastry degree teaches both Indian cooking and pastry. Other classes are taught by a local food blogger as well as other members of Nibblins staff. “Almost everyone who works here has some sort of culinary training,” Stine says.
Outside the class kitchen, the store sells both gourmet foods and professional cookware, including Bakers Edge, All-Clad, Le Creuset and Revol. Shun knives are particularly popular. “We actually outfit most of the chefs in the area with their knives,” Stine says.
The gourmet food items offered include products from Robert Rothschild Farm, Jelly Belly and Stonewall Kitchen. However, Nibblins also offers a number of products that are made locally, many for which Nibblins is the exclusive retailer. These products feed Virginians’ hunger for buying local, Dolinar says.
Local products include creamed honey made by the monks at Holy Cross Abbey and sold under the Monastery Honey brand, hot sauces and buffalo sauces for chicken wings concocted by local chefs, Virginia peanuts sourced from Feridies, Route 11 potato chips that are made just a few minutes down the road and jams with interesting flavors from The Essential Table. “It’s really kind of fun; we’re the first retailer to carry it,” Dolinar says of The Essential Table jams. “Virginia’s big on buying local.”