Some of Keith Alesse’s earliest memories involve the C Shop, the Birch bay landmark that has been in his family since he was three years old.
Now 42, Keith Alesse and his wife Saara Kuure are set to take over the store from Keith’s parents, Pat and Patricia Alesse, who have owned and operated the C Shop since 1971. The couple celebrated 39 years of ownership on June 26.
This past winter found Keith aiding in a remodeling of the bathroom. The floor needed replacement after a small leak had eventually caused the entire floor to become structurally unsound.
The remodel took a great deal of work, but resulted in a much roomier and spacious bathroom, Keith said.
To Keith, doing whatever needs done around the C Shop is just part of the job.
Keith and Kuure made the decision to eventually run the business last August. The economic recession caused work in their respective fields to all but dry up.
Keith holds a degree from Western Washington University in plastics engineering and previously ran a business that custom built racing kayaks.
Kuure worked as a civil engineering director until construction in the area slowed down.
Despite a focus on baking and candy making, both Keith and Kuure have found outlets for their previous work at the C Shop. Kuure’s planning and engineering background helped in rearranging the layout of the café and candy shop to make the ice cream more accessible.
Keith’s way with all things mechanical makes sure the C Shop’s oldest machinery, including a brick oven from 1916, keeps running.
“You should see him with the equipment,” Pat said.
Keith and Kuure said they do not plan to make major changes to the C Shop. Already, according to Patricia, since Keith and Kuure have gotten involved the store has had more consistent hours and availability of baked goods.
Patricia said having Kuure around means the shop does not have to wait until their regular baker comes every other day to make more baked items, such as the popular cinnamon rolls.
In addition to helping out with baking, Kuure said she will try to make more locally sourced and organic foods available.
As a small business, she said it is important to support other small businesses.
“Monsanto doesn’t need us,” Pat said.
Quality ingredients that go into great food have been the C Shop’s focus since the Alesses opened in 1971, Patricia said. While manual labor was not uncommon, Keith said he mainly helped make candy all through middle and high school.
He said he grew particularly fond of making caramel and talking to people through the window next to the stove.
“It was relatively empowering to do something adults found impressive,” Keith said.
Keith said he switched to candy-making after a brief and tortuous stint at the cash register. He said he needed a change from dealing with math all day, especially the Canadian dollar exchange rate.
“I said, ‘Mom, can you teach me how to make candy so I don’t have to deal with money anymore?’” Keith joked.
No matter who runs it, the Alesses agreed their loyal customers are just glad the C Shop is going to stick around for the foreseeable future.
Pat said there is no truth to rumors that he and Patricia will be selling the building to make way for more condominiums.
Patricia said one of her favorite parts about working at the C Shop is sitting in the second story office with the windows open and dealing with the shop’s accounting books. She said she loves to hear people walk by and say what an amazing piece of candy they just had.
“We have 39 years’ worth of friends, some whose names we know, some we don’t,” she said.
The wealth of returning customers is one of the reasons Kuure is glad she is taking over the business. She said most of the C Shop’s regulars are grateful ownership of the shop will stay in the family.
“The community really owns the C Shop that way,” Kuure said.Why A Whale?
Some people see it right away; others need it explained to them. No matter who sees it, the red and white whale on the C Shop’s storefront means one thing to most everyone in the area: homemade candy and treats crafted with love by two staples of the Birch Bay community.
Patricia Alesse, who owns the shop with her husband Pat, said they liked the idea of “The C Shop” as a name because of all the good things they made that started with C, such as candy and caramel corn. Once they decided on a name, Patricia said they needed a clever drawing.
The Alesses tried numerous ways to write “The C Shop,” but nothing seemed quite right. Then one night, Patricia said she was watching Pat drawing a C with an S in the middle, and the outline of a whale began to appear. At once they both saw their new logo.
“We both knew instantly this is the kind of clever thing we wanted for the shop,” she said.
One year after the whale was added to the store, Patricia said they came up with the shop’s slogan “A whale of a place to go” to help people make the connection. To this day, some customers still need the aquatic mammal hiding in plain sight pointed out to them.
“In hindsight, it would have been nice to have a name that tells [customers] what the shop is, but this one tells them nothing,” Patricia laughed.