At Woodstock Kitchens, the end of an era opens door for Ben Olsen

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Diane Tardif, who owned Woodstock Kitchens for 32 years, poses with new owner Ben Olsen, to whom she sold the Essex Jct. business last year. (Photo by Cindy Chittenden)

Just past the railroad tracks sits Woodstock Kitchens, where Ben Olsen tours the showroom, weaving between cast-iron ovens and dovetailed vanities.

A self-proclaimed kitchen junkie, Olsen hit it off with owner Diane Tardif three years ago when he stopped by to check out possible bucket-list additions. Then, last year, he entered the Park Street spot to find Tardif breaking down the kitchens that decorate the in-home design consulting business.

So, after learning she planned to close her shop she’d owned for 32 years, Olsen popped the question: Would she be interested in selling?

Tardif laughs when recalling the scene. “His exact words were, ‘Would you give me the weekend? I got to go home and talk to my wife about this. I have always wanted to own my own business.’”

Olsen’s journey to self-employment was borne from watching his father’s dental practice, who’s services spawned a decade long waiting list.  By 10, he had learned how to make custom art pieces out of wood — his first taste of design — and he worked in construction throughout high school, building barns and houses.

He enrolled at Rochester Institute of Technology to pursue a bachelor’s in Digital Design before transferring to Champlain College halfway through. There, he studied graphic design and digital media, and he finished his degree in communications from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and went on to earn an MBA in management.

Tardif, who will continue to work with Woodstock Kitchen and mentor Olsen through next year, said she knew he would be the one to carry on the tradition.

“This is my baby and to pass it off, it has to go to the right person,” she said, admitting two others had inquired about purchasing the company before Olsen. “Ben is a good person and he is good to his people. You want someone that will go 120 percent for you, and this guy will do it. I know he will do that with clients.”

Woodstock Kitchen provides consultations for kitchen and bath remodels, servicing the state with current projects are in the Champlain Islands, Middlebury and Essex. The company prides itself on forming relationships with each client, which builds trust in the decision-making process, Olsen said.

Clients range from those overwhelmed with the task of a remodel to those with a clear vision. Though other local businesses sell cabinetry, competition doesn’t seem to concern the

32-year-old business owner, who bought Woodstock with the blessing of his wife, Nakysha, a part-time nurse.

“I tend to focus on the Steven Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’ mentality that says if you focus on abundance, there is enough to share,” Olsen said.

Olsen plans to build his roots in Essex., starting by offering a military discount to veterans and active service members.

“I really like Essex,” Olsen says. “It’s awesome to be in the city center and be able to take my old bike and pick up lunch from 10 different places. All this community happening around here is obviously a place where people call home.”