This ‘chain of one’ gourmet market is a local treasure chestDec 14, 2020 03:43PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton
Owner Orian Collinsworth with his daughter and co-worker, Cobair. “My mom is the creative heart that keeps it going, and my dad is the brain,” Cobair said. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)
By Mimi Darley Dutton|[email protected]
Avast ye! (That’s pirate-speak for pay attention.) If you’re fool enough not to shop locally for the holidays, then shape up or prepare ye to walk the plank! Draper’s longtime gourmet market Pirate O’s has goodies and gifts galore to explore. If you’re a landlubber (inexperienced sailor) where Pirate O’s is concerned, you’re in for a bounty of booty (treasure). You’ll strike gold here!
You’ll shout, “Shiver me timbers!” when you see the assortment of sauces and sweets of all sorts, not to mention silly socks and slippers. And if Polly wants a cracker? There are oodles to choose from along with other carbs like breads, pastas, cookies and cakes, including those freshly delivered by award-winning Salt Lake bakery Cakes de Fleur.
It doesn’t have to be just holiday shopping that has you headed for Pirate O’s. They have a coffee bar and a deli that serves warm paninis and cold-cut sandwiches in addition to comfort foods to take home to help you batten down the hatches for winter survival.
Fun background music adds to the festive atmosphere of this family business. Owner Orian Collinsworth is “old salt” when it comes to the industry. He’s worked in the wholesale distributor and natural foods businesses since the 1970s. He used to sell to Trader Joe’s, admiring their concept and their nautical theme. Growing up, many people called him “O,” thus the name and nautical theme for his gourmet market were born. He opened Pirate O’s in 1997 and the store has successfully been sailing the retail seas since.
Orian’s first mate (wife) and co-owner Debbie brings beauty to the bounty. “Debbie does the gift baskets and buying. She adds a boutique element. It’s a good combination. I want to stack it and sell it and she wants to decorate it. The nice displays are a result of Debbie,” he said.
Their crew includes their two girls. Oldest daughter Kiki worked in the store through college and insisted on opening the coffee shop. She lives in California now but manages the website from afar and offers counsel as a businesswoman. Youngest daughter Cobair went to Dixie State on a golf scholarship and graduated with a degree in business. “She’s a manager and a hard worker, and she does a lot of social media posts for us,” Orian said. There are other unusually friendly “pirates” among the staff who greet you with a friendly “hello” as opposed to an “arghhh!”
The “ship” itself (the building where Pirate O’s resides) has quite a lore. According to Orian, Eugene Ballard, one of five brothers of the longtime Draper family, was released from a German POW camp in 1945. The US government had thousands of storage facilities they sold as surplus after the war, and those who’d been interred in prison camps got first right of refusal on surplus goods. The Pirate O’s building was one of them, but it was at Fort Douglas, a few miles east of Salt Lake City. Ballard bought the building, cut 9 feet off the height and cut the whole building in half to move it to Draper, right to where it sits today. From 1946-1972, Ballard operated Ballard Feed and Egg there. Orian worked in the building for a natural food company in the 1970s, before it had air conditioning or heat. He eventually bought it and began his business. The Pirate O’s website says, “We may not look like much on the outside, but hey, it’s the inside that counts.”
Orian has witnessed a recent change in customers. “People used to come in for that one thing…such as Mexican vanilla, pickled beets or Vegemite, whatever that one thing is that they can’t find anywhere else. In January, I noticed it wasn’t that one thing anymore. They’d grab a basket and start shopping. All of a sudden, they’re finding enough things to buy and keep them going through the aisles! We’re not a center of the plate store, such as buying meat at Harmon’s. We’re more accoutrements to that type of dinner as well as snacks and treats for the kids,” he said.
In addition to bringing in special products from Europe, Pirate O’s has helped Utah businesses by putting their products on the store’s shelves. “We’ve started with a lot of Utah companies. We’re friendly with people trying to get their product in. Our greatest claim to fame is we’re the very first customer of Beehive Cheese. Now that’s a national company selling all over the U.S.,” Orian said.
The Draper store is their only location, but Orian has a warehouse to stock the products that people want. “We call ourselves a chain of one,” he said. In preparation for Christmas, and because many products come from Europe, they begin ordering in May for next year’s Christmas items.
What’s one thing that has Orian saying “blimey?” It’s when a favorite customer moves away or doesn’t return. “Back when we first opened in 1997, when Draper was a horse community, one cowboy would come in and buy 12-13 gift baskets. That was his Christmas for his family and friends. He did that for six years or so and it really wasn’t Christmas until he’d bought his baskets and left the store. He always came on Christmas Eve. I hear he got hurt in a rodeo and we never saw him again. The first year he did it was so unique…then it became a thing,” he said.
So yo ho ho and a bottle of hot sauce! Maybe Z’s Hot Sauce out of Ogden? There are plenty to choose from, so conquer that Christmas list and have fun while you’re at it at Pirate O’s! Or call 801-572-0956 to order one of their themed gift baskets ranging from $37-$100. The store is located at 11901 S. 700 East and is open seven days a week.