The Commissary owner Kate Djupe shares an oral history of the Whiskmas Tree, The Commissary’s quirky annual Christmas decoration.
Where did you get the inspiration for the Whiskmas Tree?
Throughout all of the business planning and construction phase, it never occurred to me that I would need a plan on how to celebrate the holidays as a business. The Commissary opened the first week of November so the winter holidays were the first to figure out. This is a huge space - so what should be done with it?
This quest for a special way to celebrate became a stress reliever for me. Any time I needed a mental break from the difficulty of starting a business, I would think of holiday puns and plans. Actually, the first idea was to bring in the biggest Christmas tree I could find since The Commissary has 16 foot ceilings. My husband thought that was ridiculous, though, and I will admit now that he was right.
And somehow on some stressful day in my cold office, I started wishing people a Merry Whiskmas. That morphed into the idea of a Whiskmas tree. That first year, I borrowed some whisks from Sassafras Bakery to hang in a tree formation (Fine. Fine. I hung them in a triangle shape.) on one of our windows. I had to explain that it was a Whiskmas Tree. Do you know how unsatisfying it is to explain your own design and wait for an awkward laugh? I did it anyways. And I would giggle every time.
I tried a lot of other things that first year. Cookie swaps, charity benefits, cookie decorating open houses, small parties, special cooking classes, a modified logo, many little rosemary Christmas trees, more holiday lights... The Whiskmas Tree is the only thing that has continued each year.
The Whiskmas Tree has looked different each year. Tell us about the first two iterations.
The first year we didn’t even really have that many whisks, so we hung them on the front window.
Last year, I tried to figure out how to go bigger. I brought all sorts of materials: fencing, wire, wood to The Commissary. Karen and I spent hours trying to figure this out.
Our first efforts looked really sad and a little morbid. The next attempt included a tomato cage and wires running from the ceiling, the walls, and the table we sat it on. It was progress.
The hardest part of this project is the weight of the tree. People feel compelled to touch the Whiskmas Tree and I definitely do not want this big, heavy thing to fall on anyone. Since we had more whisks this year, safety was the priority.
This year’s tree was quite an undertaking, correct?
Yes! I knew I needed a creative solution to our growing weight problem, so I reached out to my favorite non-food maker space in the world: Columbus Idea Foundry owner Alex Bandar thought we had an interesting conundrum and connected us with the talented Rachel Schutt. Actually, he re-connected us—Rachel’s artwork has been hanging in our Gather space for a while now so we are familiar with her work, but we had no idea she was also a talented welder! Rachel got to work crafting us an impressive, and durable tree base that perfectly meets each and every one of our needs. Thanks to Alex and Rachel, this year’s Whiskmas Tree is our best yet.
Why do you think people love the Whiskmas Tree so much?
It is fun. It is funny. It embodies some of our favorite and more emotional connections to the holidays: the making and eating of the food. Coming together in the kitchen with family to bake a cookie recipe that’s been passed down for generations, sitting down with loved ones around a holiday feast—those are the kinds of things I want to celebrate at the holidays. I think that message resonates with others who come through The Commissary as well.
What is the Whiskmas Tree topper?
Our Angel Chef was a crowdsourced idea. Once our new and improved Whiskmas Tree was up, friends and Instagram followers came up with tree topping suggestions. Val (of Ray Ray's Hog Pit) shared the idea of an angel made from steamer baskets and I ran with it. Most of the parts were found among the Recycle Pots & Pans donations which is the best part. I was able to donate money to a favorite charity in exchange from some of their older, broken tools that might have ended up in a landfill.
What happens next year?
I don't know. Maybe you have the answer to this one. How do we improve on our Whiskmas Tree beyond adding many more whisks?