Auburn's new kitchen store is food prep resource

Sandalwood House for Cooks is stocked with plenty of gear, gadgets and gizmos
By: Gloria Young, Reporter
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Sandalwood House for Cooks

Where: 1470 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn

Phone: (530) 888-1128

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Website: /


Growing up in Malaysia in a traditional Chinese family, Carine Ooi-Hammer was often at her mother’s side in the kitchen.

“I was always cutting, dicing, mincing and marinating -- doing the prep work for my mom,” she said. “I learned to appreciate the difference good cookware makes. There is nothing more frustrating than using a bad knife, peeler or opener.”

That early training is coming in handy as she and her husband, David Hammer, build up the inventory in their new store, Sandalwood House for Cooks, in Auburn.

Among the items are high quality knives and a wall of gadgets.

“I’m not claiming to be an expert. I would say I would know a lot because personally I’m very curious,” she said. “Every time when I decide on something that attracts me, I ask a lot of questions of manufacturers. If (the item) does only one single task, I don’t think anyone needs it. I try to find products that are well made, very easy to care for and very understandable. If it is anything complicated, forget about it.”

There’s also plenty of cookware, including for Chinese, Italian and Mexican specialties; and lots of baking utensils -- pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters and molds. A rack near the front of the store is filled with colorful teapots. And there are teas to put into those pots.

“(There are) some linens, food storage options, lunch boxes. I love colorful things,” Ooi-Hammer said. “I like to be in an environment that makes you happy. Shopping should be a happy experience, especially when it comes to food. Food is a big deal for us.”

The couple shares cooking duties at home. When they met, David Hammer was already a good cook, Ooi-Hammer said.

“He had a lot of interest in cooking Chinese food,” she said. “We fine tuned some techniques. Now he is a fantastic Chinese cook. We do that mainly at home. It is a healthier way of eating. We also do a lot of Italian and we are experimenting with Middle Eastern cooking.”

Ooi-Hammer’s previous career was in fashion.

“I went to college in Malaysia and (after graduation) got a good job working for a high end department store as a floor manager and buyer,” she said. “That’s when I fell in love with fashion and got to travel around the world on buying trips.”

When she decided to get a second degree -- this time in fashion -- she came to the United States to study. After college, she worked in the fashion industry in Wisconsin and then New Hampshire, where she met her husband-to-be.

They relocated from the East Coast to Auburn about three years ago. David Hammer works in his family’s financial services company.

When they decided to open a retail business, the couple’s shared enjoyment of food preparation made a cooking store a natural choice.

“What we do not get tired of is kitchen gadgets,” Ooi-Hammer said. “Whenever we walk by a kitchen store, we have to go in and take a look.”

Auburn resident Bonnie Curtis purchased a couple of the gadgets – a wine bottle opener and a shaker -- during a visit to the store this week. Curtis was impressed with the selection, particularly the Wilton cake-decorating items.

“It’s good to see a new store that’s not a chain and that has lots of variety and unique items,” she said. “If you want something different, this is the place to come.”

The Hammers’ future plans include continuing to build the inventory and, eventually offering cooking classes.

“We want the store to be kind of a home for cooks,” Ooi-Hammer said in a press release. “People can come here and share recipe ideas or just browse for new products. I love to chat.”

The Sandalwood House logo is a drawing of a house, originally created by Ooi-Hammer’s grandfather who carved statues for Buddhist temples in Malaysia. It was designed to emulate a seal that would typically be found on traditional Chinese art work or pottery.

“I knew I wanted to use my family’s logo and I also wanted to incorporate a scent because scents are very important to me,” she said in the release. “I decided on sandalwood because it always reminds me of home. We always had incense at home.”