#14. In this week’s episode, Jake Kalick, co-founder of Made In Cookware, talks us through his journey of creating a revolutionary kitchenware brand. With a rich family history in the restaurant equipment industry, Jake's passion and expertise drove him to envision cookware that stands out from the competition.
By focusing on authenticity, performance, and involving chefs during product development, Jake’s approach has transformed Made In Cookware into a trusted name for both professional kitchens and households worldwide.
Learn the differences between stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel cookware, why it’s vital to collaborate and partner with companies that believe in your vision, and much more.
Where to find Jake Kalick:
Where to find host Josh Sharkey:
In this episode, we cover:
(00:49): From supplying cookware to creating Made In
(7:30): Are there common threads in cookware construction?
(9:09): Balancing price point and brand recognition in the early stages
(10:09): Jake’s vision of educating home cooks
(12:11)]: Why Made In builds their products in-house
(13:24): Why building trust with customers
(14:57): What is the cladding process?
(16:40): Carbon steel versus cast iron
(21:41): Building relationships with family businesses
(24:50): Thiers France knife making
(30:37): The challenges with plateware
(31:58): Involving chefs in R&D
(37:54): Creating specific use pans
(40:43]: Why Jake moved to Austin
(41:59) What’s next for Jake and Made In
Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:
Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.
My guest today is Jake Kalick. Jake is the co-founder along with his childhood friend Chip Malt of the one and only Made In Cookware. Jake began his career working for the family business, supplying equipment and cookware to restaurants in the northeast, something that the family's been doing for over a hundred years.
In 2017, he decided to take the leap from supplying to creating his own vision of what cookware should be, and this is no small feat. Anybody that knows the industry knows that the ability to compete with the incumbents, especially the ones making stainless steel clad cookware for restaurants is incredibly challenging.
But Made In has definitely succeeded in creating and supplying some of the best cookware on the planet, not just to restaurants and hotels, but also to households across the country and world. Jake and I have gotten to know each other over the years, and I could tell right away when I met him that he has this incredible passion for what he does and really high standards that not only make him a perfect fit for doing what he does, but also someone that any chef will have a deep respect and appreciation for the vision that he has for this company.
This becomes obvious when you see some of the chefs that he's partnered with like Tom Colicchio, Grant Achatz, and Nancy Silverton. So we dig into all things cookware, everything from the difference between stainless steel and cast iron and carbon steel and why to use which one and how they're made, and gadgets in the kitchen and plateware and glassware and a bunch more. And generally just have a really awesome conversation. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Welcome to the podcast.
Jake Kalick [00:02:08]
Thank you for having me.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:10]
Yeah, I'm excited to chat with you today about many things. It's been cool. We've been able to do some work over the last couple years, so thanks for the support there.
Jake Kalick [00:02:20]
Hey, are you kidding, you've been the supporter. I appreciate you guys hooking your customers and clients and team up with Made In and getting our product in the right hands. So thank you.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:24]
What better thing to gift than Made In cookware? Let's get into that. I'll just give a little brief background of you. You can indulge more if you want. What I loved about hearing about your background was that you came up in the distributor world. Well, equipment distribution, there's a ton obviously we could talk about there.
And that world is so different from what you do today with direct to consumer, which is really interesting as well. Cause I think that's a bit of the disruption of what Made In is doing as well. Just the accessibility of these products. But you said you wanted to stop doing that. It was a family business.
But you wanted to stop selling other people's products and sell your own. Harbor Foods is a very well established equipment distribution company, and among other things, sells some really awesome products, stoves, kitchens, appliances, tools. What made you decide to do your own thing?
Jake Kalick [00:03:09]:
Yeah, so it's interesting. I think there's one thing that I lament is the customers not knowing enough about it. It's like we're actually a brand born out of a long time in the food service equipment industry. We're not just some Instagram startup that started making cookware six years ago with no expertise or passion or interest in the category.
So I think we take a lot of pride in the fact that, like we say, we're a seven year old startup or out of a hundred year old family business. And that's something that I think we use to our advantage when it comes to understanding what we're designing and what we're building and who we work with. All that stuff, which I'm sure we'll talk about later, but why I wanted to get into my own brand and stop being a middleman.
I mean, I think first and foremost, it's more fun to have your own brand. I think you can build your own personality around your brand and your products stand for a little bit more candidly. I also just saw the opportunity to build a brand that people cared about in the kitchen tool space. I have a lot of respect for the brands that we sold to in our family business.
There are a lot of good products that we take a lot of cues from today, but there weren't a lot of brands that had chef's attention and loyalty. It was a lot of commodity items and I think what inspires us at Made In is building a kitchen tool brand that chefs actually are attached to and take pride in and appreciate representing and enjoy engaging with.
So building something that captured that. And at the end of the day, working in a family business is hard and I did five years of it. I'm super close with my dad, but I think it was time for both of us to try something new and you know, he's still running that business, as you said, it's a great business and Made In isn't Made In without it.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:41]:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it had to be a little scary. Knowing that all-clad is the incumbent. And the first thing you started with was clad stain in the steel before you got into carbon steel. What were some of the most unexpected challenges or things that you didn't plan for when you started? I know there's a lot of R&D going into it before you ever launched your first pan.
Jake Kalick [00:04:59]
At the end of the day, like we're, we're not reinventing the wheel here. The dynamics of a quality pan haven't changed much in the last 50 years. You know what I mean? So there was R&D, yes. Yes. And we wanted to design something that we believed in, but I'd say that it took us eight months to even back into a supply chain that made sense for making a clad frying pan. And that was before we did anything else. It took us a lot of time to figure out where to source the raw materials, how to clad them, how we could punch them, and what made a good design. So I think there were a lot of twists and turns in that process.
And along the way we took a lot of cues from the brands we were selling at my family's business. So everything from the import, WinCo’s cheaper wherever pans, the nicer Vollrath, all the way up to the Mauviel and the All-Clad. We really looked at everything that was out there and how they were made and how they were designed and what was good about them and what was kind of over the top about them and kind of dialed into a product that we believed in.
Josh Sharkey [00:05:54]:
I mean, what were some of the common threads there between them, or were there any between things like Mauviel and All Clad and things like WinCo and fill in the blank. You know, any other sort of like commoditized type pan that was analogous to what worked well across all those types of brands. Because obviously there's really scaled, commoditized things that work decently. A lot of kitchens use WinCo and a lot of kitchens use a sort of higher end All Clad. Anything common that you found across all this?
Jake Kalick [00:06:20]:
With cookware, there's two things you think about. One is the raw materials and how they're constructed, and then the second one is the actual construction of the pan itself. The common threads I think people will understand are like from a construction standpoint, handles that stay on, that's like first and foremost, super important. Then you can get into how the handles are designed, how they dissipate heat, how ergonomic they feel in your hand. But at the end of the day, it's like, do they stand on?
Do they not wobble? Can they take a couple years of abuse in a full service restaurant without having to be replaced? The raw materials is an interesting one, and I think what we learned a lot about raw materials, I think the first is that consistent, even raw materials throughout the body is the key to success.
So a lot of even nicer companies will have thicker bases, thinner walls, which lead to really inconsistent cooking. So a lot of the good performing products, not even expensive products, are even from the base all the way up to the rim, right? We knew that was something we wanted to do. And on the flip side, We saw a lot of really nice brands out there that just stuffed these pans with over the top materials that were unnecessary, and it was a little bit of diminishing return when it comes to the value they provide.
So All Clad, a lot of respect for their product, but they have a lot of higher end additions that have a lot of more expensive materials within the pan itself. That in my opinion, was diminishing in terms of return and value. So we use clad stainless steel and aluminum. From our perspective, it's the best combination of performance, but also value without driving up the cost, because you're putting in things like titanium or copper or you know.
Josh Sharkey [00:07:57]:
Yeah, it's a minimalist approach.And how did you come to that? Obviously. So you're starting this process, right? And you're like, okay, we need to build a 2.0 clad pan, right? So when did you just start to decide things that could be removed? Was that sort of inputs from working with chefs? How did that work?
Jake Kalick [00:08:13]:
It was selling pans to chefs for five years full-time, but growing up in that business too. So you would hear the inner dialogue of chefs as they were picking out what they were using and buying from us for their kitchens, and it's I'm buying this for this reason, or I'm not investing in this for this reason.
And it kind of just triangulated the right product. And I should say this right, like when we started, we wanted to undercut the premium incumbents in terms of price. We had some pretty good guidelines as to how much we could sell a pan for while still undercutting the incumbents In terms of price. We knew we wanted to make a 5-ply pan for $75 where All Clad’s was $150.
So that kind of set us on the right track. We wanted to perform as well as that All Clad d5 pan. But we knew we wanted to be able to undercut them in price because at the time we had no brand recognition. We had no reason to be out there in the market. We were really trying to prove ourselves. And a lot of these brands, especially that start online, the first proof point is price point.
That's how a lot of these, yeah, like digitally native brands start. And then as we came into our own brand and got our own reputation and we established ourselves from a performance perspective, the price doesn't become the primary attraction. It becomes maybe secondary, maybe tertiary. And now we take a lot of pride in the fact we never really lead with price. We lead with performance, quality, and heritage.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:27]:
Yeah. No, that makes sense. I wanted to definitely dig into your process of how you're creating all these products and also a lot more about the materials you use because I think, I don't know if everybody knows Made In relates to where the product's made, and it sounds like the materials that you use and just as important where they come from and who's making them, who's fabricating them, how that's getting fabricated is incredibly important to the brand.
If it's cool, we're gonna sort of geek out a little bit on things like stain steel, carbon steel, that kind of thing. But before we get into that, Obviously, you started with stainless steel, you went to carbon steel after that. Now there's a whole line of all kinds of things. Plateware, I think you're probably working on flatware and tools and things like that. What's the underlying vision here for what you're doing with Made In and what ties all that stuff together? How you create these products.
Jake Kalick [00:10:09]:
The vision is that it's really difficult to be an educated consumer in the kitchen tool space. And the analogy that me and my co-founder use is that like if you walk into a Williams Sonoma and you wanna outfit your kitchen with high-end performance, premium, whatever term you wanna use goods, you have to learn the 10 players they have in stainless clad, and those companies only make stainless clad cookware.
Then you move on to the knives and there are 50 knife companies and none of those knife companies really make any cookware. Then you move into plateware and those plateware only do tabletop. Then you go into wine glasses and wine glasses don't even do plateware. So you have to learn all of these different categories and all the players in them.
It's really tough to build brand loyalty in the kitchenware space because nobody wants to learn all of these different players in all these different categories. So our thesis very early on was, let's just build all of these categories the right way. And if a customer falls in love with us for carbon steel, then we can cross sell them into plateware and stainless steel and enamel cast iron.
Or if they come in through plateware, we can convince them that they should start buying our knives and kind of all these things because there's no brand loyalty. And so that's the vision for the brand and why we keep making new categories. I would say what ties the product together is the focus on raw materials, the commitment to performance, and the fact that all of these products are rooted in hospitality use.
So even if we're selling a stainless clad pan to a mother of three in Dallas, that product has still been tested and developed because of its ability to perform in a fine dining restaurant for a three mill period, 700 covers a day restaurant. It just might be kind of updated to the aesthetic of that home use in Dallas.
Josh Sharkey [00:12:00]:
Yeah, no, that makes sense. Well, I think to your credit also, the other piece of that with a lot of these products and brands is there are some companies that do have kind of a full stack, if you will, like an array of products. But I don't think any of them are sort of vertically integrated. It's more of an acquisition play.
So there's not really like the same focus and the same approach to building to each of those sort of verticals of what you use in the kitchen. Whereas I think with Made In, you are doing the iteration, the building, the product release as opposed to finding companies that you can work with. And I think that's probably another unique thing about Made In as well.
Jake Kalick [00:12:30]:
Yeah. And I've never understood and not tipping anyone off to this. I'm sure they've talked about this, I'm sure they've talked about this a lot, but like, I've never understood why a group set that owns All Clad doesn't pair them up with one of their knife companies and like kind of cross sell more carefully or use the various factories they own to like develop product under the different brands because to your point, as a cook and somebody that's really passionate about the industry, you understand who all these conglomerates own and how they all play together and who's part of what family. But the average consumer, even the average passionate home cook doesn't know what that looks like, that these companies are tied together. So yeah, I think it's selling it a little bit short.
Josh Sharkey [00:13:10]:
And I think part of what creates an evergreen market share for Made In and companies that have this kind of approach is that you build this trust once you establish like, here's how we build and here's why, right?
Materials are important to us, where they come from building that. So this is our stainless steel now, this is our carbon steel. And consumers start to get a feel for like, okay, this is what it means to buy a product from Made In. So when they start working on plateware, you can have this sort of correlation between, okay, the same way that they approach building, you know, stainless steel is how they're gonna approach china or forks.
And I think that's really important, right? Because you're building that trust and then as you start rolling out new products, that trust sort of carries on as opposed to just, again, acquiring a brand and hoping that they have the same values as you. Okay, so we're gonna see how far we nerd out on this. And stop me whenever you're like, dude, this is like a little too
Jake Kalick [00:13:59]:
Totally. Let's nerd out on it. This is good.
Josh Sharkey [00:14:02]:
You know, obviously the audience here is professional chefs and restaurateurs and things like that, but I'm sure people that are not in that realm will also be listening. So we're gonna talk a little bit about stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron, right?
Why and how you think about deploying those materials into the products you build for the audience. And you can kind of elaborate on this, but stainless steel, right? Like there's chromium in the steel that helps create this thin layer of oxide and makes it non-reactive. So acid doesn't sort of react in the food.
It's not porous. Easier to clean, things like that. What else should we know about stainless steel as a chef that we might not know? That is why it's so important in pans. Is there sort of like a big delta between good stainless steel in pans and bad? I know there's different, obviously like thicknesses that we think about, but anything that you think we might not know about stainless steel when we're buying a pan that's important to know.
Jake Kalick [00:14:57]:
The reason you use stainless steel, and I think the biggest difference for a lot of the chefs listening that might just use a heavy duty aluminum pan is that stainless steel is just a much better holder of heat. It retains heat a lot better than that heavy duty aluminum pan. So I think the best example is when you're keeping an aluminum pan over a burner in the kitchen, you need to keep that burner on high because as quickly as heat's coming into that pan, it's leaving.
Because aluminum is just a sieve of heat, right? Like it just does not hold heat. Whereas opposed to stainless steel, like you can keep that burner on low to medium because once that heat gets into the pan, it's sticking around there. So that's really the biggest difference here, right? Between the two materials.
And then, you know, there's obviously durability and the fact it's not condensed as easily doesn't impart flavor on your foods. It's going to heat more evenly across the pan because it holds heat in all of those various sections. But from a quality perspective, the difference for our business is not even as much about where you source the actual raw stainless steel. That is important, but where you actually clad the stainless steel to the aluminum is where you can really see huge performances in the durability and performance pan.
So depending on how reliable the cladder is and cladding is rolling together the various metals to make the discs that get stamped into the pan, depending on how reliable the cladder is, is how long those pans can stay intact. And how well they stay intact. And if you have an unreliable cladder and if you buy cheap metals, that might not clad as well. That's where you start to see pans come apart. The clad doesn't last as long.
Josh Sharkey [00:16:26]:
Yeah. I'm gonna double click on clad a little bit later. When we talk about some of the people you're working with, some of the families you're working with That's helpful to understand about stainless. I feel like carbon steel is getting a lot more love lately.
It used to be just like everybody and home cooks as well, just sort of romanticized cast iron, which cast iron is great by the way. It's very heavy. Whereas carbon seals much lighter. It's still, you know, lightweight, but it has amazing heat retention, heats quickly, evenly, that kind of thing. At least for myself, I know less about carbon steel other than we use it to see our fish in the kitchen, and it works great for that. But like is there a standard ratio of carbon to steel? I know you, you put carbon in with the steel, is it always the same? Are there different ratios that make the pan differently? Anything we should know about carbon steel that the layman might not know?
Jake Kalick [00:17:15]:
The carbon steel story for us is really funny. So when we launched the business, my co-founder Chip, he's like an e-com online, that's his secret sauce. He's run online brands and grown them and stuff like that. He was like, Hey, listen, we should make cast iron. It's so popular and it is, and the United States cast iron is so, so popular. But I was looking and I was like, there are so many good vertically integrated cast iron brands that are already doing cool stuff online.
Things like FINEX and Smitty and Field Company and things like that. We don't really have an approach here in selling to restaurants. I was like, listen, as popular as cast iron is in the United States, carbon steel is as popular in European kitchens. Just like you have every home in the US has their cast iron skillet making cornbread or searing steaks.
In Europe, they have the equivalent in carbon steel in every home kitchen. And then combined that with the fact that all of these chefs who were selling tools weren't buying cast iron for their kitchens, they were buying carbon steel for the same applications. So we said, you know what? Like let's take a chance on trying to sell carbon steel to all these customers that online would be cast iron customers.
We had no idea if it would work. The first run we made was 750 carbon steel pans and part of us was like, we're gonna die with these things in our warehouse. Like we're gonna find no way to sell these things. And then they sold really quickly and now it's 12% of our business. So yeah, that's been really fun to see how, you know, the home consumer has adopted that product and obviously chefs love it as well.
Getting into the composition of carbon steel. It's actually interesting. Cast iron has more carbon than carbon steel does. They're very close. Cast iron, for example, is 98% iron, 2% carbon. Carbon steel is 99% iron, 1% carbon. So less carbon in carbon steel. And where you see the performance difference is that carbon is actually more brittle.
When you have a high carbon knife, they're more likely to chip. So carbon is more brittle, which is why you see cast iron skillets tend to be a little bit more flakier, and carbon is also more porous. So it's why carbon steel knives stain more, but carbon's more porous, so the pores on a cast iron skillet are bigger, which is why when you try to season a cast iron skillet, versus trying to season a carbon steel pan, a cast iron skillet takes a month longer to season because those pores are so much bigger.
So you have to fill those pores with oil, you have to polymerize them, you have to do it again and again and again. And if you season a carbon steel skillet for the first time, like you did your cast iron skillet, it's gonna look like a hockey rink because there's not enough pores in that surface to capture all of that oil you're feeding into the pan. So it's kind of interesting, but that's really some of the main differences there.
Josh Sharkey [00:19:50]:
I had no idea how little carbon goes into it. The name's deceiving.
Jake Kalick [00:19:55]:
Yeah, it's mostly iron.
Josh Sharkey [00:19:57]:
Cool. Well, uh, this is where we'll get a little bit more weeded maybe, but we'll see. I was just fascinated to hear about the producers that you work with. It reminds me of cooking, right? We know the farmers that are growing the food or that are raising the cattle, and a lot of them have been around for many, many, many generations. And it's the same holds truth for what you're doing. And so there's this family in Tennessee that's fabricating the stainless steel I understand?
Jake Kalick [00:20:21]:
Yeah, we still work with them for sure.
Josh Sharkey [00:20:23]:
So a couple things here. One is cladding, like this very sort of generational thing that sort of is passed down. There are a lot of cladders around the world and what is unique about this family that produces that cladder steel for you.
Jake Kalick [00:20:38]:
The first cladders we worked with weren't actually the Tennessee family. It was a business in Pennsylvania. And cladding is most common in mass industry, and especially in the US and the auto industry. They do a lot of cladding for automotive. And the part of the business that clads cookware is the specialty cladding business, which is a very, very small niche part of the market.
It's a very industrial process. You have these huge coils of various metals and they get cold rolled on top of each other and then stuck together and then cut out in the discs, and then we ship 'em to Tennessee where they get punched into cookware. Now we do a lot of stainless clad cooking in northern Italy as well, outside of Milan, which is a huge stainless steel industrial manufacturing center.
And our friends in Tennessee like, We owe them a lot because they had the ability to punch discs into cookware, and we came to them saying like, we have this idea for this business. We're gonna make our own cookware. We're gonna sell it online. And they weren't. The first factory we talked to, most just looked at us like we had 20 heads and we're like, yeah, no thanks.
Like we've been doing this a long time. We don't wanna go on Amazon. And these folks totally got what we're doing and we've had a great relationship. It's our whole thing, right? Like we're rooted out of a family business.
We really enjoy working with people that have been doing this for a really long time as well. And I think one of the things that's most important in these relationships is like, we're not engineers by trade. We don't own our own factories. We don't have that kind of portfolio. So we need to find these partners that can work with us and that have the built in institutional knowledge of engineering, of design, of quality assurance, because we don't have, especially when we started, now we have some of those roles, but like when we started, it was, it was me who knew how to sell kitchenware, and it was my co-founder who knew how to sell stuff online.
And we didn't have engineers, we didn't have material chemists. We didn't have all these roles that these factory partners already had built in. So we depend on them a lot. We bring them ideas and they say like, okay, here's what works. Here's what doesn't work. Here's what we've seen in the past. So without them, we wouldn't be able to make the product we do.
Josh Sharkey [00:22:46]:
And I'm sure as you scale, QA is probably a linchpin or a pain point that you probably need to like to bring in house more as well.
Jake Kalick [00:22:46]:
Right. It's tough. I hope that any of your listeners who use Made In have seen strong consistency in the quality of the product. But yeah, it's a different beast. I mean it's, it's like a chef going from serving 50 covers a night to 400 covers a night. It's just a very different process and it requires a lot of different oversight.
Josh Sharkey [00:23:21]:
This podcast is brought to you by meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. As a chef and restaurant owner for the past 20 years, I was frustrated that the only technology that we had in the kitchen was financial or inventory software. Those are important, but they don't address the actual process of cooking, training, collaboration, and consistent execution.
So I decided if it didn't exist, I'd do my best to get it built. So the current and next generation of culinary pros have a digital tool dedicated to their craft. If you're a chef, mixologist, operator, or generally if you manage recipes intended for professional kitchens, meez is built just for you.
Organize, share, prep, and scale your recipes like never before. And get laser accurate food costs and nutrition analysis faster than you could imagine. Learn more at www.getmeez.com
All right. So we talked about Pennsylvania, where they're cladding, Tennessee, where they're punching it out. I don't a hundred percent understand what that means. So I might jump back into that. So there's the family business in France that's producing these carbon steel pans for you. Can you tell me a little bit about them?
Jake Kalick [00:24:30]:
I think the one we were talking about was the knife factory in France. Our carbon also comes from France, but we have a partner in Central France that's seventh generation in the knife business. There's an old town called Thiers, which is about an hour outside of Leon, talk about an awesome food trip.
The whole identity of this town is knife making. When you're in like the countryside of France and you're driving down the highways, each town has their own sign with illustrations on it for what the town's known for. And usually it's like a wine glass or piece of cheese or you know, like a lot of the towns claim a lot of the same things.
When you get to Thiers, it's like knives on the signs and the whole city has built their identity on knife making. It's like super romantic. There's a river that runs through Thiers. All the factories were originally built against this river because the river fueled all of these big wheels that ran the forges, that hammered out the knives.
You know, like the whole thing is like built around knife making. Anyone who lived there has either worked in the knife business or family works in the knife business. And so when we wanted to make a chef knife, we knew that this was one of the few places we would wanna go and try to build a relationship with.
And we found this family that the woman running the business is seventh generation. They've been around for 500 years, which is crazy to think how long this business has been. Run by the same family and it's a classic example of how she believed in what we were doing. She lent us all of her expertise in engineering and design and all these things like this and helped us bring a prototype to light.
Josh Sharkey [00:26:03]:
Yeah, I mean, there's a bunch of other knife companies that source from there as well. Doesn't Laguiole?
Jake Kalick [00:26:10]:
Yeah, they're close by. I mean, Sabatier started in that region of France as well. When you look at Western knife making, there's Solingen and there's Thiers. Solingen is in Germany. It's where a lot of the big German knife companies have started and it's much bigger in terms of footprint, but they're both super respected and storied when it comes to knife making.
Josh Sharkey [00:26:27]:
So what was that experience like when you went over there? I imagine there had to be some similarities between every company that looked at you like you're crazy when you're trying to get them to produce products for you in the States. What, how was that going over there and talking to the family about producing for you?
Jake Kalick [00:26:40]:
Well, it's funny, the secret sauce for us in this situation was that Pascal, who runs this factory, has three children and none of them wanted to go into the knife business. I think they all lived in Brooklyn and worked in startups. So like we came over there and she kind of adopted us as like her kids in the family business.
It was just like a freaky Friday swap, right. So, yeah, she was like, my kids don't wanna work in this business. They're actually living in the states, working in startups.
Josh Sharkey [00:27:09]:
Did you know that going over there?
Jake Kalick [00:27:11]:
No, we had no idea. It was just so fortuitous and we kind of became like her work children and she took a lot of passion and interest in this project in making sure it was successful in a weird way, like continuing on her family's thing, which was really just interesting and amazing and you can't even script that.
Josh Sharkey [00:27:26]:
So the family's seven generations. It's hundreds and hundreds of years old. Like what is a facility like there? I imagine that there, it's probably, you know, modern at this point, but is there any piece of sort of old world that still survives with it?
Jake Kalick [00:27:41]:
For sure. I mean there's still a ton of hand finishing when it comes to grinding and sharpening the knives. Whenever we get a complaint like, you know, and we get it a lot more with home consumers, we're like, this knife doesn't feel as sharp as it should be. Like a chef will just generally like to sharpen it themselves right out of the box anyways. But you know, it's because like, listen, these are hand finished when these knives come out of the forage and once they're cut, there's still a lot of that.
I think what's happened in this region in general is that the capacity these factories need to produce has grown so much over the last couple hundred years that they've had to bolt on different operations around town. What all used to happen under one roof now happens within like four different facilities within driving distance of each other because they just can't grow in the same footprint they were in. So it's a little bit fragmented and it causes some operational strain, but that's just what they had to do to keep up with the demand that changed from the 1700s to the 2000.
Josh Sharkey [00:28:18]:
So how often do you have to go back over there?
Jake Kalick [00:28:20]:
Our team is in France two or three times a year. We're hitting each factory at least once or twice a year. And newer factories, we visit more frequently to make sure that things are standing up correctly. And we have a team out there now that stops by and checks in on things. But again, we just have a really good working relationship with these folks. We really become ingrained in their business. It's very different from manufacturing in Asia, for example, where it's like contract manufacturing.
That's just send us the PO we're gonna make it for you. You kind of have to like to go out there and keep an eye on things. This feels a lot more like working with a family business and you know, we talk to them once a week. Every factory we work with, we have weekly phone calls, video calls, and we're checking in on purchase orders, new product development, investments that are being made in the factory, things like that.
Josh Sharkey [00:29:17]:
Wow. So your team's visiting all over there. You also sourcing plateware or at least it’s being produced in England, right. Can you tell me about that facility and how that works?
Jake Kalick [00:29:29]:
That was a queue we definitely took from the family business. Like where all the best platewares for high volume hospitality come from, and it's all the UK. There's several awesome factories and brands that are out there. So when we thought about making plateware, it was like, okay, like what does our brand stand for? It's high performance. It's durability, it's utilitarian aesthetic, and it's like a deep history in wherever these products should be made. The intersection of that Venn diagram for plateware is England and Central England specifically.
Josh Sharkey [00:29:53]:
Does any of that have to do with the aristocracy having some of these ornate China and that's why it's being produced there?
Jake Kalick [00:29:59]:
That and also just some of the best clay in the world comes from that part of the UK. I mean, there's such a history of pottery there that like the Stoke City Premier League team is the potters. That's how big this industry is there. So it was like a no-brainer for us to go out there and try to build relationships and get products made there, which has been great because plateware is really interesting for us.
It's one of those things that it's tough to sell online because a white plate looks like a white plate. I mean, you know this, when you hold a high quality plate, you can feel the difference. You can feel the durability, you can feel how less likely it is to scratch because the porcelains vitrified and it's stronger.
So it was an example of something that kind of always undersold online to where we thought it should be. But we just opened our first store, our retail store, Made In store in Austin, Texas, and everyone who walks in there picks up a plate and is like, this is the nicest plate I've ever held, and ends up like leaving with some tabletop. So I think having real life experience with that is really gonna be a game changer for our top collection.
Josh Sharkey [00:30:54]:
What are some of the challenges with making a really great plate?
Jake Kalick [00:30:57]:
The biggest challenge, believe it or not, is just the fact that it's such an aesthetic decision. There's a million people out there that hate our plate wear design, and there are a million people that love our plate wear design.
Unlike a pan or a knife, where it's like, this is just supposed to perform, it's gonna look like a pan or it's gonna look like a knife. Everyone has their own opinion about what a good plate looks like. And our whole thing is, as you know, as somebody who's used it, is like we don't give you five different types of stainless clad.
We give you stainless aluminum clad of this thickness, of this construction because we believe. It is the best combination of performance and value, right? And like we tried to take that approach at plateware where it's like we're giving you this one style collection of plate wear that is utilitarian, it's timeless, it's high performing.
But then you have people that are like, why isn't it in solid colors? Why isn't it square shaped? It feels too heavy. Why isn't it more like bone China? So I'd say the hardest thing for us on plateware was just trying to make a one size fits all. And every week we're like, are we gonna do a second style? And we've kind of held off on that for now.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:58]:
Well, it's commendable, honestly, because there's always sort of this inkling of like, when you have a business and a product where you're just gonna start doing more and making more. But I love the approach of keeping it simple and making sure it is the best of what it is and you guys have plenty of years to, to build more. I love that.
So let's get into sort of how you, you know, create these products. I want to just sort of get a better understanding of how you iterate and sort of like launch new products, and we know that it started with a lot of iteration before you even launched the first one. But how does that process work today when you have an idea or either a new product line, like maybe you're getting into flatware or maybe you're getting into, I think you just mentioned, you're gonna start making rondeaus. That's fucking awesome. When you start, when you have that idea, what's like, what's the next step?
Jake Kalick [00:32:38]:
It is talking to a lot of chefs. Yesterday, I sent an email out to 25 chefs, very close to the brand that would answer an email about a new category we're thinking about going into. And it's like four simple questions.
I can give you some new products now. I can't give you this one yet cuz it's so far out. But we can talk about some new stuff we're releasing, but it was like, what about this product do you like in what you use now? What annoys you about what you use now and what you would change?
Raw materials. What about this product, raw materials do you look for? Do you look for something that provides certain types of qualities or performance things? And then lastly, it's just like, you know, what brand are you using now and why do you love it so much? And that went out to 25 people yesterday and we start to triangulate qualitative and quantitative feedback. And then we go into the Family Business Harbor Archives, and it's like, okay, like when we were selling stuff to restaurants, like what were they buying? Why were they buying it? What brands do we like? In my past lifetime, I toured a lot of these factories and went to trainings at these factories and brands because they wanted me to be better at selling them, right?
So it's like, okay, like what do I remember about how they did things? And then we start to put stuff on paper, draw it up, show this to people, get feedback, and start to do prototypes. Get feedback. We involve a lot of chefs and we're very grateful that they're willing to play ball with us and give us our time.
Josh Sharkey [00:34:00]:
We have a similar outlook. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but you know, chefs are sort of this gateway to how consumers will adopt something. Now we think about it with their recipe tool that eventually, you know, we have consumers all the time asking to use it for their home cooks, and we're not quite there yet, but we know that as chefs adopt this thing more that consumers eventually will.
And you clearly are doing that. I don't even think about how you set out to sell to chefs when you started, but it's clearly now resonated so well. It doesn't hurt that Tom Colicchio invested early on and that Grant Achatz came on board to partner and consult and things like that, or however you guys work together.
How do you think about involving chefs in the R&D process as it relates to the end product for the consumers, or is the involvement with the chefs just to make sure that the product is just so good that we know? Strong enough for a man, made for a woman, and strong enough for an industrial kitchen made for a home cook. How much are they a part of what the end product comes as much as they want to be?
Jake Kalick [00:34:53]:
I think you guys do this too with your brand. We just try to be authentic and that comes down to the products we make, but also like our relationships with a lot of these chefs. As much as they want to give will take. If they're comfortable helping us work with a product all the way into the hands of a home cook, like that's awesome.
You know, I think one thing that's really inspiring for us when it comes to home consumers is like sometimes you provide them with a product. I don't know how I've ever cooked without this. Whether it's like a specific tool that they didn't even know existed or a quality of a product that they maybe had at home, but ours is just such a higher quality that it makes everything better.
And I think we look to chefs for a lot of that inspiration because what are chefs using on a daily basis in kitchens that make their life easier? Fish Basket is such a good example, right? We're releasing utensils soon. A fish basket is like the best thing to buy for somebody that's passionate about cooking at home because they don't have one.
And once they start using one, they use it for everything. And it's like the ultimate hack, right? And getting chefs to give feedback like that or looking at what chefs use on a regular basis and figuring out how you bring that into the home is like the most fun thing to do. It's a great story too.
Josh Sharkey [00:36:11]
Well, the Peltex was pretty ubiquitous, so I'm interested to see what you come up with there. Have you ever thought about specific use pans? Paellas, tagines, or a nabe or something like that. It might be just tough in terms of like, you know, market share or like the amount you can actually sell.
Jake Kalick [00:36:26]:
No, I mean, we've done some things like that. We've done a paella pan that kind of comes on and off our website.You know, it's nice because like a paella pan for example, is the best material for a paella pan. We also did a comal with our friends at Masienda.
Josh Sharkey [00:36:36]:
Oh nice. Is it carbon steel?
Jake Kalick [00:36:38]:
We'll send you one to try out. This is a great example, right? We got a call from Jorge at Masienda and he was like, Hey, not only do we sell the masa and the masa harina and like all that stuff, but we want to sell the tools to do the whole thing.
And he was like, we wanna make a comal. And he was like the best material to make a comal out of is carbon steel. So he figured he would reach out. And for us it just made so much sense because we already have that supply chain built. It just requires tooling, a new handle and changing the shape of the carbon disc and the stamp.
And you have the ideal comal. So we worked with them on what the size, diameter, angles of the walls handle all that should look like. When somebody like that approaches us, now we have the authority to go into this new product and make this product for someone that's like, we have no expertise on how to make comals either a brand like Masienda’s gonna ask us and help us, or a chef is right.
And we have plenty of examples of making products for chefs. Because they ask for it and give us the authority to make that. So we do these single product uses and for us, sometimes they come on and off the website. In the case of the comal, we actually just let Masienda sell that and it has the Made In brand on it.
But very rarely does it show up on our site. But the paella pan, like we make some, we put 'em on the site, they sell out, and when we have a break on our line and we can make some more, we make some more and bring it back. And that's kind of how we work on things. Some things we try to always keep on the site. Some things kind of come on and off based on when we have time to make them.
Josh Sharkey [00:37:54]:
Nice. Okay. I'm gonna throw something out there. You probably get this all the time, but I wanna talk about lids for a second. I think there's a lot of opportunity with lids. So a lid is pretty single use right now. You guys have something that is a little bit more universal, right?
That can work with, with, with multiple pans. But one thing that I think could be super interesting is a lid that has some sort of attachments based for different uses. For example, like a cartouche, right? So right now we as chefs, we create this parchment thing and you know, we throw out the parchment every time.
We gotta like, you know, make it into this circular shape. Get a hole in the center. You have this cartouche that you can raise with and the only reason for it is to let a little bit of steam escape, but not a lot. Right? We're making a streshle and we have like this thing that we put over a pan that, like where you scrape the, the specially and especially maker, there might be an oral name for that, a lid.But I feel like if you had different inserts like a cartouche, you could have one lid that has many, many uses. Have you guys ever thought about like, you know, multi-use lids?
Jake Kalick [00:38:59]:
We have the honest answer to that one and we've, we have some chefs that have come up with some really good ideas for that. The stumbling block we've hit is that whenever you get to that level of complicated tooling and like different parts and like all these kinds of components, the only way you can tool that and build that for a remotely reasonable price is in Asia. So you're not gonna find a factory in the US or in Europe that can create all of this tooling and build all these components and do all this stuff.
And then when you tell me you're making a lid like this, it's like, yeah, and I wanna spend no more than 80 or a hundred or 120 bucks on it at most. So then when you combine all that, that's gonna cost you. Thousands of dollars a lid to make in the US or Western Europe. So I think that when we wanna do that, we just have to be a lot better at manufacturing in Asia and we don't do a lot of that right now.
Our universal lid that we made fits all of our pans and has a steel interior, so you can use it in the oven that's made in Asia. It's one of the only things we do there. And I think as we get more comfortable manufacturing in that part of the world and working with those types of partners, we can start to design these really complex things that require really complex tooling in all different components and do it at a price that our customers want.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:02]:
Yeah, it's always one of the bummers about the intersection of art and commerce is no matter what, we have these barriers of, you could make the most amazing lid in the world, but it would be at a price that no one could really afford. And you know, that's just part of technology innovation in general.
I do think if you came up with this sort of multi-use lid, it probably could be something that you could. License. Right? So if you had a patent on it and it, it would probably only work for a Dutch oven in that case, whereas a cartoon and, and, and the country do other things, but get a patent. And then every other company also that makes Dutch ovens could use the patent. But anyways, sounds like you've heard that before. So I'm not the only one. We always appreciate the ideas that we've had. We've had crazier.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:37]:
Why Austin? Why'd you guys set up in Austin? Because you're from Boston, right?
Jake Kalick [00:40:43]:
Yeah. My co-founder and I are from Boston. We grew up together there and we started the business there, but we agreed early on that as soon as we saw some traction, we would move somewhere else. And the three things were: somewhere neither of us had lived before, somewhere that was fun, and had a good culinary culture and somewhere that was, you know, good for the business, good for bringing people in. And Austin was like the intersection of that venn diagram. And so we moved here not knowing anybody and it was me, my co-founder Chip and his now wife Marcella.
And it was just like the three of us. And it was great cuz like we moved here, didn't know anyone. Built a team and were heads down building this thing from day one. There were no distractions because we didn't have any friends, like we didn't know anyone and we didn't have any family here. So not only was it a great brand town and a great culinary town where the chefs are super willing to help but also we didn't have any distractions.
Josh Sharkey [00:41:40]:
It's a great food town. Yeah. There are so many great chefs there. So this might sound like a dumb question, and I say it every time I ask it. I gotta start, stop saying that. But it's just because you know, you're a creator, right? So you're always thinking about new things. Like if you, if you had unlimited resources, meaning unlimited capital, unlimited time, what would you do next? Or we just talked about money constraints with a lid, right? That's I'm microcosm for this question. Like if there were no constraints, what would you launch next? Whether it's a new product or new business or whatever?
Jake Kalick [00:41:59]:
I can give you a vague answer to this cause it's actually something I one day wanna do, but I think there's so much equipment used in commercial kitchens that make cooking so much easier and better that home cooks are not aware of or have no access to. I think taking some of these really interesting machines and appliances that chefs use in commercial kitchens and building them for home use would be super interesting. And there's like two or three specific things that I think are just like total game changers and getting 'em in the hands of home cooks would be super interesting.
Josh Sharkey [00:42:44]:
Like what you, maybe now, now my mind is like bubbling up like a pasta boiler?
Jake Kalick [00:42:50]:
Like we got a couple that are super interesting and, and things that you never would use at home, but like chefs rely on every day in the kitchen, right? There are certain tools, certain machines and appliances, but we haven't gotten involved with anything that plugs in. As a kitchen brand, that is the line that you have to be very cognizant of whether or not you wanna cross. Going from stuff that doesn't plug in to stuff that plugs in is a huge leap. And we haven't done that. I don't know if we're ever gonna do that, but if I had all the time and resources and money, I would get into bringing some of those commercial hospitality machines to the home.
Josh Sharkey [00:43:14]:
That is pretty dope. Like if you, I feel like if you had a stove and it had a little pasta boiler and it had a plancha and it had a walk induction, but all your pans could fit into these things that could be, that could be pretty dope. Yeah. You know what?
There's not a lot of good whisks available for homes like Matfer makes an incredible whisk like, you know. Most chefs use this balloon whisk from Matfer. I think there's a lot of opportunity there too. I don't know why there's just so many of them are weird shapes or too firm and hard like, and thin and or too soft. I don't know why that is, but that would be another
Jake Kalick [00:43:50]:
We got these utensils that we're still waiting to finalize the prototypes, but they'll be out in the next year for sure. And there is a whisk.
Josh Sharkey [00:43:57]:
Oh man. That's awesome. Anything else you wanna share with the culinary world at large?
Jake Kalick [00:44:07]:
No, I mean, I appreciate you having me on. I mean, I love so many of your clients and what you've built. We're just happy to get in front of the best chefs and anyone who wants to try some Made In should just reach out. We’re happy to sample, so don't hesitate.
Josh Sharkey [00:44:17]:
Well, we have some more contests coming up for the chefs to win some more made in stuff, so Amazing. Thanks, man. I appreciate the time today. I hope your power gets back on soon.
Jake Kalick [00:44:26]:
Yeah, I'm broadcasting from a powerless office here in Austin. We've got some nasty weather.
Josh Sharkey [00:44:31]:
Well, more importantly, congrats on the newborn coming soon and if you need any advice, I'm sure you have a lot of friends that have kids. I have two now, so if I can help at all, I'm happy to share. But enjoy it. Hopefully you can take some time off and help the wife out.
Jake Kalick [00:44:42]:
I appreciate that. A lot of people are recommending we make baby cookware sets now. You're a very good moderator. I appreciate it as well.
Josh Sharkey [00:44:58]:
Thanks Jake. See ya. And we will talk again soon. And I'm going to be visiting Austin soon as well. Cheers man.
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the Song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Keep innovating. Don't settle. Make today a little better than yesterday. And remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.