Not every cook loves to spend hours in Bed Bath and Beyond picking out pots and pans.
An Austin-based company is taking a millennial-minded, direct-to-consumer approach to selling the tools you need to make dinner.
By selling online only, Made In founders Jake Kalick and Chip Malt knew that they could appeal to customers who were already buying eyeglasses, razors and underwear through the internet.
But why pots and pans?
The easy answer is that Kalick grew up in the cookware industry. His grandparents started Harbour, a Boston-based commercial foodservice company, in the 1920s. He and Malt have known each other since they were 5 years old and growing up in Boston, but they stayed in touch as they started their careers.
Kalick worked in food, first in restaurants and then for his family’s business. Malt was working for a direct-to-consumer apparel company and had millennials’ buying habits on his mind.
“Have you ever thought about kitchen tools?” he asked Kalick one day a few years ago.
That was the start of what became Made In. Over two years, the friends-turned-business-partners dug into the supply chain to find U.S. manufacturers to produce the sauce and saute pans they wanted to sell. Kalick knew the markups that were built into the price of familiar brands, such as All-Clad, so he knew they could increase the quality — and keep manufacturing in the U.S. — by selling to customers directly. Pots and pans might be heavy, but they are relatively easy to ship.
But before they started designing the product line, the company surveyed 100 cooks about what they knew and didn’t know about pots and pans. “Nobody had brand affinity and everyone was waiting until they were married” to buy them, Kalick says. Customers didn’t want the handles to get hot and they didn’t like the current handles on the market, so they engineered slightly slimmer handles that don’t get so hot.
The founders say it was an easy decision to base their company in Austin. They looked at Los Angeles and Miami, but Kalick says the thriving start-up and food communities in Austin — “the Brooklyn of America,” he says — was just the right fit. They moved here in early 2017 and, by September, they were shipping pots and pans across the country.
Having spent so much time in the cookware industry, Kalick puts an emphasis on transparency around what the pans are made of and where the materials come from. “Transparency is a big thing for direct to consumer in general, which is why we explain why we source 430 stainless steel from Kentucky or 304 (stainless steel) from Pennsylvania that has nickel that helps resist corrosion.”
Kalick might have the background in cookware, but Malt says he considers himself the target demographic: He cooks three times a week and doesn’t shy away from calling himself a “foodie.” He still eats at restaurants but also entertains at home.
But selling cookware to millennials is quite different than selling clothing. “In the apparel world, our primary problem was to have people trade away from brands they already love. In this space, it’s a completely different challenge. You go to a 23-year-old and say ‘All-Clad,’ they give you a blank stare.”
Millennials might not be buying homes as fast as generations before them, but they are investing in the stuff in their homes, Malt says, and they are always looking for an excuse to get together. When the founders both lived in New York City after college, they hosted monthly dinner parties for their friends. Food was how they kept their friendship going as they both worked for other companies.
“One of our big missions is bringing back the dinner party,” says Kalick. “We want to encourage people to host get-togethers. Some of the most fun nights are going to a dinner party to eat and drink with someone who does it right.”
That’s when the pots and pans come in. Although experienced cooks like Malt and Kalick can differentiate between high-end and low-end cookware, many beginning cooks can’t. But having good gear “helps you look like you know what you’re doing,” Kalick says.
Twenty- and thirty-something cooks aren’t the only shoppers who need new pots and pans, of course. Even if the prices might seem high to first-time buyers ($79 for a 10-inch non-stick frying pan, $155 for an 8-quart stock pot), Baby Boomers who already have some high-end gear in their kitchen see value in Made In’s induction-capable product line, Malt says.
Within the general categories of stock pot, saute pans, saucier, sauce pan and frying pan, the company sells about 30 different products in various colors, sizes and finishes, and the majority of sales come from the kits that bundle several pans together.
One question they often get is about the safety of non-stick pans. Malt says the fear of nonstick coating is outdated. Decades ago, American consumers heard a lot about a Teflon as a possible carcinogen, but the specific chemical that was of concern — PFOA — is no longer used in Teflon, he says.
However, the concern over Teflon helped the industry find better ways to create a nonstick surface that doesn’t chip or scratch as easily. Made In works with a company in Pennsylvania, which applies three coats of an FDA-approved PTFE, which creates a durable nonstick surface that won’t easily scratch or chip.
Because Malt and Kalick are making Instagram-worthy cooking gear for an Instagram-loving generation, the pans come in several colors on the outside, and on the nonstick pans, you can choose between blue and graphite. They’ll eventually sell chef’s knives and other kitchen gear, but for now, look out for a specialty cookware line this fall featuring designs from Austin-based illustrator Will Bryant.
All Made In pots and pans come with a recipe on the bottom. It might seem like an odd place to put a recipe that you would need to reference while you’re cooking, but Malt says it becomes a talking point for cooks.
“I can’t remember when I looked at the bottom of the pan and had any feeling at all,” Malt says. “It sparks conversation. We just wanted to do something different. We didn’t start this business to do things the way people have always done it.”