Here is the back story of how the dinnerware developed and how Earthborn came to market.
If I had to trace my ‘tabletop’ beginnings to one event, it would probably be the day I sold mushrooms to Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club. Odd as it sounds, it was the shiitakes that brought us together.
I am a potter, and that’s what I told Chef Chris while I waited on him to write the check. Mushroom business completed, he took me to the ‘front of the house’ and showed me how he was currently serving his amazing cuisine. With no limitations but my imagination and his strict size constraints, we began our collaboration to design a line of dinnerware that would be serviceable, beautiful, and durable.
Over the next few years we tweaked the characteristics of the new tableware. I experimented with different clays and glazes to determine the most serviceable of both, and played with different shapes and sizes. Between Chris’s vision and my own, Earthborn pottery took on a new dimension—and a new direction.
Until this point, I had been producing vessels less functional and more ornamental. I had always pursued my craft in leftover time slots, clay falling behind my family time, work, and any other recreational activities we engaged in. Nights and weekends were my time to work in the clay, showing at the local craft fairs and a few galleries. I had always wanted to make a living with my pottery, but I knew that these limited outlets could never support me. The realization that dinnerware could be artistic as well as practical set me off to find more chefs who might like my product as much as Chris did.
Knowing nothing about the food service industry, but reasoning that chefs must have professional associations, the internet led me to the American Culinary Society’s annual convention and trade show. I loaded up my trailer, asked a couple of girlfriends to go with me, and set out to Washington DC. I had no idea what was in front of me… no concept of the bigness of the food and hospitality industry. I was the only potter to have ever attended one of these events. The chefs loved it… if I had only known what was before me…
This successful show led to the next, which was NAFEM, (National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) which I could not afford to even exhibit. So my girlfriends and I took our carry-ons filled with serving pieces and colorful business cards to loan to any chef who was demonstrating any product, from knives to meats to stoves—anyone who was showing food we seized the opportunity to place my pottery in the public eye. The convention hall was peppered with Earthborn product on loan—gaining a level of exposure I couldn’t have paid for. It was here that a specialty rep, found me and asked the question ‘This is great and all, but can you make 5000?” Thinking it was a hypothetical question, I replied, somewhat flippantly, ‘I’ll find a way’. With that assurance, he took my work and won a contract with the Bellagio Resort & Casino to create their new banquet line. Before I had completed that project, they commissioned me to create the tabletop for Sensi, which was then under construction.
I can’t begin to convey my feelings… it was simultaneously a ‘WOW’ and an ‘oh &%!+!’ moment—but how could I say no?
I flew to Las Vegas and met with Chef Martin Heierling who is the executive chef at Bellagio. At the time, Sensi was under construction and I got to walk thru with a hardhat and view the actual building of the restaurant. We determined sizes, uses, and the colors he wanted. At home, I got busy and custom designed glazes to match and blend with other items to be used on his tabletop. We continue to this day creating new pieces for him and his venues.
I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs of converting a studio line of work to a production line… it had extreme difficulties and hurdles to jump, time constraints and deadlines, kiln failures, glaze failures, just a multitude of problems associated with the conversion of hand-made work to a more production-oriented approach… but we did it. It was a scary scary thing…. The pressure was huge. I had gone out on a limb and said I could do this… and now I had to perform. We met our deadlines and the restaurant opened with Earthborn pottery on the table.
So I continue to show at trade shows where my target market might be… I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. Chefs happen to be artists too, and they like the distinction my pottery gives their work. It doesn’t compete with the food, but frames it, so to speak, as the work of art that it is.
These type shows don’t always produce orders, but they do plant seeds. I never know when one of them will sprout in a phone call, or better yet, a purchase order. The Bellagio order was the spring board I needed, and their continued use of my product has opened a lot of eyes to the functionality and durability of my pottery. There were a lot of hoops to be jumped through to become a MGM vendor, but it has all paid off. (You wouldn’t believe their compliance manual!)
Some of the other restaurants where my work is used are:
Hot & Hot Fish Club, Chef Chris Hastings, Birmingham The First!!
The Redmont Hotel, Birmingham
Vintage Year, Montgomery
Kenny’s Underground Kitchen, Jacksonville FL
Rumi’s Kitchen, Washington DC, Atlanta
The Lab, UAB Hilton
Side by Side Embassy Suites, Tuscaloosa
The American Club, Hong Kong
The Manship Wood-fired Grill, Jackson MS
Springhouse, Lake Martin Alabama
Five Star Preserve, Kimberly AL
The Valley Hotel, A Curio by Hilton
Duck & Waffle, London
Well Read, Auburn AL
Sugarcane, Amsterdam, London, & Hong Kong
Copperfield Inn in North Creek, New York
Isla’s Kitchen in Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas
Jia at The Beau Rivage
Sushi Samba Las Vegas, New York, London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong
The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla, CA
Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI
Madison House, Bozeman, Montana
The Ridges at Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Santa Fe, CA
Table 2, Chattanooga TN
And many others as well as private clubs and resorts.
All or most of these were contacts I made attending the food service industry trade shows. The cost of showing there is astronomical, and I can only hope my dollars hold out until the orders come in… but they always seem to.
A day in the studio is some and some and some. There’s not an average day, really… emails, faxes, and voice mail for orders to place in production, look over the previous day’s work, check the kilns, and some days teach class. The phone rings, I have to pay bills, follow up on orders, people checking on orders, throwing pots, making proto-types, play with the babies (our son and his wife work with us and bring their children) mixing glazes, answering the phones… answering the phones….answering the phones….
The best thing about my job is doing what I love to do… this is what I’d be doing if no one paid me to do it. I absolutely love making pots. The magic is always there, the transformation in the kilns is amazing, I’m always learning something. It’s a great blend of art and science. Then throw in the business side and my brain is in overdrive….which is where it stays most of the time.
When the business started growing I was fortunate enough to buy the old Myraflex watch factory in 2006 in my community of Leeds Alabama.. The watch manufacturing has long since been shipped overseas, leaving a fabulous space to create all our work and host our play. However, the roof leaks uncontrollably—and has since we moved in. We got a new membrane roof in 2008, but the drought shrunk the material and we couldn’t get the manufacturer to stand behind it. Our insurance company wouldn't even help--and they paid the claim!
So we’ve been patching, mopping, diverting leaks, and emptying buckets for the last 12 years. If you’ve been here, you know what I’m talking about. The pottery takes longer to dry. The walls are mildewing. We struggle to keep the place dry—even when there’s no rain, as the water pools and collects between the layers and continues to drip constantly. Fans and mops only go so far. The floors are slippery with the dusting of clay and water.
We have estimates of $250,000 to re-roof. It costs so much because the building is so large (24,000 sq ft!), and the layers of the old roofs have to be removed and disposed of. I have tried for years to patch and repair, but we never seem to have enough to stop the rain from coming through and to fix it properly. We’re constantly chasing leaks as they move every time it rains.
Which brings us to this point in our path… finding the funds to fix the roof.
We are asking for however you can help—and we’re willing to thank you for it.
We would like to offer these ‘Thank You’ gifts for your generous donations.
Let us know whether you would like to pick up your gift or have it shipped. You can reach us through email at [email protected]
Thank you so much for considering your gift. Please pass this on to others who you think would like to help as well.
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