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Vita Craft, Kansas City’s Cookware Secret, Marks 78 Years in Business

By Robin Mather

The seed of an idea hatched over a round of golf in 1939 has grown into a cookware manufacturing business that flourishes today in Kansas City, Kansas.

20151117_132842Glen Slough, Eddie Durwachter and Win Cook, all direct cookware salesmen, weren’t happy with their company’s opportunities. The trio decided to manufacture a superior product with better design, and Vita Craft was born. The budding company flourished with direct sales only, but in 1943 the company closed briefly because the war effort diverted the materials need to manufacture the cookware. When the War Production Board granted Vita Craft a license to resume making its products in 1945, the company was back in business and hasn’t looked back since.

From its beginnings as a direct-sale company, Vita Craft is now moving into the retail market with its own line. Cookware retailers who are interested in its products will find Vita Craft at the International Home and Housewares Show.

Vita Craft has been pleasing customers for decades with its waterless, greaseless cooking systems. Its careful construction means food can cook quickly and easily with virtually no additional water or fats, cleanup is easy and the pots and pans can last a lifetime – or two.

B6702.6001In addition to its high-quality construction, one of Vita Craft’s chief selling points is its lifetime guarantee for consumers, and the company backs that 100 percent, says Gary Martin, Vita Craft’s President today. “I’ll still replace handles, no matter how old the pan is,” he says. “If you have a Vita Craft pan, I’ll take care of it. And if you have someone else’s pan, I’ll try to fix that, too.” The company also partners with a number of cooking schools, and gives those clients a three-year warranty, because they use the pans much harder than an ordinary home cook would do, he says.

“Home users take care of their cookware, because they see it as an asset,” he says. “Commercial users see it as a cost of doing business, and expect to replace it every couple of years.”

TylerFlorenceThe company also does private-label manufacturing, including a special line for chef and Food Network star Tyler Florence. “Vita Craft was the first set of pots and pans that I learned to cook with when I was probably eight years old. No kidding, it’s the most durable, easy-to-use cookware I’ve ever had,” Florence says. “And I think they’re stunning.”

In his cookware line, long upswept handles offset the pans’ weight, making them easy to lift even when filled with food. The metal knobs and riveted handles lend the pans a contemporary appearance shared with Vita Craft’s commercial line. As for Vita Craft’s own line, Martin says, “we knew it required some redesign when we began to go into the commercial and retail business about six years ago.”

The changes are cosmetic, not structural. “We still make our pans with five plies: surgical stainless steel, and an aluminum core that goes all the way up the sides to the rim,” he says. “Our handles are phenolic resin,” – like Bakelite, he adds – “And not plastic, so they can take the oven’s heat – up to 400 degrees.”

But the oven-safe handles may be the least of the cookware’s features. The pots, pans and lid are dishwasher safe. Vita Craft’s pots and pans are designed to accommodate a self-storing lid. When food is heated in the pan, the lid creates a vapor seal that means the food inside can be cooked quickly and easily in its own juices. The vapor seal is created by heating the food over medium heat, then reducing the heat to low for the appropriate time. Users know the vapor seal has been created and it’s time to reduce the heat when the lid is hot to the touch and spins freely.

There’s another Vita Craft benefit that its users love: stack cooking. The company has designed its pans so that lids can be inverted and other pans can stack atop them. The five-ply construction conducts heat up the sides of the pan and transfers heat to the upper vessel. “We engineered 32 basic variations into the system,” boasts the company’s website.

Stack cooking means that a roast and vegetables can go in the bottom pan, additional vegetables can go into a pan that sits atop the bottom pan, and a cake can bake in a top pan resting on the middle pan. Using lower temperatures and just one burner means stack cooking energy savings, says the website.

DSC_5580With 70 percent of its sales in exports to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, where it is consistently praised as the best cookware available, most of the company’s domestic sales come from a few remaining direct sales people, with a few in-home salespeople and some bridal business sales. Marmaru Imura is the CEO and major shareholder in Vita Craft. He’s based in Kobe, Japan, and also happens to have been the largest Vita Craft distributor. He learned about Vita Craft while he attended Harvard University. The story goes that he learned about Vita Craft from a family friend of the Rockefellers, whose chef would only use Vitacraft cookware. “Over in Japan, the cookware is in department stores – they would have a space inside the store staffed with their own people,” Martin says. Imura is responsible for making Vita Craft into a household name in Japan.

Imura bought the company in 2002, and has said that his goal has been to make sure that Vita Craft remains a “made in the USA” product, according to the company’s website. Vita Craft makes its pots and pans in the 78,000-square foot plant where the company got its beginnings. Over the years, it has expanded, built on and converted buildings as it grew, but it still incorporates the company’s original footprint. With about 31 employees, all but one of them full-time, Gary says, the company’s now running two shifts. “We have been up to three shifts, but it’s a little bit seasonal,” Martin says. Several of the employees have been with the company for 30 years or more, and for some, Vita Craft has been their first and only job.

Since Martin joined Vita Craft in 1993, he’s been a hands-on boss, including interview potential employees. “They should have some mechanical aptitude, but the most important thing to me is that they should have some ethics.” As we tour the plant, employee after employee greets Martin, calling him by his first name and smiling at me. “I never could do the invisible boss thing,” he says. Again and again, Martin points out equipment that has been in use since the company began. “We’re still making cookware the same way as they were making it in the beginning,” he says.

“Vita Craft’s an old company, but we’re not old in thought. We evolve with the times. We’re a real brick-and-mortar store with real people who have real families. We work hard, and we go home dirty at the end of the day,” Martin says. There’s pride in his voice when he says that. Pride, and a great deal of love for the work he does.

Hammer Stahl Partners with Celebrity Chef & Television Host Andrew Zimmern as Exclusive Cookware Sponsor of AZ Cooks

Hammer Stahl has signed on as the exclusive cookware sponsor for the new digital series, AZ Cooks, hosted and created by Andrew Zimmern, the four-time James Beard Award winning TV personality, author, teacher and chef. Zimmern is universally recognized as one of the most versatile and knowledgeable personalities in the food world, and the digital series brings this world traveler back home and into the kitchen.

While Zimmern is best known for traveling the world and expanding people’s culinary boundaries, AZ Cooks focuses on cooking tips and practical instructions. The informative and engaging digital series includes how-to-videos which introduce viewers to classic dishes and family favorites, and also aims to empower cooks of all skill levels by decoding the sometimes intimidating dishes inspired by his travels. Zimmern demystifies food ingredients and preparation, and delivers easily digestible, straightforward information to the home chef.

“We are thrilled to partner with Andrew Zimmern. He embodies the love of great food and is passionate about its preparation and enhancing people’s culinary skills, which we embrace with our brand,” said Bobby Griggs, Vice President, Hammer Stahl. “We look forward to working with Andrew and leveraging his expertise to enhance the one-of-a-kind cooking experience we deliver to home cooks, with new inspirations and new techniques.”

This partnership is the first of its kind for Hammer Stahl and the digital series will showcase its signature American Clad cookware. Crafted in Tennessee, American Clad is the product of a proud 150-year history of small batch, high-quality stainless steel cookware manufacturing in the U.S.

Hammer Stahl, unlike other cookware manufacturers, recently chose to upgrade its entire American Clad line to the more highly-prized 316Ti interior surface from the traditional 304SS. The new 7-ply 316Ti titanium-enhanced stainless steel – the most durable, clean and inert cooking surface on the market – helps ensure that food retains its natural, authentic flavors, a quality Chef Zimmern can get behind.

“What really transforms food is using the right tools, with the right ingredients, to create the best results.   With American Clad my food retains its clean, natural flavors,” said Andrew Zimmern. “Hammer Stahl and I share the belief that cooking at home can be a transformative event, and an opportunity to share traditions and explore cultures through food.”

“We are excited to see what Andrew creates in our cookware. Through AZ Cooks, viewers will have a great opportunity to see the full potential of our product and what it can offer them in their own homes – while inspiring new recipes at the same time,” said Griggs. “Andrew is renowned for his wide breadth of food knowledge and AZ Cooks aims to bring that explorational zeal and, like Hammer Stahl, help to bring culinary literacy into the home kitchen.”

American Clad cookware featured on AZ Cooks will be available for purchase on AndrewZimmern.com. For general information, visit www.hammerstahl.com.

Hammer Stahl Introduces American Clad Cookware

Hammer Stahl is introducing American Clad Cookware – American-made, seven-ply, surgical stainless-steel cookware, crafted by hand in Clarksville, Tennessee. Hammer Stahl American Clad Cookware is part of a long line of world-class kitchen products made in the USA. As a premier brand of New Era, the company has a manufacturing legacy extending back to 1874.

“We take pride in our cookware being constructed of American steel and crafted in Clarksville, Tennessee,” said Bobby Griggs, Vice President, Hammer Stahl. “While we became well-known for our premium German steel cutlery, our cookware line has grown remarkably, and we want to clearly share its great history with our customers. We are proud to be American owned and operated, offering chef-quality American-made products. ”

Hammer Stahl American Clad Cookware combines a legacy of superior craftsmanship with a distinctive multiclad stainless steel to create the very finest home cooking experience. Designed for flavorful, low-fat cooking, this cookware is made with seven-ply multiclad stainless steel to transfer heat evenly and efficiently. This cooking system helps retain more vitamins and minerals in every recipe by cooking the food in its own juices. Surgical-grade stainless steel with titanium is durable, easy to clean and will not react chemically with food, making it safe for food storage.

Each piece of cookware is meticulously polished and inspected by hand. “We craft Hammer Stahl cookware with the same care we know our customers use to create wonderful meals for their family,” said Griggs.

Crafted by Hand, Crafted with Purpose

An emphasis on quality and pride in workmanship has been a key success factor in Hammer Stahl’s history. As a family-owned business, the company’s goal is to provide customers with exceptional quality at a fantastic value and to make cooking at home easy and enjoyable. But that’s not the whole story. According to Griggs, the real story is the team behind these world class products.

“The competitive advantage of manufacturing in the U.S. is the passion, purpose and dedication to quality by our employees. They make products that their friends, family and neighbors will benefit from using daily. This mindfulness creates a sense of pride and attention to detail that you simply cannot recreate when the manufacturing process is fundamentally separated from the final user,” he said. “We are in the crafting business, and we believe that this is something that consumers highly value in the goods they purchase.”

American Clad Cookware is about creating quality products and jobs in the heartland of this country, and doing so with a mission in mind. Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, research shows that most Americans would rather buy the American product.

All-Clad Metalcrafters Celebrates 10 Years With Chef Thomas Keller

All-Clad Metalcrafters, LLC  announces the 10 year anniversary of its formal working relationship with Chef Thomas Keller. For more than 30 years, Keller has trusted the superior quality and high performance of All-Clad cookware in the kitchens of his Michelin-starred restaurants, and in 2006, officially formed a partnership with All-Clad. During this time, Keller played an integral role in product development and testing, subsequently creating recipes and materials to inspire consumers to try new cooking techniques and expand their cooking repertoire.

In 2014, All-Clad launched a cookware collection personally developed by Keller, All-Clad TK, the first collection of cookware designed and constructed to ensure the best results for each culinary technique. In response to the success of the All-Clad TK collection, All-Clad launched a series of product extensions in the summer of 2015, which included a 5.5-quart Dutch Oven and 12-inch and 14-inch Stainless Steel and Nonstick Fry Pans.

All-Clad is now launching the All-Clad TK 17-inch Oval Roaster, another extension to the All-Clad TK collection. Inspired by Keller, the All-Clad TK Oval Roaster is handcrafted in the United States and is designed with three layers of durable stainless steel and aluminum for even heat distribution throughout the pan. The pan allows for easy storage and versatility, as the roasters are stackable and can be used on the stovetop and in the oven and broiler. The product also features a brushed stainless interior and exterior, rounded sides to contain splattering, an engraved base and a flared rim for drip-free pouring. The Oval Roaster will be available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma retail stores throughout the United States and Canada and online at Williams-Sonoma.com beginning in November 2016. The product will retail for $299.95.

“I value genuine collaboration,” said Thomas Keller, Chef / Proprietor of The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon. “I believed in and used All-Clad long before I partnered with them–first because the cookware is manufactured in the U.S., and, second, because there is no piece of cookware made anywhere that has the same connectivity, aesthetics and durability. They continue to innovate and ask the right questions about what chefs need and how they cook, and that inspires me to add my influence to their design.”

“All-Clad is thrilled to celebrate our 10 year anniversary of working with Chef Thomas Keller,” stated Michele Lupton, Director of Marketing and Brand Marketing for All-Clad. “Chef Keller is a true inspiration to the culinary community. We are immensely proud of our longstanding relationship with him and look forward to our continual partnership.”

To honor a decade of collaborating with the legendary American chef and restaurateur, as well as to celebrate the launch of the new All-Clad TK Oval Roaster, All-Clad will be enacting a special “10 Days Celebrating 10 Years” social media campaign, beginning on Tuesday, November 15. The commemorative campaign will contain cookware giveaways, exclusive photo albums, recipes and more. Chef Thomas Keller will also participate in his first-ever Instagram takeover, which will go live on All-Clad’s Instagram page during the campaign. Consumers are invited to interact on All-Clad’s social media pages as well as via the hashtag #10yearswithTK.

Hammer Stahl Holiday Promotion Underway at Gourmet Retailers Nationwide

Hammer Stahl is celebrating the holidays with two special promotions – one on select German Steel chef knives and the other on professional-quality fry pans – designed to drive consumers to specialty gourmet retailers during the holiday gift-giving season.

Hammer Stahl, a company which proudly manufactures professional quality multi-clad stainless steel cookware in Clarksville, Tennessee, and offers a line of German steel cutlery, is offering its two piece fry pan collection, including the 8.5-inch and 10.5-inch fry pans; as well as the 5.5-inch Santoku knife and brand new 6-inch chef knife at special pricing until December 31, 2016. National ads supporting the promotions appear in Food & Wine magazine. Consumers are being directed to www.hammerstahl.com/madeinusa for the pans and www.hammerstahl.com/shoplocal for the knives and to locate a retailer in their area.

Cook Up Holiday Treats or Everyday Meals

The Hammer Stahl fry pan is a terrific go-to pan for all meals from breakfast to dinner, and everything in-between. The 8.5-inch and 10.5-inch fry pans are ideal for pan frying, sauté, searing and browning. The flat bottom and curved sides make tossing and flipping food easy. According to industry surveys, fry pans, sauté pans and skillets account for one-third of cookware purchases, and Hammer Stahl is helping to meet this demand with this aggressive promotion on multi-clad stainless steel cookware. The promotion gives retailers a tool to help increase sales, drive traffic and maintain a healthy margin.

“Hammer Stahl is proud that our stainless steel multi-clad cookware is manufactured in Clarksville, Tennessee,” said Bobby Griggs, Vice President, Hammer Stahl. “These fry pans heat evenly and are very responsive to temperature. They both have a hollow, ergonomic handle and a lifetime warranty. Consumers love them!”

While the best quality cookware usually comes with a premium price tag, Hammer Stahl is offering this two piece set consisting of the 8.5-inch and 10.5- inch fry pans at the special retail price of $99 (regularly $199.00) for a limited time.

Professional Quality Cutlery for the Home Cook

Hammer Stahl cutlery has seen aggressive growth in the retail sector over the past 18 months. Retail stores consistently report that Hammer Stahl cutlery is coveted by professional and home chefs alike for its razor sharp cutting edge and its forged German steel. “We have consistently seen increased demand for midsized Santoku and chef knives. The 5.5-inch Santoku and 6-inch chef knife is the perfect size for everyday use and is not intimidating to the beginning cook. A shorter blade gives you more control over the knife, and is excellent for most basic tasks like slicing vegetables or chopping fresh herbs,” said Griggs. During the last holiday season, the 5.5-inch Santoku knife was a big success for retailers nationwide, which prompted Hammer Stahl to introduce the 6-inch chef knife for the 2016 holiday gift season.

The knives are made in the tradition of the great German knife makers, from top-quality high-carbon stainless steel. A patented new design and a manufacturing process make the knives affordable. The knives’ handles are ergonomically designed with a comfortable grip which reduces fatigue. All Hammer Stahl knives are heirloom quality and guaranteed for life.

Hammer Stahl’s new 6-inch chef knife is being offered for $39.95 and the 5.5-inch Santoku knife for $29.95 at select gourmet retailers until December 31, 2016. For general information, visit www.hammerstahl.com.

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