Several months have passed since BCC sent out the last Hammersmith pan, and while Hammersmith is no longer in the pot dealing business, Brooklyn Copper Cookware is alive, kickin’ and coming back stronger, with new partnerships from coast-to-coast and entirely new designs for American-made copper cookware.
First, since so many have asked (“Are you guys still banging metal?” “What’s going on? Why no word?” “Am I still on the mailing list?” “Hope this is still a working email address!”) let me apologize for the silence. We’ve been quiet mostly because we’ve been storydoing at the expense of storytelling. There’s lots to report; for those among you new to the family let me start with a little background.
BCC got off to a pretty auspicious start. Our original Hammersmith prototypes were so beautiful we couldn’t resist sending them off to chefs like Alice Waters, Daniel Humm, Cindy Pawlcyn, Joyce Goldstein and others for a look. Their generous replies will show up on the revamped website, but let me just say for now that I was far from the only one to think it absurd that such a basic technology was no longer made in the US. Copper cookware had been made here for hundreds of years, and the last of it came out of Brooklyn. It would have been enough that I was already here, but as it turned out all the equipment needed to bring copper cookware back was still in Brooklyn too.
Hammersmith Co. owned a lot of the old tooling from the storied Bruno Waldow line of copper cookware, dating from the 1930s. Most of that tooling had not been used since Waldow closed shop around 1980, but when I came along in 2010 interested in putting those tools back to work again, enough of it tested out soundly that I sold my apartment to start building Brooklyn Copper Cookware, and we would sell Hammersmith pots made on original Waldow tooling. I thought I’d hit the jackpot (so to speak) – not only for the association with the historic Waldow name, but new machine tooling would have (as I’m now learning) cost more than the one apartment I had to sell.
Well, after about a year our good fortune started to look a little less so. The old tooling, once again being used full-out, started showing its age fairly soon. The telltale signs were at first obscure to Hammersmith – it’s hard to inspect tooling while it’s being used, and shortly after launching we had hundreds of orders to fill so it was being used hard. The machines, too, were unhappy about being so aggressively woken after such a long slumber. The lathes, hydraulic press, pneumatic riveter… all needed constant attention and replacement parts that had not been made for a generation. Everyone was doing the best they could, but it was slowly dawning that while learning to swim we had leaped into the deep end with leaky water wings.
As if relying on antique machine tooling weren’t risky enough, another mistake we made was charging our customers before delivering value. BCC was, in effect, floating Hammersmith’s struggle to patch things up as they worked to make progress on the expanding order queue. We funded that float from current cash-flow, i.e., fully paid orders, and about this I have serious regrets. Although it’s a standard transaction model for bespoke goods, when it was apparent those goods were coming from increasingly shaky operations, we should have switched to a charge-the-card-when-the-order-ships model, certainly as soon as reasonably timely deliveries started faltering, and absolutely when the calls started coming in concerning quality and finish issues.
In effect, as long as the shopping cart was up I was giving my word that we could deliver the goods, so every order contained within it a vow I’d made which was personally difficult for me to break once I’d made it. This became a vicious cycle that affected BCC’s integrity as well as my own, and the solution was all along the one I finally ended up enacting – take down the shopping cart to get control of quality and fulfillment, refund existing orders, and reboot the entire business model. If my word was to represent a new quality standard in cooking tools, the only way I would be able to keep it was to start over.
I’m sorry it took me so many months to do that, and more so that even one botched pan got out the door, but I am in equal measure grateful – not only for the great patience so many of you have shown BCC in our first couple of years, but for the pleasures of being involved with an expanding tribe of talented, intense, committed, helpful and discerning devotees of decent chow.
To be continued…