As an award-winning food writer, Sierra Tishgart has seen a lot of great cookware in her time. She has interviewed chefs who are deeply attached to their copper Mauviel pots, Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch ovens, and All-Clad sauciers. But as Tishgart surveyed all of this fancy expensive cookware, she felt like many of these brands weren’t really speaking to younger consumers like herself.
For one thing, most of these pots and pans were prohibitively expensive, partly because they were all sold through through department stores, which layered on middleman markups. The whole cookware industry seemed to be unnecessarily complicated, making it impossible to tell what made one skillet better than another. And neither the branding nor the products themselves seemed designed to appeal to twenty- and thirtysomethings, who are starting to invest in their homes. “I found myself at home more, and wanting to become a better home cook,” Tishgart says. “But I found the process of figuring out what I need in the kitchen really overwhelming, and cookware seemed to lack originality in design.”
That’s when Tishgart came up with the idea for Great Jones, a new cookware company aimed at young home cooks, which sells attractive pots and pans online. (The startup is named after Judith Jones, the cookbook author and editor who published the work of Julia Child, James Beard, and others. She passed away last year at the age of 93.) To help Tishgart launch the business, she reached out to Maddy Moelis, one of her closest friends, whom she met at the age of eight at summer camp. Moelis happened to have graduated from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where many direct-to-consumer brands got their start. Moelis started her career working for several fast-growing startups, including Warby Parker and wedding registry company Zola, which gave her a clear view into the homeware space. “I saw how big a business cookware is, but I also saw how hard it was for the big, classic cookware brands to reach a millennial audience,” says Moelis. “Brand managers and the marketing teams at those companies struggled to speak in a voice that was relevant to our generation.”
The two of them raised a small friends and family funding round to get Great Jones off the ground, and are now ready to take on the $2.1 billion global cookware industry, which is expected to experience significant growth by 2024, with analysts expecting it to more than double. Data shows that 60% of first-time home buyers today are millennials. These twenty- and thirtysomethings are outfitting their new houses with homewares and kitchen products. So the founders believe it’s the right time to introduce a new cookware brand oriented toward them.
But there’s competition. MadeIn is a notable competitor; it launched online in 2016 with a line of stainless steel pots and pans. Milo launched in April this year with a single product, a $95 Dutch oven. And there are also several knife and kitchen tool brands on the market, including Material Kitchen and Misen. (Kitchen brands seem to like “M” names.)
Great Jones’s introductory collection consists of four pieces of stainless steel cookware (a saucepan, a saute pan, a stock pot, and a small fry pan with a ceramic non-stick coating) and one Dutch oven. They’re all priced between $45 and $145, while the full set can be purchased for $395, which puts it on par with brands you might find at Target like Cuisinart, and significantly cheaper than brands you might find at speciality stores like Sur La Table, like Demeyere or Staub. Tishgart and Moelis say they’ve used the same materials that high-end brands use to ensure even distribution of heat during cooking, making it less likely that you’ll burn your food. They make their products in factories based in Hong Kong (I have not tested these products in the kitchen, so I can’t speak to how well they work in action.)
Tishgart and Moelis hope Great Jones’s vibrant look will help it stand out from the competition. The founders worked with professional industrial designer, whose name they are not disclosing. All the pots and pans have contrasting brass-colored metal for the handles, and the Dutch oven (playfully called The Dutchess) comes in an eye-catching color palette of pink, yellow, and dark green. While many people hide their cookware when it is not in use, the founders hope that customers like their pots so much, they’ll want to leave them out.
Great Jones’ founders were inspired by vintage colors and shapes. On the Great Jones website, the logo typeface is inspired by the 1970s “Thank You For Shopping” bags found in New York. The brand’s Instagram feed is full of pictures of campy old cookbooks, including one with a picture of Elvis Presley on the cover. Several books feature Great Jones pans with curved handles photoshopped into them, to show how germane this aesthetic looks in vintage books. “It’s about color, warmth, and a nod to the nostalgia of cooking,” says Tishgart. “We wanted to create something that would connect you to different generations in your family, while of course having a modern design.”
Tishgart and Moelis also hope to tap into customers’ frustration with having to shop around. Right now, if you’re looking to upgrade your kitchen with premium products, you need to go to separate brands to buy your cast iron and stainless steel pieces. Great Jones offers pieces that the founders believe are the essentials of a kitchen set. All products are delivered to the customer within a week, and ship for free when you spend over $100. Tishgart says that she reached out to many chefs to identify their most frequently used pieces, while Moelis studied market data to figure out the most frequently purchased items. “We’re setting ourselves up as a one-stop shop,” says Tishgart. “We offered five pieces from the start, and wanted to explain and inform you about what each of these does.”
Explaining the cookware is key. The brand’s website highlights each of the five pots and pans, explaining what foods will cook best in each. A large pan, for instance, could be ideal for paella, but it is also appropriately sized for making pancakes for a group. There is also information about how to take care of the cookware.
Above all, the founders say, they want to create a brand that resonates emotionally with customers. “Food is emotional,” says Tishgart. “Whether it’s just me cooking for myself in my pajamas, or having my boyfriend’s family over for the first time and struggling to roast chicken. We want all this to come across in our brand.”
Will Great Jones’s branding and design be enough to lure customers, especially now that the internet abounds with startups selling comparable products at good prices? And will the brand be able to compete with Amazon Prime and the endless array of pots and pans that can be bought on impulse and arrive on the doorstep two days later? We’ll have to wait and see.