Jake Kalick’s life was always going to revolve around the kitchen. Growing up in the North End, he followed the careers of Barbara Lynch and Todd English the way his friends fixated on Paul Pierce and Tom Brady. It’s no wonder that food has played a central role since day one — he was born into it. His family business, Harbour Food Service Equipment, has outfitted Boston’s restaurants since 1929.
Almost 90 years later, in 2017, he embarked on a company of his own, Made In Cookware, with his best childhood friend, Chip Malt. The two created the direct-to-consumer line out of a blind spot in the industry. “There wasn’t enough attention paid to kitchen tools and why you should invest in them,” explains Kalick. “We thought that if we could build a compelling brand that did things in the right way, we could get into a lot of other categories.” It’s been a hugely successful and eventful three years for Made In, which started out selling pots and pans and has developed their line to include knives, wooden spoons, and most recently tableware.
Made In’s success speaks to the growing food culture among millennials. They’re a direct-to-consumer company that partners with artisanal makers from France to Tennessee to create their wares. But they’ve also tapped into a valuable resource that speaks to their credibility: chefs. In fact, Kalick says, every piece they’ve sold has been inspired by his past outfitting commercial kitchens. “We took our design aesthetic and knowledge from what pro kitchens buy, and then gave the home cook only what they need.” That’s why, Malt adds, they have such a diverse clientele, from kitchen novices to some of the best chefs in the world. And their roots in Boston have been integral to that journey.
Joseph Liebowitz, the executive chef for Encore Boston Harbor, found the company early on and chose them to supply the 16 kitchens at the hotel and casino. Liebowitz says he took a chance on Made In because of the affordability, durability, and design of the products. That was a huge turning point for the fledgling entrepreneurs. “It opened our eyes up as a young business,” says Malt. “That was when we realized that restaurant and professional chef support would be and should be a central part of the brand.” Chef Chris Coombs, of Deuxave, dbar, and Boston Chops followed suit, as did Tiffani Faison of Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama, Fool’s Errand, and Orfano.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, they find themselves in a strange situation. The business has been flourishing financially, particularly with home cooking on the rise. But the food and beverage industry that’s helped to build them up over the past three years is in dire straits. Made In has concentrated their efforts on philanthropy, donating more than $30,000 to Southern Smoke, an emergency relief fund for industry members. They’ve also reinvested in content, producing series like their 14-week Instagram Live “Team Dinner” series, where a different chef cooked with one of Made In’s team members every night. Through those and other initiatives, they say, they’ve been able to provide some financial support to chefs and other restaurant workers in need.
The food world is also seeing an overdue racial reckoning — especially important in a field known for being helmed by white males, which Kalick and Malt are quick to point out they are. Here, too, they’re drawing on their connections with chefs to elevate previously underrepresented voices and promote change.
“We definitely feel a responsibility, as culinary culture has long been rooted in issues of diversity,” says Malt. “It’s sparked a ton of conversations internally about where we fit in and what we need to do as a brand.” In their cookware collaborations, they’ve tried to prioritize working with chefs of color, like Matt Horn and Jamilka Borges, and hold themselves accountable to prioritize diversity in their hiring practices. In the midst of warp-speed business development, Kalick admits, they have been so focused on the products themselves, that they’re only now trying to solidify their brand DNA, one where equal representation in terms of race and gender is a central tenet.
Though they’re taking the time to look inward and ahead, they’re also reflecting on the progress of the past three years. And part of that is fostering their connection with Boston. Though Made In is currently headquartered in Austin, their hometown is never far from their minds, particularly when it comes to food. Kalick’s go-tos: Banyan Bar + Refuge, Tiger Mama, SELECT Oyster Bar, and Blackbird Donuts. Malt never skips an opportunity to have the buffalo chicken sub at Ma Magoo’s in Cambridge, and books at Boston Chops and Toro whenever he can.
Kalick says, “We fell in love with food in Boston, the first chefs we worked with were in Boston, and our family and friends are in Boston. It’s a hugely important place for us.”
His business partner/best friend is quick to throw in a teasing anecdote: “Jake still flies home to get his hair cut in Boston, so we’ll always have that tie to the city.”
Leah Bhabha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.