For years, Middleton Made Knives was a one-man operation geared toward elite chefs looking for handcrafted, custom knives. That's still founder Quintin Middleton's mission, but his new Echo series of knives is making his products more accessible and affordable while creating opportunities for new employees in his Lowcountry workshop.
Middleton Made Knives are revered by chefs locally and nationally, earning praise from notable figures like Sean Brock, Craig Deihl and Emeril Lagasse. But with price tags that can top $1,000, chefs grinding on the line may not be able to pony up for Middleton fully customizable knives.
"Over the years I noticed that I would lose sales because certain line cooks couldn't afford a higher-end custom made knife," Middleton said. "I realized that line cooks really don't make very much money."
Line cook salaries vary, but most earn $11-$15 per hour. These chefs are expected to perform, but many of the knives on the market simply don't get the job done, Middleton said.
That's why he came up with the idea to sell a cheaper line back in 2014 when he launched a Kickstarter for his "MKD" brand of knives. After raising over $35,000 and becoming the first knifemaker to successfully complete a Kickstarter campaign, Middleton was forced to put the line on hold after a disappointing launch.
"With MKD, people didn't really know what it was because I was branding it as this whole different company separate from my custom knives," Middleton said. "People really weren't gravitating towards it."
Middleton said he wasn't working with the MKD knives daily, in part because they felt generic. But that's all changed with the Echo knives, which are made with individual chefs in mind just like his critically acclaimed blades.
But what sets the Echo series apart from the failed MKD knives? Middleton works with each Echo knife in his St. Stephen shop just like all of his customized knives. To reduce costs, the Echo knives are cut out of steel in bulk — his original Middleton Made Knives are hand-forged from start to finish.
"When it comes back to the shop, my apprentices and I are hand grinding and doing everything else just like my customized knives," he said. Priced between $100 and $240, the Echo series features paring, nakiri and chef's knives, each available in five colors.
"A lot of people really don't think about cutting or cooking as enjoyable because they have a really dull knife, so it's a task," he said. "To be comfortable when they are using it and it's performing well, that's what makes my knives stand out."
The use of apprentices are another change at Middleton's shop — and a mindset shift for a man used to having control. He's excited for the help from two siblings who also reside in St. Stephen, where the shop is located.
"From day one, I wanted to employ people from my community and breathe life back into the American dream," he said. Middleton's first hire since starting Middleton Made Knives in March 2010 was Mitchell Gaillard, a high school friend.
"He came to me and said, 'Hey man, I'm really kind of swamped and could use some help,'" Gaillard said. "It took off from there."
According to Gaillard, he didn't even know Middleton was a knife-maker when they reconnected earlier this year. "My first day was just pretty much watching what he does," he said. "I didn't want to touch anything my first few days; I just wanted to soak in exactly what he was doing and how it was being done. After about maybe the third day, he started me out on the blades and putting the handles together."
Gaillard quickly saw what makes Middleton's knives different. "I'm into art and drawing and I look at them like an art piece," he said. "The people that have come up to us who buy the knives swear by it and say they're the best knives on the market."
Middleton later added Gaillard's sister Felicia to work in the shop and help manage shipping orders. Making knives that are accessible to more cooks while providing opportunities for the Gaillards has added another layer to the business, Middleton said.
"The group of people that I have, they are very passionate and they are very driven. To have someone that cares as much as I do, that pushes me to do better. I'll go above and beyond for any one of them."
For more information on the Middleton
Made Knives Echo series, visit middletonmadeknives.com.
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