Food

Meet Great Jones: The Female-Run Cookware Empire That’s Modernizing Your Kitchen Essentials

Photograph: Tory Williams

Meet Great Jones: The Female-Run Cookware Empire That’s Modernizing Your Kitchen Essentials

FEMALE FOUNDERS

Meet Great Jones: The Female-Run Cookware Empire That’s Modernizing
Your Kitchen Essentials

Perhaps the only upside to workplace inequality is it has driven a lot of amazing women out of corporate America—and straight to the helm of their own companies. We decided we didn’t want to just cheer them on anymore. We wanted to meet them and interview them and write about them. With that, we give you: Female Founders, a column featuring women who create, design, and inspire.

Sierra Tishgart and Maddy Moelis met at Camp Mataponi twenty years ago. Their friendship was founded on a shared love of Chipwich sandwiches and being eight years old. Twenty years later, they’re still friends—and now business partners. In fact, food was at the crux of their new relationship, too.

Their joint venture, Great Jones, is a love song to home-cooked meals—big or small. The launch features the five pieces that should be in every chef’s kitchen—including the Small Fry, a ceramic nonstick pan, and the Dutchess, a Dutch oven that’s perfect for slow-roasting. All the pieces are ceramic or cast-iron and nonstick without using Teflon. In other words: as smart as they are safe. “All of the Great Jones shapes, curves, and weights are the result of extensive, obsessive testing,” explains Tishgart. “It’s a reflection of how people are cooking right now.”

A Q&A with Sierra Tishgart and Maddy Moelis

Q
There are so many cookware brands out there—why did you decide to launch Great Jones?
A

TISHGART: A venture capitalist once told us, somewhat snidely, that women start companies to solve their own problems. I don’t see anything wrong with that—we’re in touch with our own needs. It’s our origin story. After working as a food editor at New York Magazine for five years, running around nightly to every new restaurant, I wanted to spend more time at home, in my pajamas, cooking and taking better care of myself. I needed to upgrade my kitchenware (no more Teflon!), and I had trouble figuring out what I actually needed and why. I wanted guidance. I wanted pieces that would last. I wanted them to be beautiful. I wanted to be able to reasonably purchase them for myself, instead of waiting to receive them as a registry present.

MOELIS: At the point when Sierra identified this need for herself, I was working at Zola, the online wedding registry company. At Zola, I was seeing the enormity of the cookware market up close and also noticing consumers experiencing the same frustrations as Sierra. She had me over for dinner; we talked about bringing this to life. Immediately, I was hooked.

“I needed to upgrade my kitchenware (no more Teflon!), and I had trouble figuring out what I actually needed and why,” says Tishgart. “I wanted guidance. I wanted pieces that would last. I wanted them to be beautiful. I wanted to be able to reasonably purchase them for myself, instead of waiting to receive them as a registry present.”


Q
What was the fund-raising process like?
A

TISHGART: There’s never been a better time for women to raise money. Investors, who are still predominantly male, know that female-led companies often produce successful results with less capital and lower risk. It’s smart to bet on us. Fund-raising, though, can be quite tied to privilege, and we understand that our networks opened up doors for us that gave us an advantage.


Q
How do you divide up responsibilities?
A

MOELIS: We have very different interests and strengths. Fortunately, our respective interests complement each other well, and dividing up work is a seamless process. I oversee business operations, finance, supply chain, and customer experience, and I’m extremely grateful to have a partner who can identify the perfect font for our website or when a color looks off on our packaging.

TISHGART: I oversee product design, marketing, editorial, and creative direction. We make major decisions together, whether that’s hiring our first employees, setting office culture, or deciding how much money to raise. What stresses me out doesn’t stress Maddy out, and vice versa, which is pretty ideal. We also see a CEO coach, who helps us navigate the moments when we don’t see eye-to-eye—we recommend this for any new entrepreneurs. Talk therapy is important.

“We also see a CEO coach, who helps us navigate the moments when we don’t see eye-to-eye—we recommend this for any new entrepreneurs,” says Tishgart. “Talk therapy is important.”


Q
How do living and working in New York City, where so many people have small spaces—particularly kitchens—inspire how you think about that product design?
A

TISHGART: Having a small New York kitchen (and little closet space) means that it’s often necessary for your cookware to sit on your stove, even when you’re not using it. Pots and pans then become highly visible design pieces, just like a sofa or a rug. Why shouldn’t they be just as aesthetically pleasing as everything else in your home? We also incorporated space-saving solutions into our collection; our stainless steel pieces share lids and nest.

“Having a small New York kitchen (and little closet space) means that it’s often necessary for your cookware to sit on your stove, even when you’re not using it,” says Tishgart. “Pots and pans then become highly visible design pieces, just like a sofa or a rug.”


Q
How did you approach developing and testing the cookware?
A

TISHGART: We consulted chefs and cookbook authors we’re fortunate to call friends (for example, Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow, who decided to invest, too). We 3D-printed our designs and carried them to chefs all over town. A wide range of people tested our products, but I’d say my butcher was the most helpful, and she was able to speak to the nuances in how our pans brown and roast meat.


Q
What’s something you didn’t know about starting your own business that you learned along the way?
A

TISHGART: I’m surprised by how lonely it can feel to be an entrepreneur, especially in the year leading up to our launch. My life as a writer and editor was so collaborative; I spent all day talking to people. It’s hard to spend every waking minute thinking about an idea, trying to make it come to life, and not be able to share it with anyone. I don’t know how anyone does this alone, so I’m grateful I had Maddy through it all.

MOELIS: I’ve had to become much more comfortable with the unknown. Having worked at companies like Warby Parker and Zola in their early days, I thought I knew all the ins and outs of starting a business. I realized very quickly that this wasn’t the case—there’s so much more that goes into entrepreneurship than I was exposed to. That was jarring at first. I’ve had to become comfortable with not knowing how everything will turn out, which is hard for me. Starting a business is definitely a leap of faith.

“I’ve had to become comfortable with not knowing how everything will turn out, which is hard for me,” explains Moelis. “Starting a business is definitely a leap of faith.”


Q
Who are your mentors?
A


TISHGART: Alison Cayne, who runs Haven’s Kitchen, is a trusted advisor and close friend. We tested all our products in her kitchen and reviewed them with her staff. Setting the ideal weight for our cookware—making it substantial but not so heavy that it’s a burden—was crucial. We also spent hours crafting our handle so it was as comfortable as possible.

MOELIS: Nobu Nakaguchi, one of the cofounders of Zola, set an example for how to be an incredible leader. He strikes the perfect balance of being a strong sounding board for his employees, while also providing them with space and autonomy to figure things out on their own. He never hesitates to dive into the weeds and work alongside his team. I call him for advice often.


Q
How did you land on the name Great Jones?
A

TISHGART: The name is a nod to Judith Jones, a cookbook editor who championed and published the work of Julia Child, Edna Lewis, James Beard, and many other iconic, diverse authors. She died last year at age ninety-three—and she also had the most beautiful kitchen—so she’s an all-around inspiration. The name also, more obviously, references New York, where we’re proud to both live and build this business.


Q
With the holidays approaching, what are you most excited to make?
A

TISHGART: I usually cook without recipes, going off whatever looks good at the greenmarket. That said, I’m quite excited about Anita Lo’s new book, Solo, because I primarily cook just for myself. I’m looking forward to making her clams and black beans recipe in our Saucy pans.

MOELIS: I’m excited to cook my family’s potato latkes recipe in the Deep Cut, our deep sauté pan. Making latkes on the first night of Hanukkah is a tradition my mom, my sister, and I have been doing for as long as I can remember—it’s one of my favorite nights of the year.


Q
Best advice you’ve received?
A

MOELIS: Keep asking questions.


TISHGART: Never refuse dessert.

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