The best cookware brands have blue collar origin stories. Founded in 1865 as a “butt factory” that made hardware and stove products beside the Erie Extension Canal in Pennsylvania, Griswold became the biggest name in cast iron cookware in the late 19th century; today, their skillets fetch a premium on eBay and at flea markets. All-Clad, based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, was founded by a metallurgist named John Ulam, who applied his know-how with bonded metals to cookware in 1971, creating the first multi-ply pans. Then there’s Marie + Merrill, a new direct-to-consumer startup selling US-manufactured cookware, founded by two guys with no professional experience in metals or cooking — and they’re about to sell you your next sauté pan at a steep discount compared to competitors.
That’s not the whole story, of course. Marie + Merrill founders John Early and Graham Heard, who worked in eCommerce at Shopify and Billy Reid, respectively, became interested in cookware when they decided to upgrade their own pots and pans. What they noticed was an abundance of cheap products at one end and very expensive products on the other, but not much of good quality at an affordable price.
“The other thing I noticed,” Early said, “is that there was a common trend of cookware, similar to mattresses, being sold through these ridiculous sales. It got me wondering: Why is this product able to be sold at such a discount? There has to be a lot of margin there. Looking into it further, it’s a pretty simple product.”
The specific expertise the factory provides is the ability to make cookware with an aluminum core wrapped in stainless steel, in which the aluminum extends all the way to the sides of the pan.
They found one of the few remaining independent factories in the US — a place they contractually can’t name, but which is in Wisconsin — capable of manufacturing multi-ply cookware at scale. The specific expertise the factory provides is the ability to make cookware with an aluminum core wrapped in stainless steel, in which the aluminum extends all the way to the sides of the pan. This construction, originally owned by All-Clad (the IP has since expired) creates a pan that excels in heat distribution, heat retention, and which doesn’t react too quickly to temperature changes — like when you add add a room-temperature steak to a hot pan.
Marie + Merrill, named for Early’s grandmother and Heard’s grandfather, will launch on Kickstarter in late September with a line of three skillets (8, 10, and 12 inches), two sauté pans (10 and 12 inches) and five pots ranging from two quarts to eight. Prices begin at $60 for the smallest skillet and go up to $140 for the largest pot. We got our hands on an early production model of the 10-inch skillet, which is a beautiful brushed stainless pan with a riveted handle. At $70, its not cheap. But it’s still $20 less expensive than the All-Clad equivalent on sale.