Innovations by All-Clad spur revolution in cookware
Four decades ago, a revolutionary metallurgist began a business in Canonsburg that produced dimes, quarters and half-dollars for the government.
Today that business remains, but with a much different focus.
All-Clad Metalcrafters LLC along Morganza Road produces cookware that professional chefs and casual culinary enthusiasts covet. The shift from coins to cooking tools can be traced to a piece of leftover metal and the founder's culinary skills.
Mt. Lebanon native John Ulam founded the business in 1967 as Clad Metals. It specialized in formulating bonded metals for industries, including the U.S. Mint, ballistics and avionics.
Ulam realized “the combination of different metals created composites that yielded superior results,” according to the company website. He secured more than 50 U.S. patents for bonded metals and became instrumental in the nation's conversion from solid silver coins to bonded layered metals used in coins today.
Ulam liked to cook and one day decided to shape a piece of leftover metal into a pan.
He liked it so much, he sold a few to friends and then sold more at local fairs. By 1971, he had a side project called All-Clad Metalcrafters up and running.
When Ulam sold the company to Pittsburgh businessman Sam Michaels in 1988, All-Clad became more than just a secondary business.
“He knew the jewel was the cookware,” said Trevor Dunthorne, vice president of operations.
Today, All-Clad's list of products includes saute pans, pots, skillets, roasters, slow cookers, soup pots, and steamers, among others.
Workers handcraft each piece of cookware with a bonding process using a proprietary recipe of metals. A pure core of aluminum, stainless or copper runs up the sides of each piece to distribute heat evenly. The stainless steel interior cooking surface cleans easily.
Employees cast long, stick handles from solid stainless steel. They form rivets from high-yield strength stainless steel and treat it to remove trace elements of iron that could cause corrosion.
“All-Clad was a real industry leader in taking an enormous step forward with a really high-quality product,” said Hugh Rushing, executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association, based in Birmingham, Ala.
“They really have done a fantastic job of getting the customer loyalty necessary to preserve turf, particularly in the high-end realm in which they operate.”
All-Clad products come with a lifetime guarantee, though Dunthorne said the return rate is “very small.”
Company executives proudly point out that the Canonsburg site is not just an assembly site.
Workers begin with a raw product and create a finished product. All materials are domestic, including steel from Pennsylvania. Each year, employees produce more than a million pieces of cookware.
All-Clad, now owned by international manufacturer of kitchen appliances Groupe SEB, enjoys a loyal following among cooks of all levels of experience. Twice a year, many flock to its semiannual factory sale. Held at the Washington County Fair Grounds in June and December, the event attracts people from across the country, some who plan vacations around it.
“It is a cookware enthusiast's utopia,” said Dewayne Rideout, vice president of human resources.
Rushing calls All-Clad “the Cadillac” of cookware.
Although executives wouldn't reveal which product is the best-seller, the website names the Stainless Collection as the company's most popular. The collection features bonded construction combining an interior layer of aluminum for even heating and an stainless cooking surface.
Collections include d5 Brushed, with a patented inner core of premium stainless that guarantees 20 percent more even heating performance over traditional cookware, and Copper Core, which features a bonded five-ply construction that combines the heat conductivity of copper with the cleaning ease of stainless steel.
All-Clad formed partnerships with Relais & Châteaux, a collection of restaurants and hotels around the world, and the Bocuse d'Or, a biennial world chef championship competition.
Dunthorne attributes the brand loyalty among chefs to the focus on performance and product development. Employees work with chefs around the world to pinpoint needs in the industry and test products.
“We are always bringing new products to the market,” he said. “We are always looking at new things to do.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.