NAPA VALLEY, CA— Founded by Stanley Cheng, founder of Vallejo, CA-based Meyer Corp., Hestan Culinary came to market as a commercial business venture in 2015. The brand was focused around the commercial side of the culinary world and included freestanding ranges, island suites, countertop equipment, convection ovens, griddles, char broilers, French tops, hot tops, planchas, salamanders, cheese-melters, fryers, pasta cookers and refrigerated bases.
However, soon after, Cheng realized that he had an opportunity to serve the home cook as well. Seizing an opportunity to shake up the category by establishing a brand that is forward thinking, Hestan’s consumer side was born. Still keeping focused on commercial business, it also launched a consumer division, which includes Hestan Smart Cooking— which debuted with the Hestan Cue in 2017— and Hestan Culinary.
Knowing that the brand had an opportunity to make a splash in the cookware market, Cheng hired Pamela Stafford, now the director of Hestan Culinary, in 2016, to help build the brand’s awareness at retail. Stafford had worked in housewares for a now-shuttered store in Santa Barbara, CA, called Giordano’s; and then worked for Brady Marketing as a brand builder.
“I’ve seen the business from the buying side as well as being the agent. I understand the needs of both sides— the retailer and also what the manufacturer needs. All of this experience really helps in this position,” Stafford told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®.
She explained that when creating the cookware, Hestan tapped the professional relationships Cheng had made with culinary icons, like Thomas Keller and Cory Lee, to find out what the pitfalls of even their favorite cookware lines were.
“He took a different approach with these products. [Cheng] spent a lot of time asking them what they didn’t like about the equipment they had and how it could have been improved, so that’s really how the culinary side of the business started,” she said.
After heavy research and development as well as technological advancements, Hestan launched its NanoBond collection, which was developed by Cheng and has 14 global patents on it, with Williams Sonoma in 2017. The cookware brought new benefits to serious home cooks, including flush rivets and the sealed rim, which helps prevent delamination, said Stafford, and a handle that was designed for comfort.
“We made sure to collaborate with chefs in order to create a well-balanced design for that pan. You can see the craftsmanship on the cookware. Even small design benefits we use on the cookware really makes a difference to the consumer,” Stafford said.
Met with sales success, the company went back to work on creating new goods under the Culinary umbrella based on consumer demand. In 2019, the company launched both its ProBond and CopperBond collections, a reflection of the consumer interest and support the company has garnered.
“It takes a lot of effort to craft, shape and build a brand. We need to understand the vision, craft the vision and then really launch it and make it come to life,” said Stafford.
The vision, added Stafford, while it is about the cookware, is also about creating and building relationships with retailers and consumers. Case in point: The cookware has seen success in an already saturated cookware market amongst independent retailers. However, said Stafford, she feels it is because of the personal touch Hestan emphasizes with both its customers and their customers.
John Melin, owner of Ketchum, ID-based Ketchum Kitchens, noted that the company dedicated time, resources and even dollars to creating an atmosphere that would help the shop see success with the brand. It worked, said Melin— Hestan is now the top-selling cookware brand in his store.
“Hestan has done all of the things a company should do if it is looking to launch a product into the independent channel. They’ve been a great partner in this business,” he said.
And, said Stafford, the personal touch isn’t just for the independent channel. Hestan has been garnering attention at high-end department stores, like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, and other retail outlets like Williams Sonoma. But not just for the cookware— also for the effort the brand puts into being a partner.
“When we see Hestan really shine, it’s in a store. We have so much more online today, but we are finding that because of the look of the product, it is really important for people to see it in person,” she said.
And, said Stafford, she ensures that every retail partner understands how important they are, whether it is sending personalized thank you notes and bottles of wine from Hestan Vineyards, or helping to create a launch event. This creates an important business relationship that serves both Hestan and the brand well.
However, while Hestan does put emphasis on its channels of distribution, Stafford said that the cookware is also offered online for an omnichannel presence. But, she said, the effort of the brand to make things as personal as possible is designed to come through even in the digital world, where no one expects it.
“Digital can be cold and impersonal; it doesn’t feel like it is a custom or personal experience,” Stafford said.
The company just launched its new cookware concierge service (see story, page 16) that is designed to allow customers to speak to a live representative at a time of their choice in order to ensure they are making the proper investment.
“We will set up a conference at your convenience— it can be phone or video. We will talk to you about how you cook, what you cook and how many you cook for. We will answer all of your questions about different types of cookware, like the difference between bonded and tri-ply. We will help guide customers through the right selection and help them make the best decision. We want to bring the in-store experience to the home,” Stafford said.
Stafford said that while the cookware has put Hestan Culinary on the map, the company is also looking to create a more inclusive housewares segment underneath its brand umbrella. However, she noted that the lines would have to align with Hestan Culinary’s current vision and would be developed and sculpted the same way the cookware collections have been.
“We have dreams and aspirations to go into cutlery and tools and maybe even small appliances,” Stafford said. “But anything we do has to be innovative and it can’t be a commodity. That wouldn’t be true to our brand.”