Whether you’re a person who cooks every meal or someone that considers boiling water for rice gourmet, a basic set of pots and pans is essential. But there’s only ever really been two options: the expensive, high-quality legacy brands like All-Clad and Le Creuset, or the cheap, barely-functioning brands you get at Walmart and Target. The cheap brands have their place in college and early adulthood, and the legacy brands are out of reach for a lot of people. So what’s a home chef to do when they want something that actually works, but doesn’t require a mortgage payment?
Enter: Great Jones.
Founded by friends Sierra Tishgart and Maddy Moelis, Great Jones is filling the void in the cookware market with affordable options that actually work. The Great Jones line is small — just 5 pieces — but it’s exactly what you need to stock an “I’m-an-adultbut-I-don’t-make-bank-yet” kitchen. They might not be your first pan, but these pieces are a more accessible upgrade. You can buy the pieces individually, or buy a set for less than $400 (which isn’t much more than one Le Creuset dutch oven).
I sat down with co-founder Sierra Tishgart to talk about how she got into the kitchenwares business, how she and Maddy got Great Jones off the ground, and her favorite thing to cook.
Brianna Plaza: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got started in the food world.
Sierra Tishgart: I grew up in Philly, went to Northwestern, and worked as a journalist after graduation. I really built my career at New York Magazine as a food editor.
Brianna Plaza: What made you decide to start a cookware brand?
Sierra Tishgart: Maddie and I have known each other for 20 years, and we came at this from two very different backgrounds. Maddy comes from a startup background with experience at Warby Parker and Zola. I was in the food-space surrounded by these amazing chefs and their amazing food. I had never really taken my cooking that seriously and started to really want to. The first step for me was new pots and pans because the ones I had were hand-me-downs; they were a mess under my sink. I thought I need nicer things, but trying to figure out what I need was like going in circles. I had a very small kitchen and I couldn’t afford a 12 piece set (nor did I want one). I really wanted something high-quality, but felt priced out. I felt there were so many ways to modernize the pot-buying process from start to finish.
Brianna Plaza: You launched with 5 products. How did you decide what to sell?
Sierra Tishgart: We did extensive research. We talked to a lot of chefs that I knew. What do they really use and need? What are the necessities? We also did a survey with people about the cookware they love, and what were the most used things in their kitchen. What we landed on were these 5 pieces. We have a ceramic nonstick, we have a cast iron, enameled dutch oven, and the rest are stainless. There was an opportunity to be a one stop shop for that and to educate around why those materials are useful, and these 5 pieces will really set you up for success.
Brianna Plaza: Do you think the industry is shifting from large-scale sets to a more tailored approach to cookware?
Sierra Tishgart: I think people want fewer things and better things. Whether you have a small space (or even if you don’t), I think there are so many barriers to cooking. To me, having clarity and confidence in what you’re using and having those be a few really trusted things as opposed to basically decision paradox. You open up your cabinet and have a million things and you’re like where do I even begin? We’ll help you get over that barrier.
Brianna Plaza: How do you even begin making a company that makes pots?
Sierra Tishgart: One of the first steps was the design. We can make a beautiful brand around these products, but at the end of the day, these products have to be super high quality, and actually solve pain points and improve upon current designs out there. We got connected to a freelance husband and wife team who work in industrial design and worked very closely with them. We started with an industrial design: thinking about the placement of the handle, your hands natural resting place, and making sure it doesn’t get too hot.
The direct-to-consumer model allows the cost to be lower, and to not get inflated because we’re going through a third party retailer. That model has given us a lot of freedom to cut through the bullshit in terms of pricing.
Brianna Plaza: The culinary world is still very male-dominated. As female founders, how have you navigated that?
Sierra Tishgart: The culinary world is male dominated. The startup world is male dominated. It’s not something we set out to do intentionally but, our team just happens to be all women. I find that very empowering, but we don’t want to be a brand that appeals to only women because we are women, but women do predominantly buy kitchenware. They’re the most active consumers, but it’s like most things in the world in that these products are primarily built by men. We thought about women a lot when designing a product. I think it’s really an asset that we’re two women running a company in a space that women predominantly purchase.
Brianna Plaza: I feel like one day you were everywhere online. How do you think the products have been received?
Sierra Tishgart: When we launched, we set our website live but the press wasn’t going out until the next morning. But then we got an order from a total stranger! That was the movie-magic movement of starting a company. It has been so well-received beyond people who know us or are connected to us. We’ve sold out of our core product lines several times. I think it has really resonated. Not just in numbers of units sold but in the way people engage with the brand and community. So much of our social media is user-generated. People are taking pride in the process of cooking and not just a beautiful shot. They want to show all of that, messy or not.
Brianna Plaza: The legacy brands have been around for so long and they’re so well established. How do you feel Great Jones is fitting in to that space and how do you think you’ll fit in the future?
Sierra Tishgart: Those legacy brands have set the bar high in terms of quality. What we see ourselves modernizing is not only in the physical design in how it looks and feels different, but in education. Something that I felt was lacking when I was looking, even at the highest level of brands, was why you needed a certain piece in your kitchen and what you could cook with it; the possibilities there. The potential for versatility. We show off that you can bake in our Small Fry. Maybe you don’t have budget or room for bakeware so here’s another way you can use this product. It’s such a huge opportunity for us.
We just launched a text-based service called Potline that’s there for inspiration and guidance in real-time. That’s us trying to meet people where they are. How can we help make this process easier for people and acknowledge that there’s a lot of confusion. You can make beautiful products but if you sell 50 different items, it can really create confusion.
Brianna Plaza: The legacy brands are seen as status symbols. Do you hope for that for Great Jones? How do you see yourself getting there?
Sierra Tishgart: I want people to be proud of having these. Part of the design is that they’re aesthetically pleasing and you should want to keep them out on your stovetop. And that also solves the problem of having a small kitchen and not having a space for it. If you walk by something everyday that you like to look at, you’re going to be more inclined to use it. You’re going to grab it more and you’re going to cook more. So I think taking pride in it that way, that you want to show it off, and you want to use it as serving ware that takes one step out of your dishes. That’s really special.
Brianna Plaza: How do you see the company growing in the next few years?
Sierra Tishgart: A lot of different ways. We do see ourselves as a kitchenware, home goods company, and less tied-down to physical cookware. We obviously still want to apply the same principles of solving a problem for something that doesn’t exist in some way. So it’s interesting to think about that with product assortment. I also think in terms of editorial and education, there’s so much more that we can do there. The potline is just the start of that.
Brianna Plaza: What do you like to cook in your pots?
Sierra Tishgart: Every Sunday I always make a big pasta, with sausage and greens. I have a really nice butcher shop near me so I just do a haul from there. The weeks are very erratic kinds of cooking. One of the ironic things is that in running the company, it leaves us less time to cook at home, so often I am just scrambling eggs.
Brianna Plaza: Where do you get inspiration for the recipes you cook?
Sierra Tishgart: Like every person who has a phone in 2019, I am a big fan of Alison Roman’s recipes. I think she’s earned a cult following for good reason. A lot of times though, I don’t actually cook from recipes. I spend a lot of my day looking at food media so it kind of seeps in. Our office is right near the green market so I am usually walking through before or after work and grabbing whatever looks good. Sometimes I am just like “ingredient” + Bon Appétit and see what comes up. I use our Saucy the most.
The team at Great Jones sent me a Deep Cut (a hybrid sauté-skillet with a lid) to test-drive and it has seamlessly fit into my current rotation of pans. When I finished grad school in 2010, I got a set of stainless steel pots and pans when I moved to Hoboken, but over the years, I have gravitated towards using my cast iron skillet for everyday use and my Le Creuset for serious, more involved cooking. It wasn’t until I moved into my current Brooklyn apartment that I got a nice nonstick skillet into my rotation.
I’d stopped using my stainless because they were a pain to clean and no matter the heat or oil combo, what I was cooking almost always stuck. There was probably some user error involved, but I consider myself a pretty good home cook, why was using stainless so annoying? This is so trivial, but I hated using stainless because it generally required so much more elbow grease than my cast-iron to clean up.
Great Jones has changed my outlook on stainless steel cookware. I picked the Deep Cut to try because it was a pan size I knew I’d use often and I wanted to put it to work. So far, I’ve seared a pork loin, sauteed scallops, fried tofu, made a few different pasta dishes, and also quick-caramelized corn and onions. The pan heats up so fast (I have to watch it much more closely than anything else I’ve used) and it really is nonstick. Cleanup is a breeze, and it buffs up to be shiny again with a quick wipe. My parents have an army of All-Clad pans and at least 50% cheaper than their All-Clad counterparts, I’d say a Great Jones pan is as much of a workhorse (if not more) as an All-Clad. Because some of their pans are somewhat hybrid models, I’d argue they’re much more of a bang for your buck when looking to stock a well-equipped kitchen.
This website isn’t in the business of reviews, but if you’re in the market for pans, I strongly suggest you give Great Jones a serious look.
Brianna is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Hook & Blade. She is based out of New York City where she enjoys exploring the city, trying new foods, and people watching. She works as the Global Email Marketing Manager at Global Citizen, and tries to travel as much as she can.