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TV, Good Name Light a Fire Under All-Clad Pans

Products: The upscale wares used on cooking shows started with the right metal mix.

November 18, 1998|CLAUDIA COATES | ASSOCIATED PRESS

CANONSBURG, Pa. — Since retiring, Harold Coleman has been sharing the kitchen chores and discovering the joy of premium cookware--so much so that he had to build more cabinets to accommodate his pots and pans.

And when he wanted a pan to braise chicken in, he went to the semiannual jumble sale at All-Clad Metalcrafters Inc., an upscale brand of pots and pans.

"It's probably the best cookware," Coleman said.

He settled on a 13-inch paella pan with a dome lid and said, "I'm going to have to have another cabinet."

All-Clad's factory sales and its product placement with such eminent TV show hosts as Martha Stewart and Jacques Pepin have helped it rise to fame beside Calphalon in Toledo, Ohio, and Meyer in Vallejo, Calif.

Its reputation for excellence doesn't hurt.

The privately owned All-Clad grew out of the steel industry in 1968. John Ulam, an Allegheny Ludlum Corp. metallurgist, went into business for himself, opening a rolling mill on a country road about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh and naming it Clad Metals.

Ulam had developed a way to bond sheets of aluminum with sheets of stainless steel. He sold his product to cookware makers, thinking it would be good for the purpose. In fact, it was pretty near ideal.

In 1973, he started All-Clad to manufacture cookware for the restaurant industry. At a trade show two years later, a Bloomingdale's department store representative saw Ulam's wares and wanted them for the store's upscale housewares department.

"That's how it all started," said Chris Ulam, Ulam's son and Clad Metals' general manager.

In 1988, Sam Michaels and his Pittsburgh Annealing Box Co. bought All-Clad and Clad Metals and added a dash of marketing.

"We grew the business, a lot of it by word of mouth," said Jack Kenna, chief executive officer. What word of mouth didn't accomplish, ads in Gourmet, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit magazines did.

As a pots-and-pans material, stainless steel alone isn't ideal. It tends to warp and develop hot spots. Aluminum isn't that great, either. It reacts with high-acid foods, discoloring the food and developing pits.

But together--ah!--they're a marriage made in heaven. An aluminum pan-bottom warms quickly and evenly. A stainless steel pan-lining cleans with ease and stays shiny.

"You can cook rhubarb in there or blueberries and never worry about discoloration," said Cathy Ulam Fischer, vice president of sales. "Nothing gets through stainless steel."

The company makes four lines of cookware, all variations on the basic aluminum-stainless steel sandwich. In the cheapest line, popular in restaurant kitchens, the aluminum is on the outside; other lines offer a third outer layer of stainless steel or copper.

Changes are seldom and few. The company logo was moved and enlarged. A new pan with ridges in the bottom was designed for the nation's current craze for grilling.

"Of course, you're always trying to fine-tune the manufacturing process," Kenna said.

Business is cooking. Kenna declined to name an annual sales figure, but a Standard & Poor's database indicated All-Clad's revenue is $2 million to $5 million. Since the new owners jumped into the soup, sales volume has grown 35% to 40% each year, Kenna said.

The cookware industry as a whole is doing well--but not quite as well as All-Clad, according to figures from the Cookware Manufacturers Assn. in Mountain Brook, Ala. From 1987 to 1995, the average yearly increase in wholesale sales of American cookware was 7%, and sales have fallen a bit since 1995, the year Farberware closed.

Coleman, the retiree, is one type of home cook--male--who is helping push up demand for high-end cookware, said Hugh Rushing, association executive vice president.

"It's no longer considered a wimpish thing," Rushing said. "Guys are about cookware like they are about tools in the basement."

Calphalon and Meyer have their followers. All-Clad has its fanatics.

Ms. Stewart has her All-Clad locked up on the set of her show, a cooking show set director told Fischer.

When another host-cook saw that, the director had to ask Fischer for more All-Clad.

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