Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Don Andrade, Owner of California Custom Knives, located in Los Osos, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
After working as an artist creating bronze and stone sculptures for over 20 years, I am now focused on making one-of-a-kind, heirloom quality chef and camp knives. My training as a professional chef has informed my insight into creating fine chef knives. As an outdoor enthusiast, I know the value of an expertly crafted knife. My goal is to make fine knives that will inspire people to create culinary wonders with joy and embolden other outdoors-men and women with confidence.
Tell us about yourself
I began my practice as a bladesmith soon after making my first knife with my mentor, Tai Goo, in 2006. At the time, I had just created a small school for the arts with my wife in 29-palms California, the 29 Palms Creative Center and Gallery. I made the shift from fine arts to craft after over 20 years as a sculptor working in bronze and then stone.
My original career was as a trained chef. I attended culinary school in Los Angeles soon after my high school graduation in 1985. So my interest in knives, which started when I was young, continued as a result of this culinary career. I went back to school and studied psychology, philosophy, and fine arts, created sculptures for a long time, as mentioned above, and then made the shift into creating fine one-of-a-kind handmade knives, primarily centered around kitchen and camping.
What motivates me is the pursuit of making a high-quality, heirloom-quality tool that can be passed down from generation to generation. And that I am creating something that relates to the well-being of the family and home life of those who own my knives is a chief motivating factor in why I make knives to this day.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Each and every knife is an accomplishment. I think that hearing back from people about how much they love using my knives is the biggest reward. Accomplishment-wise, there are many famous chefs that own my knives, including Chef Jose Andres: Think Food Group, Bobby Cortez, and Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco, to name a few.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
For me, the biggest challenge is being completely solo. Well, that's not completely true. I do have a business partner that manages my work, Abe Shaw of eatingtools.com is not only an amazing human being but a great friend and just happens to find homes for the vast majority of my work for over a decade now.
The rising prices of materials and the fact that in our world today, we as artists, are not always able to do the same is at times challenging as well. Add to that, the work itself is quite demanding physically as well. For me, after doing work by hand for over 30 years, I find that the slower path is the fasted reward.
It translates into excellent work that is not just churned out. It takes me generally one week to make a knife... it happens faster at times, but it's never a quick process. That said, the pace of the modern world, which is often not in alignment with the traditional ways of working, is probably the biggest challenge.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Have passion and skills first! Don't try to build those two into the start-up phase.
- Ask for help, get training.
- Find a mentor.
And if it is the world of craftsmanship, don't go it alone. It's far better to find people that you get along with, create a collective and share in the creative reality, the costs, and the ups & downs of the rocky road of being a craftsman/woman/creative person creating things by hand. As for other business models or modalities, I really could not say.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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