When's the last time you really thought about spoons? Sure spoons have been around a long time, but can you think of life without them?
Jonathan Simon thinks about spoons. In fact, he's thought up a thriving business based on his original spoon designs. Jonathan's Spoons are sold in gift and gourmet cooking shops across the country. Hand made of cherry; they are appreciated for their aesthetics, but treasured for their functionality!
A little over 25 years ago, when Jonathan graduated with a degree in art from the University of Illinois, he didn't know what he was going to do next. What he found was an apprenticeship with Jeffrey Green, who ran a small furniture maker in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
"I was training to be a cabinet maker," Jonathan recalled, "and I always took a thermos of soup. One day I forgot to bring my spoon. So I made one on a band saw."
He made a few more and the spoons sold well at a consignment shop. But Jonathan still needed a day job. Deciding he was a little too independent for the cabinet shop, Jonathan landed a job at a factory in Maine that made canoe seats. He learned the ways of production, but when the company lost a major client, Jonathan was laid off. That was in 1978 & right after the gas crisis and the local tourist economy was really bad. With his first daughter on the way, Jonathan began making spoons.
"It was twenty below in the shop out in the garage," Jonathan recalled, "so I couldn't make anything that required glue. I started making more spoons, mostly for the wholesale market. I didn't even know about craft show during the first year. Once I discovered them it was a much easier way to make retail dollars."
With a growing family, the Simons moved back to Pennsylvania. For exposure, Jonathan started entering the American Craft Council show, but couldn't rely on getting into the juried show each year. Then Wendy Rosen put together the Buyers Market of American Craft. Jonathan credits Wendy with developing a consistent wholesale market for crafts and the foundation for his business growth. Five years later, Jonathan was ready to hire his first employee. Today, the business has a half dozen employees.
"When I first hired someone it was to help with the hours and hours of sanding. I found I hated shipping and was really bad at it, so I hired people to help me ship, and it went on from there."
When he first started the business, Jonathan considered a variety of woods. Red plum, lilac and apricot were all available, but he decided on cherry. It was readily available in Pennsylvania; he liked the color; and it had the dense, hard grain the spoons needed.
Having employees handle production has allowed Jonathan to spend his time doing what he loves best & designing. And that's what separates his spoons from mass-produced imports and purely decorative utensils.
"I want the spoon to feel really nice in my hand. I want it to be balanced so that the spoon, in a sense, wants to move toward the food. It's not the heft, it's more in the balance and the thinness of the blade. It gets underneath the food and doesn't push it around. They're not just for show. People tell me all the time how good they feel when they use my spoons."
A while back, Jonathan was looking at different ways to treat the surface & and eliminate as much sanding as possible. He always liked the look and what he calls the "heart" of spoons from Africa -- his mother was born in South Africa - and he was inspired to decorate the cherry with burned on designs.
"Yes, we torture the spoons." Jonathan laughed, "We burn it and then sand the loose charcoal, but try to keep the very rich red color. It simulates the aged cherry look although it seems brighter. I love the effect of fire on wood."
Always looking to reinvent himself, Jonathan has developed two new lines in recent years. He started MoonSpoons three years ago. The whole family got involved with the designs for laser-cut images. The finished product has a whole different look, and Jonathan admits their appeal is more decorative, though he hastened to add that they too are perfectly functional.
Committed to reinventing himself and facing a softening handcraft market, Jonathan most recently developed Zoë Gourmet Wood Spoons. Named for his mother, the spoons are flame-blackened cherry and maple.
"The next step has been to burn the entire spoon," Jonathan explained, "so that all you have is a black spoon with an elegant shape and extremely functional edge and balance. We're trying for a less country and more contemporary look. It's nice to be in a slightly different market and the line has done very well at the gourmet product shows."
Jonathan's various lines keep him, his family, and employees busy. For the future, Jonathan is hoping to move into a line of hair combs and has some ideas for bringing the spoon designs into other products. But he admits that will take awhile, and besides he's having too much fun with lasers right now. Regardless of his next move, he'll probably never move completely away from spoons.
After all he noted, "most people know me as Jonathan Spoons."