Interview: Jono PandolfiAlissa Ponchione • November 11, 2016
Five years ago, Jono Pandolfi was celebrating the recent openings of chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara’s NoMad and Eleven Madison Park in New York, where his dinnerware made its hospitality debut. Back then, he was throwing clay at a small studio with one freelancer on board. Since, the team has grown to six with five kilns and an expanded 4,500-square-foot studio in Union City, New Jersey overlooking Manhattan.
In those approximately 1,825 days, Pandolfi has seen his career take off at warp speed. He is producing dinnerware for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Orlando, Seattle, and downtown New York; Hilton’s Canopy debut in Reykjavik, Iceland; Fairmont Hotels; and most recently Tom Colicchio’s Fowler & Wells in New York’s Beekman hotel. The craftsman credits his success to a grassroots, word-of-mouth approach that has attracted clients and top chefs like Wylie Dufresne, April Bloomfield, Missy Robbins, and Dan Kluger.
Pandolfi and his team have an advantage over most companies. Clients work directly with him—there is no third party. “We’re faster, flexible, and more agile than big dinnerware companies,” he says. “We can do so much that they can’t even think about doing.” It’s also a key to building relationships, whether it’s bonding with Colicchio about fishing or enjoying a meal or two at (Dufresne’s now-closed) WD~50 to understand how the food worked. That one-on-one connection and attention—instead of using distributors or reps—is the nucleus of the company. “They see me as a peer,” he explains.
The scale of his operation ranges in size from crafting as few as six dozen pieces to as many as 7,000, with each handmade plate, bowl, or cup staying true to his ethos: sturdy, one-of-a-kind, stripped down, “modern, chic, and clean” stoneware with “a rustic element to it,” he says. It’s the best of both worlds—offering the custom, earthy aesthetic that defines handmade pottery with the “consistency, durability, and prices” comparable to a large operation, he adds.
After a whirlwind few years, Pandolfi is remaining focused on hospitality. “I’ve made a commitment that this is a dinnerware company that targets hospitality brands,” he points out, “and we’re not going to morph into anything else.”