Local food author Michael Ruhlman cooks up his own line of kitchen tools

Mac Dalton (left) and Michael Ruhlman with their square-tipped spoons Spanky (left) and The Spanker – the pair for $24. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Michael Ruhlman, a Cleveland Heights resident, began his career as a nonfiction author, blended in his passion for good food, and wrote a recipe to become an internationally known food expert. Now he is stirring the pot with a fledgling line of cooking tools, developed in his own kitchen.

Ruhlman, who has written eight books on food and has sold roughly 10,000 copies of his Ratio iPhone app for cooks, has now launched a small line of innovative kitchen products. The first of these is a pair of square-tipped acacia wood cooking spoons (the big one is The Spanker, its little brother is Spanky), reusable straining cloths and a washable hanging knife rack.

Others in the pipeline include a straining spoon, tasting spoon, bamboo pot scrubber and a four-sided meat mallet.

“The goal is to create kitchen products that don’t exist or are hard to find,” Ruhlman explained, while puttering in his well-appointed kitchen.

Picking up an ordinary wood spoon–the kind you can get in any kitchen department–he said, “Typical wood spoons break easily, and they are round, which is worthless. You can’t get into corners with them. Or they’re stupidly expensive. The Spanker is affordable and it does what you want it to do.”

The product line launched in mid-December and is available on his website, www.ruhlman.com, or at the OpenSky shopping site, www.shopopensky.com.

The products are aptly named Ruhlman.com. They are produced by DaltonRuhlman Ventures, a partnership between Ruhlman and an old high school friend, Mac Dalton, also of Cleveland Heights. Dalton’s role is product development and sourcing. His business, Dalton Consulting Group (www.manufactureparts.com), specializes in outsourced manufacture of plastic and metal parts – typically components for such industrial companies as Boeing, General Motors and Avery Dennison. Dalton said he also has experience with consumer products and a wider variety of materials.

“I can do everything but sell the stuff,” Dalton said. Based on handmade prototypes, he sources manufacturing in China, and oversees mail-order fulfillment. That work is being done by Vocational Guidance Services in Cleveland, which employs a large percentage of people with physical and mental disabilities.

The business is being built on cash flow, Ruhlman said, with the first round of products ordered in small batches of just 250 units. Ruhlman has shown the products and prototypes to local chefs and received positive feedback.

Consumers seem interested, too. After 30 days of availability, Dalton said orders were coming in at a rate of three or four a day, and inventory was running low enough to reorder.

“The challenge is that I’m used to orders of 40,000 units; everything is different when you’re working with such a small order," he said. "This first phase has been great, but we need to be talking about 10,000 units, not 250.”

Dalton also has ambition to win retail shelf space in home-and-kitchen stores. “But that’s a challenge at a whole different level,” he said – like the difference between cracking some eggs and making a souffle.

Bob Rosenbaum is a longtime Cleveland Heights resident and regular contributor to the Observer.

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Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 10:29 PM, 01.19.2011