The Männkitchen Story
The name MÄNNKITCHEN comes from old Norse.
My great-grandparents left Norway in 1907 and settled in Petersburg, Alaska. “Männ" is a possessive pronoun from a dialect of old Norse meaning my or mine. MÄNNKITCHEN = my kitchen.
If you like to cook, MÄNNKITCHEN is for you.
My mom is an excellent cook.
I remember the whole house rumbling when she powered up her old Mill&Mix to stone-grind wheat, dried corn and oats into flour that would become delicious brown bread. Her calzone and homemade ice cream sandwiches are legendary. However, like any mother of three boys knows, you don't always have time to handcraft every meal.
The typical breakfast of my childhood was a bland, viscous substance with a texture somewhere between mud and glue.
As a child I endured bowl after bowl of oatmeal, trying to make it palatable by adding salt, or butter, or brown sugar, or bananas. I tried everything, but at 8 years old I’d had enough. I announced to my mom one morning that I would no longer be eating oatmeal.
She reacted to my proclamation by continuing to make it almost every morning.
She reasoned that If my dad and two older brothers could endure it without apparent suffering, so could I. When it became evident that I was willing to skip breakfast entirely in order to avoid ingesting another spoonful, she spoke the words that would alter the course of my life:
“If you would like to eat something else, you can make it yourself.”
She showed me how to light our old propane range (with matches!) and granted me access to the pantry, spice rack, fridge, and her collection of well loved cast iron skillets.
My world expanded.
Soon I was creating dishes far less palatable than oatmeal, and eating them anyway. Over time my creations graduated to "barely offensive", and eventually included things that people other than myself might consume voluntarily.I love fishing and hunting, and Alaska provided an abundance of opportunities for both. Nature is inspiring, and I'm profoundly grateful for everything I have harvested from the forest and the ocean.
The summer of my 16th year was the first of many commercial fishing jobs where I would be on the ocean for weeks at a time. My interest in cooking was noticed by the captain, and I was happy to leave the cold deck an hour before the rest of the crew to prepare a hot meal for everyone. Necessity breeds invention, and when fish is on the menu every night, you learn how to create new dishes with whatever is on hand.
Hunger is the best seasoning, and on a commercial fishing boat there’s plenty of it.
Even when the meals I prepared were sub-par (and many were), there were few complaints and fewer leftovers, which encouraged me.
I left commercial fishing after university, trading my rain gear for slacks and ties and piloting a desk. I worked in design for many years, and truly enjoyed solving client problems and tinkering with products to improve them.
Through it all, I cooked.
Cooking is work, but it doesn't have to feel like work. It's a creative act that meets a practical need. To me it's the nearest thing we have to alchemy-transforming a mix of ordinary ingredients into something that sustains life and has the power to bring people together.
There’s little in life that I enjoy more than preparing a meal and sharing it.
When I lost my job on September 23, 2017 it was a shock.
My contract was not renewed by a business I helped build over 15 years. I was quite suddenly without my primary source of income.
Embarrassing, I know. Don't worry-we're OK.
It was a firm shove into the unfamiliar, and one that I sorely needed. It's hard for me to change direction when I'm comfortable.
Very suddenly, I had to adjust to a new reality. I'd been kicking around the idea of starting a business that aligned my experience in design with my natural interest in cooking, but hadn't taken the leap.
Now, my immediate instinct was to leap at the next familiar position that would pay the bills. Starting a business when you're out of work is not a strategy I would recommend. So I dusted off my resume and eventually landed a few interviews.
In one of the interviews I was asked, "What would you do tomorrow if you could do anything?"
It's a really good question.
I was still thinking about it later that night while processing the possibility of this new position with my amazing wife. She stopped me and said "Cleve, you should build your business. You will succeed."
In that moment, she had far more faith in me than I had in myself.
I contacted the company and withdrew my name from consideration. It could be that they weren't planning to hire me, but to me it was a turning point because I wasn't looking for a J-O-B anymore, I was building something I believe in.
The first year was rough. Starting required money that we didn't have, and it was months before my first sale. Our debt grew, but for the first time in many years I was loving my work.
We're still in the humble beginnings phase, and I'm happy with that.
Discovering a new dish or finding a way to make it better (or at least make it at home) fascinates me. Improving a tool or solving a problem is deeply satisfying.
Make things better is a worthy goal, and one of the ways we do that is by making better things. Tools that solve problems I've experienced myself in the kitchen was my starting point, and I don't expect to run out of opportunities to improve anytime soon.
Also, my wife still inspires me. In fact, just moments ago she said "How about an Indian curry for dinner tonight?" and now I'll be making it. ;-)