Holy Sheet: Great Jones Has Me Confident in the Kitchen!
Great Jones’ Easy Bake Set arrived in many boxes. I quickly understood why. The frying pan (“Small Fry”), the saucepan (“Saucy”), and the sheet pan (“Holy Sheet”) each arrived in their own colorful cardboard that read “your ware is here!” When I opened the box, it was patterned with gorgeous, organic illustrations of things like fish and herbs. A packet of illustrated magnets fell out, alongside a care card complete with handwritten cleaning steps and cartoony, smiley-faced frying pans. It felt more like a reveal than the usual rip-the-mangled-box-open ordeal.
I’m almost surprised to find that the products themselves aren’t at all showy. Instead, they’re sleek, minimal, industrial, with copper-accented handles. The logo appears quietly etched onto the bottom. When I finally set out to cook with them myself, I immediately saw why these are so far preferable to the Marshall’s clearance rack: nothing was even remotely tempted to stick! (Which was especially exciting as someone who always ends up scraping egg bits off the bottom of the pan.) Between this and their light but sturdy shape, clean up was made incredibly easy… so easy that you don’t even mind following those directions and drying them afterward. You want this sh*t to last. So as a student, they’re a great investment — saves you stress, and time.
After my experience, I hopped on the phone with co-founder and Penn alum Maddy Moelis, eager to find out I was eager to hear how she and co-founder Sierra Tishgart dream up and market these products — in both physical and cartoon form.
Q: I hear you’re a Penn alum? Tell me a bit about yourself!
A: Yes, I am! I graduated in 2012. I was in Wharton and I concentrated in marketing, but I actually minored in history. I grew up in New York City outside of Westchester… and I had a long line of family members that went to Penn, so I sort of felt destined to go there. I loved Penn.
After my junior summer, when I interned in finance, I came into senior year looking to do something different. I was exploring retail brands like Bloomingdale’s… and I was really excited about consumer behavior.
Fast forward to the spring of my senior year, when I was introduced to the team at Warby Parker. At the time, Warby was a super small team, about a year old. The direct consumer business model was a brand new thing, and selling glasses online was kind of a crazy thought, but I was super excited by the team there, the business model, the energy, the vibe in the office… the whole thing felt so comfortable and natural. I started a week after graduation and didn’t look back. That was my first step into the entrepreneurial world.
Fast forward a couple years, and I took a job as one of the first employees at a company called Zola, a now-popular wedding registry business, and I really built my career in the startup world. That was really the impetus, for me, around starting Great Jones. I knew I always wanted to do my own thing.
Sierra and I have known each other since we were about eight. We went to summer camp together, so we’ve been friends for a really long time. So when we started talking about this concept, we were both feeling the pain points around being in our mid-to-late twenties and not really knowing what we needed in our kitchens, not feeling confident as cooks…
It just made total sense. Given her background in food journalism and mine in marketing, who better than us to start this business? I’ve become a much more sophisticated, confident cook since we started!
Q: Why is it called Great Jones?
A: Naming is really hard. The reason why we ended up going with “Great Jones,” was, well, two reasons. One, Great Jones Street is a street in New York that Sierra and I both love. We’re building this business in New York, so we figured we’d pay tribute to NYC. Second, our biggest inspiration (and something we cite a lot internally) is a woman named Judith Jones, who passed away a couple years ago. She was really the champion behind a lot of great cookbook authors, Julia Child being one of them. She’s sort of this unsung female hero in the home cooking world.
Q: The packaging is so artistic! Could you speak to that?
A: Yeah, definitely. I’m glad you noticed! When we were starting this, as we were continuing to build the brand and expand the business, a real gap, a white space we felt in the market was making people feel excited and confident about cooking. We felt like there were no products that made you feel good, or were attainable, and we found that every other brand was just putting their products in a cardboard box, stacked floor-to-ceiling, with no real personal touch or engagement. So we really wanted to create something where it’s not only on the website but throughout the entire experience that people feel like they’re getting these personal touches and boosting their confidence in the kitchen.
The magnets are done by this amazing illustrator from London, who also did all the illustrations on our website and are a core part of our brand identity. The care card was another thing that we thought was kind of a mystery: how do you take care of a stainless steel pan versus a ceramic non stick pan versus an enamel dutch oven? Instead of writing it out on a flimsy flyer, we felt like, why not make this an enjoyable experience so people can learn how to take care of these products so they can last forever?
Q: How did you develop the products? What sets them apart?
A: The first thing we did before we left our jobs, before we raised any money, was conduct a survey. That was actually something that I’d been doing in previous roles at these startups – customer insight and customer research. What better way to pinpoint our personal hypotheses than to reach out to friends, and friends-of-friends, and others in our target demo to see if they’re feeling the same thing?
What we did with the survey was to make a list of the five products that people really need to own in their kitchen. We also asked a bunch of professional chefs what they recommended, and we honed in on this five-piece set. We found this duo of industrial designers (They’re actually a husband and wife!) and we brought them on. “Here’s what we want to make, here’s our color, our look, our feel. Can you help us design something totally different and beautiful?”
This was the first thing we did because we knew if we could get product designs and physical renderings we were excited about, that would be a really strong signal for us to keep moving forward.
Q: Could you tell me more about the “Digest” section of the site?
A: Sierra, my co-founder – her background is in journalism. She was a food writer for New York Magazine before we started Great Jones, so I really credit Digest to her. It’s her baby. But, when we were starting, she constantly was saying, and I was totally in agreement, what better way to tell stories about people than through food, and through cooking, and through family traditions?
There are two parts to Digest: Great Ones, which are those personal stories where we feature different, interesting people in their kitchens, and recipes, which are currently in more development, because we get a lot of requests to release recipes or highlight recipes in our products.
Digest, for us, is a tool to engage with different people in the food world and tell their stories, tell them what we’re all about. It adds another element to the business that isn’t so transactional. It’s an ecosystem of storytelling that we really believe in.
Q: Where do you see the company going/moving from here?
We are really excited about continuing to launch new products – we actually launched three in the past few months and they’ve been selling like crazy! So it’s been great to see how our community is so engaged in what we’re putting out. We really are excited to continue to move into different parts of the kitchen with our products and continue to engage our community that way.
We’re also thinking a lot about the digital side of the business. We have this service called Pot Line, which is a text-based recipe service where basically every day for an hour you can text into Great Jones and somebody will provide you with either recipes tips, advice, inspiration, or whatever you need. A lot of the time, people are like, “I have a date tomorrow! I don’t know what to cook! Can you help me?” or “I just got home from work and I have X, Y , and Z in my fridge. Any tips on what I can make?” Just basic, easy, like you’re texting your friend for advice. That’s been really fun for us to tap into a more digital engagement experience.
Q: Any advice for others interested in 1) food and 2) entrepreneurship?
A: While I was at school, I wish I’d taken more advantage of the resources that were around me – clubs, professors, people with experience and networks. At the time I was probably intimidated to go up to professors to chat or ask for advice, but the resources at Penn are second to none, so make use of them.
At Penn there’s definitely specific paths that we’re shown down, and we often take those because they’re accessible and available. But be confident in exploring alternative paths, and thinking through what you’re interested in and what you wanna do, because the most exciting career opportunities come when you’re following your gut.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.