Don Carlos Andrade has always regarded knives as more than practical tools for slicing, dicing and chopping. If they’re built with care and precision, knives have the power to inspire and motivate people to live healthier and happier lives, he said.
“The main reason I started making knives is to encourage people to cook at home,” he said. “If someone has a beautiful object, it makes their time in the kitchen more joyful.”
As the owner of California Custom Knives, Andrade, who is formally trained as a chef and sculptor, has long combined his passion for the fine arts and wellness, cooking and craftsmanship.
He became interested in cutlery in the mid-1980s while in culinary school in Los Angeles. After collecting knives and learning about the different styles of cutlery, Andrade, who taught stone carving in the art department at Cuesta College for five years, decided to make his first knife in 2006, the year he started an apprenticeship with Tai Goo, a master metalsmith.
Nearly a decade later, Andrade is forging ahead with his business, producing specialty, handmade knives, primarily for culinary enthusiasts and some working chefs. Most of his knives, which can range in price from just under $300 for a paring knife to $6,000 for a knife with gold and silver engraving, are shipped to customers in the United States and Europe.
“Most of my customers have quite a few knives and spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” he said. “They (the knives) become an intimate part of their lives.”
Although full-time knife making is gratifying, Andrade acknowledges that running a business has its challenges.
“It’s just me, and so I have to do the books, paperwork and purchasing,” he said. “I’ve got to do every single part of the process, and maintain my website and do what marketing I can.”
When he’s in the sacred space that is his studio, it usually takes him several days to finish a piece, a painstaking endeavor that is as much detailed blade-smithing as it is spiritual practice.
“I work like an artist, so I can’t go into the studio to force myself to work on a knife,” he said.
To stay centered, Andrade often exercises and shops for fresh produce at farmers markets.
“They say that when you hit 10 years in business, that’s when you start burning out,” he said. “But it’s also when your business is taking off. I just let myself slow down and socialize; that’s how I strike a balance.”
In the years ahead, Andrade’s goal is to start making smaller, more affordable knives for daily use, selling them in the $400-plus range. A long-term dream, though, is to open a larger shop, where he could train young people in the art of making fine cutlery.
“There’s not a lot of tool-making anymore,” Andrade said. “I would be so happy to find a place to do that, and a few people to back it financially.”
Now, more than ever, Andrade believes people are realizing that how and what they eat relates to their health and well-being, and the tools they use for cooking play a big part in that.
“It’s a trend that I don’t think will go away,” he said. “People have always been interested in cooking, but now it’s fashionable to cook, and it’s the best way to learn how to nourish yourself properly.”
Don Carlos Andrade
Business: California Custom Knives
Year business founded: 2006
Business location: Los Osos
Annual revenues: Declined to disclose
Annual profits: Declined to disclose