How it Happened…Earthborn Studios by Tena Payne
I had to trace my ‘tabletop’ beginnings to one event, it would probably be the day I sold mushrooms to Chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club. Odd as it sounds, it was the shiitakes that brought us together.
I am a potter, and that’s what I told Chris while I waited on him to write the check. Mushroom business completed, he took me to the ‘front of the house’ and showed me how he was currently serving his amazing cuisine. With no limitations but my imagination and his strict size constraints, we began our collaboration to design a line of dinnerware that would be serviceable, beautiful, and durable.
Over the next few years we tweaked the characteristics of the new tableware. I experimented with different clays and glazes to determine the most serviceable of both, and played with different shapes and sizes. Between Chris’s vision and my own, Earthborn pottery took on a new dimension—and a new direction.
Until this point, I had been producing vessels less functional and more ornamental. I had always pursued my craft in leftover time slots, clay falling behind my family time, work, and any other recreational activities we engaged in. Nights and weekends were my time to work in the clay, showing at the local craft fairs and a few galleries. I had always wanted to make a living with my pottery, but I knew that these limited outlets could never support me. The realization that dinnerware could be artistic as well as practical set me off to find more chefs who might like my product as much as Chris did.
Knowing nothing about the food service industry, but reasoning that chefs must have professional associations, the internet led me to the American Culinary Society’s annual convention and trade show. I loaded up my trailer, asked a couple of girlfriends to go with me, and set out to Washington DC. I had no idea what was in front of me… no concept of the bigness of the food and hospitality industry. I was the only potter to have ever attended one of these events. The chefs loved it… if I had only known what was before me…
This successful show led to the next, which was NAFEM, (National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) which I could not afford to even exhibit. So my girlfriends and I took our carry-ons filled with serving pieces and colorful business cards to loan to any chef who was demonstrating any product, from knives to meats to stoves—anyone who was showing food we seized the opportunity to place my pottery in the public eye. The convention hall was peppered with Earthborn product on loan—gaining a level of exposure I couldn’t have paid for. It was here that Jack Langley, a specialty rep, found me and asked the question ‘This is great and all, but can you make 5000?” Thinking it was a hypothetical question, I replied, somewhat flippantly, ‘I’ll find a way’. With that assurance, he took my work and I won a contract with the Bellagio Resort & Casino to create their new banquet line. Before I had completed that project, they commissioned me to create the tabletop for Sensi, which was then under construction.
Earthborn Pottery Studios
7575 Parkway Drive
Leeds, AL 35094
Agri-Artisans 2015 Copyright @ All Rights Reserved