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Startup Spotlight: From Kiln to Table

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In an era when every morsel that lands on a restaurant plate is scrutinized to almost insane levels (Is that Hudson Valley maple syrup? Berkshires pork?), it’s not surprising that the dishes holding that food are now garnering attention, as well. Savvy restaurateurs are using serveware as another outlet to distinguish themselves to exacting diners, and potter Connor McGinn is happy to oblige.

McGinn, 30, runs Connor McGinn Studios out of a 10’x10’ space at Port Chester’s Clay Art Studio. There, he custom-handcrafts serving pieces for area restaurants, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Sweet Grass Grill, The Twisted Oak, and Taproot.

McGinn sees the new focus on serveware as a natural evolution of the farm-to-table ethos. “These restaurants have specific relationships with farmers, growers, and brewers that they tout to customers; what I’m doing is part of that same approach. It’s another way of finding things that make people engaged with what they’re eating,” he explains.

McGinn collaborates with his clients in a deliberate way. During the design phase, he spends time at the restaurants to see how the servewear “sits” on the table. “I also want to see the color of the walls and the lighting and everything, so I can tie in with what they’re doing,”
he adds.

McGinn is also collaborative when it comes to costs. “I understand that margins are tight, so I try to keep my prices very competitive, to allow small restaurateurs and chefs to afford to have high-quality handmade dinnerware,” he says. The price of his work, however, it still higher than standard restaurant-grade serveware. But it’s worth it to restaurants, McGinn says, because they get one-of-a-kind products and can offer “the story behind the pieces, how they were specifically designed for their restaurant.”

The Sleepy Hollow resident is on track to quadruple his sales this year, thanks to an envious combination of high demand and low overhead. The business is in growth mode, with McGinn looking to move to a larger, dedicated studio space and potentially hiring an assistant or two. But he’s committed to remaining a fully involved entrepreneur. “I don’t ever envision getting to the point where the business is hands-off by me,” he says, “because that custom touch is what I’m selling.

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