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With #Themug, East Fork Pottery Has A Hit

With #Themug, East Fork Pottery Has A Hit

The Asheville, N.C.–Based Company’S Refined Stoneware Is More In Demand Than Ever

Comfort, reliability, honesty—these are qualities we’re craving more than ever these days. And since we’re spending so much time at home, we’re seeking objects that deliver that sense of ease and dependability in an uncertain world.

Enter #TheMug, the handmade coffee cup so wildly popular it’s garnered its own Instagram hashtag and sells out mere hours after it becomes available. The Asheville, N.C.–based company behind it, East Fork Pottery, creates the mugs from the red clay native to the region, along with a range of stoneware plates, bowls, cups, and cookware also in high demand. “There’s a humbleness and comfort that you can see in our pottery,” says East Fork Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder Connie Matisse, 34. “Our pots are not for everyone—some people want clean and stark. But we feel it’s an honest, grounded product you can live with for decades.”

That groundedness is evident in how #TheMug is made: one at a time and by hand, to create a product at once strong, substantial, and refined. Ideal for a generous pour of coffee or tea, the mugs retain heat well and are sturdy enough for the dishwasher.

East Fork is the brainchild of married couple Connie and Alex Matisse, and their friend John Vigeland. The project began when Alex, a potter and the great-grandson of Henri Matisse, built his own kiln on a North Carolina farm and began selling stoneware. This later led to a collaboration with Connie and fellow potter John, and the company was launched in 2013. Today, East Fork employs a sizable team of artists, technicians, and behind-the-scenes staff, and it is preparing to move into a facility 15 times the size of their current one.

The Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges for East Fork, which was already working hard to keep up with demand when it was forced to shut down the factory for two months. What helped was having a team that was unified in its mission.

#TheMug, ideal for a large pour of coffee or tea, is handcrafted
#TheMug, ideal for a large pour of coffee or tea, is handcrafted.

“The fact that we were able to keep the entire staff employed through the pandemic meant that when we were able to come back, they felt they had been prioritized over potential profit,” Connie Matisse says. “Everyone was receptive to being creative and open about finding new ways to do business, and we’ve had a lot of game-changing shifts in strategy.”

This has included a switch to a pre-order model as East Fork works on scaling up production for the new, larger facility, as well as plans for collaborations with food-world luminaries like David Chang and Samin Nosrat. On Instagram, which drives 80% of East Fork’s web traffic, the company is showcasing its products by incorporating them into storytelling about cooking and dining in a range of cultures.

“We’re making East Fork a place to come to talk about food and culture in an intersectional way,” Connie Matisse says. “We’re focusing on a different cookbook every month, highlighting regionality and the objects made in that region.”

In October, for instance, the focus was on East Fork’s nabe pots—modeled on traditional Japanese earthen cookware used to make hot-pot dishes—and Naoko Takei Moore’s Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Claypot Cooking. December brought a partnership with Momofuku, highlighting David Chang’s new cookbook.

“We can only speak for ourselves,” Connie Matisse says. “We set the scene and reach out to true experts as a conduit for those stories to be told.”

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