How Danny Winer created the hardest working cookware
The founder and CEO of HexClad recalls how he founded his company, and why it’s attracting home cooks and professional chefs alike
Monday 24 October 2022 By Jaclynn Brennan
The cookware market is more crowded than ever before, but that also means brands have to figure out how to distinguish themselves from the rest. Many of these direct-to-consumer companies have built a following through aesthetics, but HexClad CEO Danny Winer knew he needed to take a different approach if he wanted to compete in a market where durability and longevity are prized above all.
HexClad brings something new to the kitchen. The sleek pans sport a laser-etched hexagonal surface, but it’s not just about looks. The brand merges premium tri-ply stainless steel with a non-stick coating, bringing the best of both worlds: even heating and easy clean-up, appealing to both professional chefs and home cooks. Winer is so confident in this hybrid design that HexClad pans are guaranteed for life – intended to be passed down from generation to generation, like an heirloom.
It’s quickly amassed a following. Famous users including Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey and Cameron Diaz have raved about their HexClad pans on social media, but the brand found their biggest supporter in Gordon Ramsay, who last year invested in the company and became its lead global ambassador. Recently at a dinner series in collaboration with Soho House, chefs in New York and Austin prepared extravagant dinners with HexClad’s cookware, effortlessly turning out delicately cooked dishes to an elated crowd.
We sat down with Winer to learn the story behind the flourishing business, and how failure paved way for innovation.
How did HexClad come to be?
‘I moved to LA in my younger years with dreams of being in the entertainment business, and instead found myself slinging drinks as a bartender – and starving. One weekend I visited NYU with a friend and overheard him talking about selling cookware at a local “county fair”. I was intrigued that you could make a couple of grand in one weekend. I started losing my love for the entertainment business; it was so cut-throat with little to no pay when you are starting out, so I gave this sales thing a shot. I started doing employee trainings and trade shows, found out that I was very good at sales, and it was something I really enjoyed. I eventually got promoted and pitched an idea to the company, direct to consumer sales solely online. I knew that this was the future, and the company wasn’t doing any type of digital marketing. They winded up laughing at me and not taking my advice, so I decided to take it into my own hands.
‘A colleague of mine at the time, now cofounder of HexClad, Cole Mecray, and I started dreaming up ideas on the weekends and in the mornings at the gym. We didn’t want to directly compete in the space, but knew we were destined to collaborate and bring amazing high-quality products directly to the consumer. HexClad was launched in 2013 – we were both still working full time and building this business on the side.’
What was your breakdown to the breakthrough moment?
‘Working full time, running a startup, completely bootstrapping the business with everything I had, and failing at a product was a build-up of that. I didn’t have much of a social life at that time, I wasn’t asking for help when I needed it, and my cofounder was maxing out credit cards so we could keep things afloat. I’d work all week at my day job and then I would fly to Hong Kong to check out the trade shows and try to find suppliers. I did that for about a year and it was completely exhausting. There comes a day when you have to pull the ripcord and commit 100% to your business.
‘Our first product was a juicer, known as JuicePresso, and our goal was to have about 10 of these products. We started seeing some traction and were getting a few sales, but in 2012/2013 brands didn’t really expect to sell direct to consumer. The moment I knew this wasn’t going to work was when I was standing in line at a Beverly Hills juice club. I saw a beautiful model in front of me order her juice, and she couldn’t afford to pay for it. She asked them to charge two different credit cards for a $7 juice. At that moment I knew if someone who couldn’t afford the juice was still not making it at home for herself that we needed to pivot and fail fast. The hardest part for me was abandoning the juicer. I was in a panic about what was going on and I was too proud. The juicer was completely bootstrapped with no outside capital, and I realised it was time to move forward with a new idea.
‘I went to a massive trade show in China and just decided I was going to be extremely present while I was there. I saw this very cool-looking griddle pan and went over to talk to the team. I sat down with them and they brought out a book of patents; these guys were the real deal. They were real inventors who figured out how to laser these hexagons on stainless steel, so the pan is non-stick but cleans up easily. Having been in the cooking business for so many years, this is the holy grail on what people are looking for. There was a 95% chance this was not going to work, but it allowed me to pull the plug on the juicer – it was my 2015 breakthrough moment.
‘I still have the banner of the juicer in my office today; it’s a great and humbling reminder for me not to take myself too seriously. Sometimes our failures can lead to great discoveries.’
Who inspired your resiliency?
‘My grandmother, Rosa, was always a huge source of inspiration. She was an incredible woman with a lot of courage and tenacity. I come from an Italian family that loves to cook together and winds up yelling at each other in the kitchen, of course with a lot of love. My grandmother was one of the first female head chefs in the 1950s, which was almost unheard of as women were expected to stay home or take care of kids. Her parents came over from Italy and she never had a formal education. My grandmother had to quit school around third grade to sell vegetables on the street at eight years old. She’s a true story of heart and resiliency. I am not a chef, I don’t have the skill of creating master recipes – that’s truly an art form.’
How did you turn HexClad into a million-dollar business?
‘Once we found these incredible pans and I forged a great business relationship, I started working with the team to completely redesign the cookware. I essentially was a product development lead, changing the shape and the design on the outside. From how high the pan came up to the placement of the handles, it was really exciting to play a big role in that. Although I didn’t invent the primary technology, this was a true partnership with trust and understanding.
‘In 2016, our goal was to reinvent the cookware space, this was the most promising technology since the creation of Teflon. People kept telling me there are too many legacy brands in the industry to compete with or “it’s too crowded”. I didn’t listen to them, as I knew we would be the number-one direct to consumer cookware company on the market. If Casper could do it with mattresses, I could do it with pans. The hard part was no one wanted to invest in what we were doing, but we still didn’t let that stop us.
‘Today, we are a total rocket ship. We went from selling a few hundred, to a few hundred thousand, to millions. I’m so excited to say that we are up over 70% in sales, even in this tough market. It’s a true testament to the quality of our products. We might not have many SKUs yet, this is because it takes us time to innovate/ test and build the best. HexClad is expanding into steel cutlery and we are about to launch a new turkey roasting pan for the holidays, along with a hybrid cutting and carving board.’
‘Forged by passion. Perfected by science’ – what does the HexClad tagline truly mean to you?
‘You can just look at our products and notice that they’re different, this is sexy cookware. HexClad is badass cookware. Everything we make is built to be with you for a lifetime and we are innovative. You can use a metal mixer or spatula and it won’t mess up our pans; they are extremely durable. Gordon Ramsay loves our pans because he loves that he can beat the hell out of them. A lifetime warranty is hard to beat.’
What’s the company culture like at HexClad and what are some of your core values?
‘We currently have 130 employees and everyone is mostly in the office, which is in Downtown LA in the arts district. This also includes our warehouse workers and sales teams. We’ve created a warm and collaborative space that’s fun; we work hard and play hard. Our team really enjoys being in each other’s presence and showing up for work. Some of my values include honesty, teamwork, and thinking outside of the box.’