The story of Potten & Pannen, a kitchenware franchise with seven locations throughout the Czech Republic, begins with a simple pepper mill. In the early 90s, company founder Pavel Staněk saw an opening in the market for quality kitchen goods. “After the revolution you could get expensive cars, clothes, electronics…but quality products for the kitchen were not a priority for anyone but connoisseurs.” The budding entrepreneur began importing pepper mills with the intention of selling them to restaurants and post-communist department stores. “At the time all we had here were the infamous domácí potřeby. There was just one kind of everything—one pot, one frying pan, etc. And if the stern lady behind the counter let you touch the item before you bought it, you were lucky.”
Staněk’s initial efforts weren’t met with much success. “We were getting rejected a lot and realized that in order to make it happen, we’d have to open our own shop.” To this end, the 21-year-old businessman found himself on the trade-show circuit, traveling to Chicago and Frankfurt and pitching the big-name brands in an effort to secure exclusive distribution to the growing Czech market. “The buyers all told me to come back with a business plan. So that’s what we did.” in shortly thereafter, the Potten & Pannen flagship store, a carefully curated collection of top imports from categories ranging from food prep to kitchen equipment to servingware and design objects, opened on Vodičkova Street in Prague.
The timing, says Staněk, couldn’t have been better. “The 1990s were a bit of a golden age here. Everyone was getting back property, there was money to be spent on eating at trendy restaurants. But that began to change. People started settling in homes they were proud of. They wanted to invite their friends over, entertain, and cook. They started caring about food and how it’s prepared more than ever.” Thanks to this shift, the demand for serving pieces in particular has continued to dominate the industry. “You can tell by the huge number of people going to the trade shows how important the well-outfitted kitchen is to home chefs all over the world.”
With the opening and subsequent expansion of his shops, Staněk also introduced a new concept to Czech consumer culture. “Our basic principle from day one was to encourage our customers to feel, touch, and try. That’s why we’ve got countertop ranges installed in our stores. You can use the product before you buy it. And we’ve got food on hand so you can actually cook something. We encourage it.” The array of Potten & Pannen services has grown to include not only top-of-the line kitchenware and accessories, but a bridal registry, an English-friendly e-shop, and other amenities previously unheard of in the Czech Republic, like free gift wrap year round. For holders of Potten & Pannen’s VIP club card, regular cooking classes and workshops offer the opportunity to bone up on your knifing skills, Czech cooking repertoire, and more.
For now, Potten & Pannen’s bestsellers remain their quality frying pans and knives. When asked to recommend essential items for readers who are outfitting a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new country, Staněk says that those items are among the most important tools to cooking success: “Invest in three good knives, a good frying pan, and two or three nice pots.” At Potten & Pannen, traditional Teflon has taken a back seat to the cookware of the future—environmentally—sound pots and pans that utilize ceramic surfaces and reduce potentially harmful carcinogens and noxious fumes. The store carries the original GreenPan, a PTFE-free line of pots and pans. While on the spendy side, a three-piece set is currently on sale at a large discount.
A recent visit to the Malá Strana location gave us a chance to put Staněk’s claims of perfect service and relaxed atmosphere to the test. The staff was kind but not overbearing and the selection of gadgets and gear nearly overwhelmed. KitchenAid mixers, Emile Henry Baking forms in retro shades, and all manner of sleek Scandinavian design tchotchkes, gave us an excuse to linger. Among the more exciting pieces were the professional-quality copper pots from the French brand, Mauviel. In existence since the nineteenth century, the company furnished the kitchen of the doomed Titanic. “Some of the products here, such as the Mauviel collection, are meant to last throughout the generations,” notes Staněk.
And even if you aren’t in the market for a gift for your future grandchildren, Potten & Pannen makes a great place to shop for more formal gifts—we like the convenient “starter sets” available for a number of brands—or small, quirky ones. On our visit Mr. Staněk pointed out a new microwave egg mold; we took home a functional Brita pitcher for a reasonable price. The sales items in the shop and on-line are great for snapping up everything from wine glasses to scented candles to a funky, foldable colander or an adorable stoneware mini-fondue pot that comes pre-filled with chocolate for easy serving and heating.
Looking toward the future, Staněk sees his company heading in the direction of US cookware giant Williams Sonoma, yet keeping their contemporary European edge. “We’re moving toward selling pasta, spices, oils, vinegars—right now you can stop in on the way to a party and pick up a chilled bottle of wine—but we’ll always keep our design element, that progressive European feel.” Should the general public decide to start eating out more frequently Staněk has his bases covered. In 2008 he opened the popular Thai restaurant Noi, which has now expanded to include a small boutique, The Art of Taste, devoted to organic cosmetics, bath oils, Buddhas, and other accoutrements of the home oasis.
To the would-be business owner Staněk offers a little advice: “You’ve got to know the mentality of your market, find an exciting concept and, above all, work hard.”
Potten & Pannen locations
Cook Shop, Vodičkova 2, Praha 1
Concept Store, Újezd 25, Praha 1
Zwilling concept store, Palladium, Nám. Republiky 1, Praha 1
Twin Café / Nový Smíchov, KOC Nový Smíchov, Plzeňská 8, Praha 5
Twin Café / Olomouc, OC Haná, Kafkova 8, Olomouc
Outlet Store, Obchodní 110, Čestlice
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