Back in 1939, three salesmen got together and developed a line of cookware that uses a waterless process and vapor-sealed lids to prepare highly nutritious dishes.
The trio couldn’t have realized that Vita Craft would still be producing trendy, tasty meals well into the 21st century.
The Shawnee-based company produces stainless steel cookware under eight brands with pieces that can be configured in multiple ways. Its manufacturing facility, which includes a factory store, covers two city blocks.
“Vita in our name is for vitamins and minerals—(our products are) designed with a vapor seal in the lid and pan design to reduce heat while cooking and not boil away vitamins and minerals,” said Gary Martin, Vita Craft’s president.
“The craft is for craftsmanship. I have real people who actually make it. The average piece of cookware is touched by human hands at least 12 times in the process…. Every piece is hand-buffed or polished to take away any minor scratches.” (In fact, Vita Craft uses a buffing compound like a jeweler would.)
A Lifetime Guarantee, and More
Martin said there are a number of characteristics that make Vita Craft a unique product in the marketplace. For starters, its waterless approach to food preparation. Users cook with the lid on and, thanks to Vita Craft’s vapor seal, the process relies on the natural juices of what’s being cooked.
“It’s the healthiest way to cook and cleans up very easily,” Martin said.
Vita Craft’s products are also perfect for stack cooking, where several pots or pans are stacked on top of each other over a single burner.
“The cookware can be treated like a mini-oven on the top of a stove top,” he said. “You can cook a cake on top of the stove, and it will be done, and it won’t burn.”
Additional features of Vita Craft cookware include heat-resistant handles as well as cladded stainless steel and layers of aluminum and aluminum alloy construction for strength and durability.
And the company offers a lifetime guarantee to repair or replace its products.
“If we don’t have a product any more, we will replace it,” Martin said. “Grandmas will send in something and say, ‘If you cannot fix it, I want my pan back,’ and we’ll send it back and send a piece of new cookware.”
Vita Craft’s Origins … and Future
The original owners, each of whom had been selling other cookware products, came together to create the line in Pennsylvania. They moved to the Kansas City area in 1940. Ever since, Vita Craft has been continuously producing the cookware except for a two-year period during World War II.
The company moved to its current location in 1946, expanding as needed. In 1976, Vita Craft began distributing in Japan, a market that blossomed for the company.
“Seventy percent of what I make, I export to Asia,” Martin said.
In 2002, Vita Craft was purchased by Mamoru Imura of Japan but remains a Kansas corporation.
“He takes no salary or draw from this company,” Martin said.
“So I have three rules (as president): Take care of his company; I do not back-order him; and I do not ask him for money so we stand on our own two feet,” Martin said. “Any profits we make, I use a three-part rule: one part is put away for a rainy day, one part is invested back into the company and our third part is invested in our people.”
In the beginning, Vita Craft was marketed only through direct sales in private homes, mostly to newlyweds and those starting out on their own. Today, Vita Craft is sold through distributors, but Martin is trying to enhance the products’ reach through other outlets, including online retailers like Amazon. Vita Craft also produces blind-label cookware for other companies.
Martin has a five-year game plan for Vita Craft.
“I would like to see us get discovered in the retail market, hire more people and grow some internationally,” he said. “You have to keep evolving.”