Made in Minnesota: ‘Apron Lady’ is Replacing Chef Coats
Sure the aprons are great—the cross-back straps take the pressure off the neck, the darts on the “Lady fit” conform to a female chef’s chest, the side pockets are slanted so a night’s worth of crumbs don’t fill them, they’re stylish and can be personalized— but I’m not so sure the real reason BA Craftmade Aprons have reached cult status both in the Twin Cities and abroad isn’t because of the woman making them, Kate Meier.
“I’m trying to figure out why they’re so popular, too,” the tired but perky Meier says, laughing.
Just in the last couple of months, Meier has filled tall orders from a chef in Houston, who’s 6’8”, 100 aprons for the opening of In Bloom in Keg & Case Market in St. Paul, seersucker aprons for PieCaken in Revolution Hall in Rosedale Center and a California chef who needed one of her “dope aprons” for a TV appearance.
The aprons have been officially for sale less than a year and already the who’s who of the Twin Cities chef world are sporting the stylish covers. It started two years ago when Meier was challenged by her three sons, who are all chefs, to make them a better apron—and then for their friends, and then their friends’ friends and acquaintances. “My kids are in their 30s now, but you still want to make your kids happy,” she says of being a mother. In addition to her sons, she has a daughter in college (who helps with the website and social media). Once the word got out about the efficiencies of the aprons, top chefs in town started calling her, not just for one order, but to outfit their entire kitchens.
As one chef told her, a chef’s apron and knife are two items that can drastically improve a chef’s life.
In addition to the features listed above, Craftmade aprons use lighter-weight, breathable fabric with minimal shrinkage (no flaming polyester); leather-trimmed pockets so when a chef bends over his or her cell phone doesn’t fall out; leather loops so the straps won’t turn; and the opportunity to incorporate your restaurant’s personality or color scheme into the finished product. For chefs who like to fold their apron down and wear it around their waist, there’s a lower pocket that can be used for a cell phone. Every little detail has been thought out and sized to fit the wearer. Meier is holding the cost down so they’re affordable, $50 for a basic apron, and $60 to $75 for the cross-back version.
While her aprons can be found at Rose & Loon and Lowry Hill Meats, the custom versions are her favorite assignment. She tells the story about a chef from Washington, D.C., whose mother had recently died and asked Meier to incorporate a piece of fabric from one of her mother’s favorite skirts into the apron as trim. The chef told her that in the Laos community, textiles and cooking are important parts of their culture, so in essence, with the new apron, the young woman could “bring my mom to work with me.”
The look is being extended to servers. For front-of-house employees, the apron’s pockets are designed to hold their order pad, a wine key and pens. Guests like the “look of a chef coming to your table,” to talk about the food, she points out.
Social media and word of mouth are responsible for the never-ending pile of orders she has. When she delivers aprons, chefs ask to take selfies with her. “They call me the Apron Lady,” she says, grinning. Because she spends time researching the chef’s body type for the right fit and lets them have a say in the fabric choices, “customers feel like they’re part of the process.” Fitting sessions sometimes end up as therapy, she says, and she often forms a friendship with the chefs, many of whom she thinks of as sons. And even though creating so many aprons is “beyond hard work,” her customers—like her sons—also work really hard, “so I like making their day better.”
Kitchens are like families, she says, which is why people keep showing up for another labor-intensive shift of long hours standing on their feet in a hot kitchen.
Meier, who has been sewing her whole life, produces the aprons on a 40-year-old sewing machine, set up in her home. Some of the piecework has been farmed out, and she has acquired a business partner, Trent Taher, but she’s still building a company while sewing. Her ideal next step is to find people who want to work out of their homes to help her sew, but sewing is becoming a bit of a lost art, she says sadly.
She’s had some health issues, and even though she’s working 12-plus-hour days, she loves what she does, although most days her emotions run from crying to elation. “I feel like I’m running a marathon at a sprint pace when you’re over 50 with arthritic joints,” she confides. But she laughs as she says it, gathering up her aprons and moving on to her next appointment. She’s just joined that kitchen family, whose members keep coming back for more.
Baristas at Revolution Hall in Rosedale
Travis Magnan at PieCaken at Revolution
Bartenders at Barrel Bar, also at