Updated: Nov 1, 2022
Manufacturing can often be a game of trial and error. For one entrepreneur, two years into his business venture, he’s still going through trials, on a mission to create the perfect spatula.
Brian McKee is the founder of Dryad Cookery, adventure-driven cooking tools, based in Strasburg. Dryad Cookery came to life through a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2020 and continues to design thoughtful and durable cooking tools. Dryad’s titanium products are designed from the ground up to be the perfect spatula for cast iron cookware. The full product line includes a full-size spatula, a mini-size spatula, skillet handle covers, and a chain mail scrubber. If you follow Dryad Cookery on social media, you’ll find beautiful images of sleek spatulas and mouth-watering dishes, but it wasn’t a quick and easy development process. Brian went through SCCF’s accelerator program, Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V), twice, as part of cohorts two and three. “It took a lot of trial and error, I spent almost an entire year just trying to find a domestic manufacturer,” said Brian about his experience starting up his business.
In the beginning, Brian aimed to make the best spatula for cast iron cooking possible, but this made it difficult to find a local manufacturer that could quickly mass produce his product, “Now I realize that I should have started out with more of a manufacturing mindset than a design mindset.” He thinks he would have been able to scale much faster had he focused on the manufacturing element. But, he was driven by his dream to create a cool product, “There’s a fine line between humility and confidence. I think I tried to take in too much information in the beginning, I wish I had just made a few smaller failures along my way instead.”
Despite the trials and tribulations of trying to find a manufacturer, Dryad Cookery has managed to establish a national customer base, “About 80% of my customer base is from the West Coast. It’s just a different demographic there in terms of the food culture.” Since he is having so much success with customers on the West Coast, why keep your business in the Shenandoah Valley? “The Shenandoah Valley is my home. The East Coast is a mecca for outdoor hobbies, and I think the outdoor food culture is starting to catch up here.” Brian is passionate about creating more community around food culture and outdoor cooking with his business, “It’s not just a spatula, there’s a social element to it as well. It’s really about creating a relationship between the product and the experience.”
Brian gave us some insight as to what it’s like for a small business to manufacture in the Shenandoah Valley. He expressed that there’s a lot of competition with the government to get into local manufacturers, “It’s hard to infiltrate as a small business, there’s a really high cost of entry.” Although we were discouraged to hear that manufacturing is still a slow development for small businesses, we’re inspired by entrepreneurs like Brian who have confidence in what the Valley can become, “My long-term goal of the business is to become profitable enough to quit my day job, and also to show that it’s possible to bring manufacturing to the Valley. I want to have a more local feel, cook things, and build a community!” He also shared a great resource with us based in Norfolk, 3D Extremes. 3D Extremes creates product designs with manufacturing at the forefront of their process, “They really understand the process and can help you design your product in a way that’s efficient.”