My sister and I always joke that my husband develops a new obsession every 3-6 months. About 6 months ago? Pappy Van Winkle whiskey. Right now? Kitchen knives. He’s obsessed with building a solid knife collection. Enter: Town Cutler. This little shop located at 1005 Bush Street (at Jones) in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood is the Bay Area’s premier purveyor of professional-quality knives and sharpening services.
A little over a year ago, a young chef named Galen Garretson was working with Michael Tusk at Quince. A certified kitchen tool geek, he and Tusk would often compare notes on professional gadgets as they bemoaned the lack of good knife sellers around town. Garretson decided to do something about it. And now we have Town Cutler, his three-week-old knife shop on a stretch of Bush Street in the Tender Nob. Just this morning, Garretson told me there was a line at the door before he opened several times last week. Apparently he and Michael Tusk aren’t the only ones in need of a good knife shop. Here’s what else Garretson had to say.
Three weeks after opening, how’s it going so far? It’s going great. I’d say about 60% of our business is selling knives and tools right now. There are also a lot of people dropping off knives for our sharpening services, then coming back later in the day or the next day to pick them up.
What have been the best sellers so far? Definitely the Japanese knives. We have two brands: Zanmai and Kikuichi that are hard to find around here. In fact, I don’t know anyone else selling Zanmai in San Francisco right now and there are only a few other people in the country.
What’s so great about them? They’re made from high end metal and they have a unique handle that mixes traditional Japanese and Western styles. Zanmai is actually a newer brand from Mcusta, made in Seki-City, Japan. They’re very particular about who sells their knives. When they heard I had a professional background, they were OK with me selling them.
Who’s buying these knives for the most part? Professionals or home cooks?Mostly professionals. But we have some home cooks who’ve been using Wustof forever and they want to buy one really nice knife. For these customers, I really have to explain why these Japanes knives cost between $200 and $300 dollars.
What do you tell them? Well the Zanmai knives are made from one of the best metals being mass-produced right now, VG-10. It has a balanced carbon level so it’s easy to sharpen, it stays sharp and it doesn’t chip. Other knives may be very sharp, but they’re prone to chipping.
What other kinds of knives are you selling now? I started working with this knife maker, Aaron Wilburn, who was only making hunting knives before. He just started making custom knives for me using ancient bones for the handles. There’s one I have right now made with an ancient walrus jaw bone. He makes his own Damascus too.
What’s that? You know when metal in knives has that wood grain look to it? That’s made by layering together hundreds of layers of steel, sort of like how a pastry chef would make laminated croissant dough with hundreds of layers of dough and butter. Many knife makers buy sheets of Damascus, but Aaron does it by hand. It takes weeks.
What’s been the biggest surprise since you opened? That people will come in with boxes of 20 knives needing to be sharpened. We charge $1.50 an inch for sharpening, so it ends up costing a lot, but they really need it!
What’s pricing like? I’ve got a full range. I have some vintage knives that I put a new edge on and sell for about $15 and then there are some that sell for $1100. My prices are very competitive.
What’s your favorite thing in the shop right now? The Zanmai people gave me this “Gyuto” slicing knife. It’s all purpose, a little thinner and lighter than the usual slicing knife. I’ve been working it like crazy and it’s really holding up.