BY LINDA BAKER
Above: President John Merrifield wields a 3-foot whisk.
Below: Merrifield and his son, Kyle, at the Best Manufacturers whisk factory in Portland.
// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina
Even in food savvy Portland, few residents know their city is home to the only whisk factory in the United States: Best Manufacturers. In 1950, there were four domestic whisk manufacturers, says Best president John Merrifield, a second-generation owner whose family bought the company in 1959. While the competition eventually decamped to China, Merrifield stuck around and now sells about 200,000 whisks a year, available in 50 shapes and sizes, including the monumental 3-foot variety, which buyers snap up to the tune of 1,000 a month.
Specialization is the key to Best’s longevity, Merrifield says. “Had we decided to make garlic presses and cheese graters, we probably would have had to leave.” Other cost-saving strategies include implementing lean manufacturing — “We don’t make anything that isn’t sold” — and streamlining assembly operations. For example, the company recently adopted a new method of attaching the whisk heads to handles that eliminates washers and other “non-value added” components.
Best, which grossed $2 million last year, sells primarily to restaurant suppliers and houseware retailers. Going forward, Merrifield aims to focus more on brand recognition and marketing, an effort that will undoubtedly tout the company’s 15,000-square-foot Northeast Portland factory and the 14 workers it employs. One of those employees is 26-year-old Kyle Merrifield, a classical clarinet player and Best’s next heir apparent. “There’s a politics to making things in America, and my son has it,” says Merrifield. “There’s some pride in not running to China.”
Of course, the location of the company and the quality of workmanship are not the only things Merrifield, an avid cook, is proud of. “The whisk,” he says, quoting from a Crate & Barrel catalog, “is the second most essential item in the kitchen.”