Nathaniel Mell is the founder and CEO of Felt+Fat, a ceramic design, and manufacturing studio serving both professional and at-home chefs. Nate Mell started the Philadelphia-based company in 2014 after graduating from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and working at the world-renown Philadelphia Clay Studio.
Before his foray into ceramic design, Nate gained experience that included working in a variety of media, including glass, metal, wood, and mold-making. The opportunity to design a beautiful line of plates for Eli Kulp’s award-winning restaurant ‘High Street on Market’ oriented Mell towards exploring ceramic design in-depth. In doing so, he came up with the concept for a ceramic design studio catering to the Hospitality industry. The company name, Felt+Fat, came as a nod to the material explorations and theories of midcentury artist Joseph Beuys, one of Mell’s favorite artists.
Today, Nate Mell’s Felt and Fat has a track record of working with over 100 restaurants worldwide, producing more than 30,000 pieces annually, and being featured in the NY Times, the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and many other publications. Timeless design, ethical manufacturing, and intentionality toward relationships are the core values of the ever-growing team at Felt+Fat.
When he is not immersed in creative work as an artisanal dinnerware producer, Nathaniel enjoys gardening, cooking, and hiking with his partner Katherine and their dog Potato.
Where did the idea for Felt+Fat come from?
The name Felt+Fat is in reference to the work of mid-century sculptor Joseph Beuys, who iconically used animal fat and felt in art and performance throughout his career. I was drawn to how Beuys, through repetition, story-telling, and great intentionality, was able to turn these raw, elemental materials into a sort of iconography. It’s a bit esoteric for a tableware company, but somehow ‘Nate’s Plates’ was a little too on the nose.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day starts with a shared pot of coffee and a walk to the park with my wife Katherine and our dog Potato; we get up well before work to have some time together just to enjoy one another’s company and get some fresh air.
From there, I head to work, catch up on emails, confer with my management team on what’s going on during a given day/week, and have a short morning meeting with our full staff to check-in and make sure we’re all on the same page for the day. After that, my time is split between emails, meetings, creative for our social media, and hopefully, a bit of product R&D.
Mid-day, I usually head home (it’s a 10-minute drive) to have lunch with Katherine, who works from home. After that, I’ll grab Potato so she can spend time with me in the studio.
When we are short-staffed or trying to get a kiln filled, I will happily step into production and get my hands dirty as well.
Post-work typically starts with another trip to the park to throw the ball around with Potato. Following that, my favorite activity is to enjoy a homemade cocktail with Katherine while reading a chapter or two aloud of whatever book we are on. Typically after that, we’ll make dinner together, and on occasion, we’ll see a friend or two either together or separately.
We’ll end the day by enjoying a show together or reading separate books in bed.
Overall, I believe the way to stay productive is to create a solid work/rest schedule: burning the candle at both ends tends to create limited returns, but a solid 8 hours of sleep, home-cooked meals, and good outdoor time mean that when you are at work, you’re putting out the best quality.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas come to life in any number of ways. Most of the time, ideas get scribbled down someplace as a note or drawing somewhere I’ll see it again. I may pursue an idea quickly, or it may percolate for several days/months to the point when I’ll bring it up with someone who I can bounce it off of; one of my staff, my wife or a trusted friend. After that, it’s simply a matter of figuring out the time and resources needed to make it happen, but rarely does anything come to life through my sole action; it takes a team!
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am excited to see more and more blending of lines between art, design, and craft.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Spending as much time outdoors as possible.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Slow down, plan ahead.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
If no one agrees with me on it, it’s probably a terrible idea. Consensus is key.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Revise your ideas, run them by as many people as possible.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Run lean, don’t try to find a bunch of money too early because you likely won’t know how to use it effectively for a while.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my early days with the business, I pursued growth too aggressively at the cost of building long-lasting infrastructure for a sustainable and healthy business. This created a bad culture within my staff and my partners. Thankfully that lesson was learned; we made major changes to how we communicate and grow and have been on a better course since.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Get into lighting. The margins are amazing.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A really nice pen. It made me stop using crappy, throw-away pens, and since it was on the pricey side, I am very careful about never leaving it anywhere, so I always have a writing utensil on me!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Shipsation – amazing software if you sell products online.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It’s kind of a cheesy title, but it’s got some great nuggets of wisdom that translate today even since the book’s first publication in 1937.
What is your favorite quote?
‘No matter where you go, there you are.’
- Be open to constructive feedback and revising your ideas.
- Consensus is key to effectively implement new ideas within an organization.
- Create a solid work/rest schedule: burning the candle at both ends creates limited returns, but a balanced lifestyle means that when you are at work, you’re putting out the best quality.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.