Photo: Eytan Zias, co-founder and bladesmith for STEELPORT Knife Co.; the STEELPORT 8-inch chef knife.
PHOTO COURTESY AUBRIE LEGAULT
STEELPORT Knife Co. is a new cutlery brand handcrafted in Portland with aspirations of becoming America’s kitchen knife company. Everything that goes into the product – from the raw steel to the wooden handle – is sourced in the United States.
“My partner’s Persian and I’m Israeli, but we’re trying to make the All-American knife,” says Eytan Zias, co-founder and bladesmith at STEELPORT. His business partner and founder, Ron Khormaei, was the co-founder and past CEO of FINEX, a Portland-based cast iron cookware company.
Quality chef’s knives used to be made primarily in Germany, but now the market is being dominated by those coming from Japan. “Most companies that call themselves ‘American knife companies’ are just having it mass produced overseas for a couple of dollars and then marking it up,” says Eytan. “We have plenty of folding knife companies, and we’re well known for that, but we just never made a good kitchen knife.”
Right before the pandemic, Ron sold FINEX and had an idea to reintroduce American-forged carbon steel cutlery to consumers. “He was looking for a knife guy, and that’s how I came into the picture,” says Eytan. “Then my little (knifemaking) hobby turned into a pretty intensive year of R&D that was all-consuming, which was good because we had to shut down the shops for a few months because of COVID.”
The “shops” Eytan refers to are his brick-and-mortar Knife House stores. He opened The Portland Knife House in 2014, after moving to Portland in 2013, having fallen in love with the area on a prior vacation. He opened his first shop, the Phoenix Knife House, in Arizona in 2007, after more than 10 years working as a chef.
“I moved from New York to Phoenix and I didn’t have anywhere to shop. I got into it because I liked knives and sharpening knives, and I saw a need,” says Eytan. “Then I did a lot of teaching people how to hand sharpen knives, and I felt like making knives was the natural progression. I set up a little forge behind the Phoenix shop right before we found out that we were moving to Portland.”
Eytan has wanted to go full-time into knifemaking for about eight years. He believes his culinary background gives him an advantage over other knifemakers – he understands what chefs are looking for in a quality kitchen knife. His introduction to knifemaking started with a few lessons under Mastersmith Ray Rybar in northern Arizona.
“I pretty much taught myself after that, and then I was fortunate when I got to Portland to meet another Israeli knifemaker named Arnon Kartmazov at Bridgetown Forge,” says Eytan. “He’s been a friend of mine, and I bought a (power) hammer through him and set it up at his shop.”
Arnon is the student of a well-known Israeli mastersmith out of Jerusalem named Uri Hofi. After studying and working as a blacksmith in Israel, Arnon traveled to Japan and continued working as a bladesmith for more than 10 years and then moved to Portland.
“When I was doing the R&D, he was teaching me,” says Eytan. “Bladesmiths are pretty one dimensional, and blacksmiths know how to do everything, so I learned a lot from watching him and him watching me and telling me I’m doing this wrong and that wrong. I learned how to move steel a lot better through him.”
At the end of March, STEELPORT Knife Co. released their first batch of knives, which quickly sold out. While this batch was still mostly handmade by Eytan and one other knifemaker, they are combining traditional processes with modern innovations to produce a few hundred knives at a time moving forward. Their goal is to make a quality knife accessible (and affordable) for professional chefs and discerning home cooks.
“We had to start with one knife and the obvious choice was the 8-inch chef knife because that’s the most versatile knife. And that’s the one knife that you need,” says Eytan of their flagship product. “We’re already working on two knives for the end of the year, for the holidays, and we should be up to five by the middle of next year.”
According to Knife Magazine, Portland is the knifemaking capital of the United States with “the highest concentration of knife and hand-tool companies in the country – 19 in the Portland metro area.” By one estimate, 80% of the multi-use tools sold nationwide originate in Portland.
Eytan notes that we are entering the “golden age” of knifemaking and that there are more knifemakers than ever before. Further evidence of a surge in knifemaking is the popularity of the competition show on the History Channel called “Forged in Fire,” which has bladesmiths recreating historical edged weapons.
“Makers are popping up everywhere, and just like any beginning industry, not everybody’s very good, but we need more,” says Eytan. “I think we’re going to end up with an actual knife industry here, which is exciting to me.”
For more information, visit steelportknife.com.