Craft Culture: On the cutting edge with Eversharp

Anywhere from 300 to 800 knives pass through the knife-sharpening room each day // Photo by Tj Turner

One might think the center of the Twin Cities culinary scene is anchored firmly on Nicollet Avenue or one of its downtown counterparts.

But there’s a brick storefront with a simple red awning and a single glass door—nestled between industrial buildings in Northeast Minneapolis—that might rival any restaurant for its impact on local eats. Eversharp is home to the largest selection of Wüsthof knives in the country, plus a bevy of cutlery and kitchen gadgets by Benchmade, Helle, Ken Onion, and Kikuichi. Just inside the front door is a wall of factory seconds from Duluth-based Epicurean, with cutting board prices slashed permanently at 40 percent off retail.

The front showroom, encircled by walls of shimmering knives hung in order from shortest to longest on magnetic strips, is a cross between a jewelry store and a scene from “V for Vendetta.” The smallish, jam-packed room gets completely rearranged to carve out space for knife skills classes, and even birthday parties, hosted regularly for groups up to 12.

Eversharp has a hands on approach with their knives, but the staff has never had to call 911// Photo by Tj Turner

There’s the happy chatter of staff members explaining the varieties of blades and encouraging visitors to touch, to feel the heft and shape of each knife, and consider which would serve their particular cooking needs. Though it means more frequent rounds with cloths and cleaner to keep fingerprints to a minimum, “we encourage customers to pick them up, to touch them,” says Maddie Jensen. She’s been coming to the shop with her dad since preschool and became an official staff member at age 16. There have been some accidents because of the hands-on approach, but the staff has never had to call 911. They do, however, keep a first aid kit on hand.

“And a lot of Band-Aids,” chuckles Tom Jensen, who co-owns Eversharp with business partner Al Kastanek. “Joe will tell you that he’s worked here 20 years and has gotten 20 stitches.” The veteran knife sharpener, Joe Gamache, is visible through a window just off the main showroom. There’s an intermittent, high-pitched grinding sound as he touches knife blades to moving belts with expert precision.

Tom estimates 300 to 800 knives pass through that room each day. And just as each knife was created with a specific shape, thickness, and intended use, each sharpening belt plays a specific role. The progressive fine-tuning prevents overheating and extends the lifespan of prized knives. Ceramic blades get the VIP treatment on a diamond-encrusted belt. Each is finished on a cotton wheel—making the surface silky smooth—before it’s tucked away in kraft paper, labeled, and returned to the client. This specialized ritual is what keeps professional and at-home chefs coming back to Eversharp.

“They can last a lifetime—or generations,” says Tom. “People come in with their grandparents’ knives, and they leave in as good a shape as they were new.”

Household chefs can get by with annual sharpening, and per-knife fees are a small price to pay for maintaining ease of use. Professional chefs usually own their own knives—costing $100 to $400 a pop—so they guard their investment, engrave their names, and sharpen monthly to keep them at the top of their game. Some restaurants provide knife lockers or even “house knives” that chefs are free to use, but there’s territorialism and pride associated with caring for one’s personal knives. “You do not leave your knives in the restaurant,” Maddie explains.

After a weekend of long shifts in the major kitchens in the area, this humble, family-owned shop is where a huge percentage of professional chefs bring their trusty knife rolls for their regular sharpening. “You can name just about any restaurant in the Twin Cities, and someone in the place comes here,” says Tom, who stumbled into the knife business but has since built a dynasty selling and servicing knives for the local culinary crowd. Triple C Technologies, the Jensen and Kastanek families’ original business since 1987, created custom knife displays for a Wüsthof distributor next door. When its owner retired, Jensen saw a loyal customer base—and his favorite brand of knives—losing their Twin Cities home.

(L to R): Maddie Jensen, Tom Jensen, Al Kastanek (seated), and Mike Jensen // Photo by Tj Turner

That’s how Eversharp was born, right in the front of the Triple C building, and the two businesses have operated symbiotically—sharing a space, staff, and sometimes clientele—for a decade. As I walk through the rear room used by Triple C, Maddie’s brother Mike is putting the finishing touches on cobalt blue, laser-cut acrylic beer flight holders for Excelsior Brewing Company. There are customized Yeti mugs and engraved flasks for Northfield-based Loon Liquors strewn on the work table.

Eversharp and Triple C have built a reputation for providing and maintaining quality products, even being called on to engrave the high-end knives given to national James Beard nominees, the best in the industry. A couple of ex-pats who moved from Minnesota to Australia fly with their knives to get them sharpened here because nobody else gets it quite right. They’ve done customized gift sets for restaurants serving Bo Jackson’s prime meats, the beefy blades emblazoned with “Bo Jackson’s 34 Reserve.”

The team—10 staffers total—has engraved a ceremonial sword, serviced BBQ knives, and maintained Chinese heirlooms. Ice sculptors even brought their dull chainsaws and tools from nearby Mears Park. “They’re artists,” says Tom.

Eversharp is home to the largest selection of Wüsthof knives in the country // Photo by Tj Turner

Some patrons tote handmade hunting knives with intricate, custom handles or reveal Wüsthof tattoos they can’t wait to show off—works of art that celebrate their craft. But a great delight for the Eversharp team is having customers come back after buying their first set of high-quality cooking knives to say, “‘I cooked dinner. It wasn’t a struggle,’” Maddie says. “It’s true. Cooking is so much more enjoyable when you have the right tools.”

The Eversharp storefront has become a hub of activity where members of the tight-knit culinary crowd catch up with old classmates and colleagues while perusing the newest santoku knives. Tom sometimes plays cooking consultant, sharing family recipes by phone when new Primo Ceramic Grill owners get stuck. Professional regulars do the same, offering tips to newbies casually stopping in on their way across the street to Norseman Distillery for happy hour.

“The people who come in here are passionate about what they do,” says Tom. “And they know you get what you pay for.”

 
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