Lifestyle » Vol. 14

Bruce Frankel and SpitJack

It’s All About Men Who Cook

By Cristal Steuer

“SpitJack provides products, information, discussion, and just about anything a man might need to express himself as a cook,” says Bruce Frankel, owner of SpitJack, an online retailer with a showroom in Shrewsbury.

SpitJack specializes in selling cooking tools for men. Frankel, who lives in Shrewsbury, started with the simple concept of cooking in an indoor fireplace and his product line has grown to include everything from hearth gloves and wood splitting machines to 700 lb. smokers and whole hog rotisseries.

The 58 year-old got his start in the business as a chef and restaurant owner at a young age. “My junior year of college I actually tried to find a location [for a restaurant] while I was still in school,” says Frankel. “As far as being a chef, that just comes with the territory. “

At the age of 21, Frankel became a chef at a popular Boston bistro, then took an extended tour of France and Europe to broaden his culinary knowledge. He soon opened Panache, a nouvelle cuisine bistro, followed by a pastry shop followed and an award-winning line of chocolates. Bruce, fascinated by the American regional cooking movement, opened The Colony, a New England themed restaurant. This restaurateur, who was once on a first-name basis with Julia Child, could not be stopped.  He returned to Cambridge to transform Panache into 798 Main, a “downscale” bistro that reflected the New England menu and style.

He left the restaurant business in 1992 and started a restaurant consulting business. In 1996 Frankel came to realize the huge potential of the Internet and moved his business online. VirtualRestaurant.com is still a valuable online resource for restaurant startup, management and training. Frankel claims he actually does better now from Virtual Restaurant than he did as a chef/restaurateur.

Frankel became fascinated by Internet technology and soon gave up his formal onsite consulting practice to build websites full-time. “I was building online stores for clients and when I came across the fireplace rotisserie,” explains Frankel. “I decided to ‘reincarnate’ and build an online business for myself to sell it.”  In 2004, he opened SpitJack.com to do just that.

Frankel soon realized that he had created (unintentionally) a strong male “vibe” for the business.  “I wasn’t thinking about gender at all, but a couple of women I was working with had a strong adverse reaction to the name [SpitJack – actually the technical name for the fireplace rotisserie] and the aesthetic tone of my website,” says Frankel. “At first I thought that I had made a big mistake, but then I realized that in fact this was a very masculine, male-orientated subject.”

His sister-in-law, a prominent marketing director in corporate America, not only validated the concept but added the tagline “Men who cook,” which ultimately became the core of Frankel’s business strategy.  That concept was not fully realized until he opened a retail showroom in Shrewsbury last December. “The food and cooking world has traditionally been and still is dominated by women, with most products being created with women’s needs in mind,” says Frankel. “SpitJack is an attempt to give men an alternative to the usual offerings available in the cooking stores. It is a much smaller specialized market and I can see that in the response to the retail showroom.”

Having a place where people could touch and feel these products was essential, he says. Also, a retail showroom gave him the opportunity to sell new lines of product that were not feasible to sell online. “I enjoy talking and meeting with people and I will frequently create special deals if someone calls from the website or comes into the store.”

His customers are frequently overwhelmed when they walk into the showroom and see Frankel’s best selling products, including the fireplace grill, antique reproduction fireplace rotisseries,  the whole animal rotisseries (think pig roast!), and the oversized offset BBQ smokers that look like iron locomotives.  “Some customers tell me, ‘Thank you, this is heaven,’” shares Frankel.

Visit SpitJack.com or stop by the showroom at 268 Boston Turnpike (Rt. 9 East, behind Trippi’s Uniform)  in Shrewsbury.

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