Sunny prospects for German kitchen products company in Pleasantville

By John Golden

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On a sunny fall day — a good day to make electricity on the solar- paneled roof of the new company in Pleasantville — chef Bernard Janssen hustled between cooking ranges and food-prep counters with trays of hors d’oeuvres for the afternoon guests arriving at the new U.S headquarters of Zwilling J.A. Henckels.

Janssen, well-known New York City chef Dan Kluger and several cooking assistants and servers worked in an open, sunlit space off the entrance lobby where the German cutlery and cookware company is opening its first cooking studio with its move from Hawthorne to its fully renovated 122,000-square-foot headquarters at 270 Marble Ave. in Pleasantville.

A native of the Netherlands, Janssen joined Zwilling J.A. Henckels about a year ago as its resident chef and developer of a pilot culinary program, set to launch early next year, that will put the company’s high-end knife and cookware brands directly into the hands of consumers in what Zwilling’s U.S. CEO, Guido Weishaupt, called those products’ “natural habitat,” the kitchen.

Janssen said the Pleasantville studio will offer master classes with three- or four-course menus “for people who want to learn, who are totally into food.” The company will also host less intensive corporate events, he said, for the likes of “IBM, Master Card, or it could even be a dentist with his employees.”

The master class program offers “a lot of learning, a little bit of fun,” said Janssen. “For the corporate events, it’s a little learning and a lot of fun.”

For Pleasantville officials, business owners and residents, the Nov. 3 grand opening at Zwilling J.A. Henckels brought rejoicing and relief. The office and warehouse property sat vacant since 1997, when Medical Laboratory Associates closed its operations. Four years later, Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. bought the nearly 60-acre property — the village’s largest commercial parcel — with plans to build a supermarket. But the grocery chain abandoned its plans after encountering public opposition.

“This has been a long time coming,” Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “For those who lived in Pleasantville a long time, this has been a long wait.”

John Henkel, CFO and vice president of operations for the U.S. division of Zwilling J.A. Henckels, said the company first looked at the vacant building in 2007. “Something happened called the market crash of 2008 and we walked away,” he said. “A good thing, because the building became available again in 2011 — at a much lower price.”

The company paid $7.5 million for the property in 2012. Stop & Shop at the time had marketed the flex building with a $9 million asking price. It includes a 100,000-square-foot warehouse.

With glass-walled offices and open-floor workstations, “It’s a much more open environment than what we have experienced in the past” at the company’s headquarters locations in Westchester, said Weishaupt, who joined Zwilling’s U.S. division eight years ago. Designed by Gallin Beeler Design Studio — an architectural firm that itself recently relocated to Pleasantville from Tarrytown — the building’s naturally lit, open spaces are designed to encourage communication among employees, Weishaupt said.

Zwilling officials declined to disclose the cost of the renovation project.

Zwilling partnered with EnterSolar, a New York City company that provides solar photovoltaic systems for commercial use, to install an 850-kilowatt rooftop solar energy array that is expected to generate enough electricity to fully offset the company’s supply from Consolidated Edison’s transmission grid. Zwilling and EnterSolar officials said it will generate almost 1 million kilowatt hours annually, enough to power almost 100 homes for a year.

The alternative energy project was developed by EnterSolar with its partner, TriState Solar Alliance, backed by state funding from NY-Sun, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $1 billion initiative to expand solar energy use and build a self-sufficient solar industry in New York. EnterSolar officials said it is the first completed project in the state to receive financial incentives from the NY-Sun Megawatt Block program for photovoltaic systems larger than 200 kilowatts.

The solar energy installation “was the most important aspect of this project for us,” Weishaupt said in a statement. “By designing this building with significant green elements, we hope to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability not only to our employees and customers, but to Westchester, New York state and the greater U.S. community at large.”

A company spokesperson said Zwilling employs 140 workers at its Pleasantville headquarters. That is well above the 75 jobs that were expected to follow the relocation to Pleasantville when Zwilling acquired the property three years ago.

Weishaupt said Zwilling this year had the highest sales volume in its history in the U.S. “I think it’s the right product at the right time,” he said. “We have the premier brands” for which affluent customers are willing to pay top prices. “The better tools you have, the more professional your cooking. … We benefit from that.”

Founded in 1731 in Solingen, Germany, when knife maker Peter Henckels registered the Zwilling logo with the local cutlers guild, “Zwilling is a brand around a long time,” Weishaupt told guests. Operating in Westchester County since the 1970s, “We have no intention to go anywhere.”

William F. Flooks Jr., owner of Beecher Flooks Funeral Home in Pleasantville and president of the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce, said Zwilling was the company needed to occupy the long-vacant, deteriorated building and spark the commercial revitalization of Marble Avenue. “This will be the cornerstone of the Marble Avenue corridor,” he said.

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About the author

John Golden
The Business Journal’s senior writer, John Golden directs news coverage of the county and Hudson Valley region as Westchester bureau chief. He was an award-winning upstate columnist and feature writer before joining the Business Journal in 2007. He is the author of “Northern Drift: Sketches on the New York Frontier,” a collection of his regional journalism.
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