Meet the Woman Behind the Internet-Famous Multipurpose Pan That’s Always Selling Out — and Get an Exclusive Discount Just for Kitchn Readers
Over the past few months, we’ve covered every bit of news about the direct-to-consumer brand Our Place. What can we say, we love everything about their multipurpose Always Pan, which looks like a piece of art even when covered in last night’s greasy leftovers. But the Internet-famous pan that’s sold out several times and even had a 30,000-person waitlist didn’t just come out of nowhere. It’s a pure labor of love for Shiza Shahid, who’s spent years thoughtfully deliberating over every single aspect of the design to create something modern yet fitting for the multiethnic American kitchen. Which explains why the barely year-old pan has reached cult status.
Since the very beginning of Our Place’s journey, Shahid has been finding ways to make her products sustainable, ethically sound, and culturally nuanced. “As an immigrant, I have never seen my culture represented in a positive light in the United States,” she says of her Pakistani heritage. “And I wanted to do that not just for my culture but all cultures that are typically overlooked and erased in the mainstream culinary and kitchenware landscape.” And that holds true for the Always Pan—which can be used to make everything from dumplings to Shahid’s favorite karahi chicken—as well as Our Place’s collaborations with local artisans on capsule collections that celebrate traditions like Lunar New Year and Nochebuena. In the coming months, Shahid has plans to introduce more such thoughtful products and collections honoring international culinary traditions.
In anticipation of her 2021 lineup, we chatted with Shahid about how her background shaped the brand, the role the Always Pan played in so many kitchens during the pandemic, and why social responsibility isn’t just a marketing ploy. And true to her generous nature, Shahid is offering Kitchn readers 20% off all Our Place products (except gift cards) from Dec. 16 to 19. Just use the code KITCHN20 during checkout and bring home the Always Pan in your favorite color (because as Shahid notes, once it sells out, it might be gone forever!).
What was the primary intention behind the launch of the Always Pan?
The intention behind the Always Pan was to make it simpler and more joyful to cook at home. If you walk into any cookware store, they’re all selling large, bulky, expensive, difficult-to-use cookware sets. There’s a frying pan, saucepan, skillet, nonstick pan, saucier, rice cooker…and we thought, Can’t we make it simpler and more streamlined? It took around two painstaking years of poring over the design, sampling, and testing to make sure we went forward with something that would make cooking for us and our family easier and lower the barrier to entry in the kitchen. The Always Pan is deep enough to make sauces, shallow enough to flip an egg, it’s got modular inserts like a stainless steel steamer basket, and a spatula rest. It’s not just a pan, it’s a cookware system! It’s also got a really great nonstick, non-toxic coating, without the chemicals that people have concerns about. And it’s just really beautiful. You never want to put it away. Home cuisine for us is about connection — connection to yourself, your body, your traditions, your culture, your community…and that’s what we’re trying to make happen.
Our Place has a very strong sense of social responsibility. What’s the story behind this?
I grew up in Pakistan and spent a lot of time working with a lens on gender and gender equity. I started the Malala Fund, which helps girls around the world get access to education. I also started a venture capital firm investing in mission-driven businesses — everything from carbon credits to health care to focusing on women founders. Social impact is not something we started as a means of marketing. We’ve been a carbon-neutral brand this entire year, we donate to causes like the Immigrant Defenders Network that provides legal representation to immigrants at risk of deportation, as well as the Equal Justice Initiative, which does vital racial justice and equity reform. We have also donated over 250,000 meals to Feeding America to help fight hunger. So we give back. It’s really about the choices you make within your business, within your supply chain, within your culture, within the partners you select, within the way you center your brand around inclusion and representation. Currently, 80% of our products are sourced from women-owned factories and collectives. We package our products in boxes that are free of plastics, fully biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. We are a team of primarily women and people of color. And as we scale by virtue of the business itself, we’re doing more good in the world.
Did your own background play an important role in shaping the ethos of the brand?
It’s very heavily influenced by my background. I grew up in Pakistan, and I look at the kitchen and consumer landscape, and it’s a celebration of French and Italian food, which are amazing, rich, diverse cuisines I love, but all other cuisines are overlooked or erased. Certainly, my food is not being prominently featured or typically portrayed with the nuance, complexity, and diversity it really possesses, and I think for a long time the multiethnic kitchen has been erased and undermined. Before I started a mission-driven business, I raised capital for other mission-driven businesses, and before I ever sat in the seat giving donations to nonprofits, I was running and building a nonprofit. So I think we’re all influenced by our journeys. Brands like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s took a stand and were unapologetic in their values, and I was able to look at that and draw inspiration. We’re a smaller, newer brand, so of course there is more risk when we speak up. But it gives us the inspiration that the next business, the next immigrant women founder can look at us and say, If they were able to build and scale one of the fastest, growing businesses in America while staying true to their values, maybe I can do something like that as well. Or something even bolder!
The Lunar New Year set and Nochebuena collection were two of the early unique launches from Our Place. Will there be similar launches focusing on other cultures?
We would have done many more in 2020, but the pandemic made it hard. We wanted to honor the traditions, and because the pandemic has been all consuming, we felt it wasn’t the right time. But it really is the soul of the brand and who we are and what we love to do, so you’ll be seeing a lot of traditionware collections from us in 2021.
The Always Pan is now available in six colors! How did you pick each one?
Five now, because Lavender is sold out forever! We started with Spice, Steam, and Char, and our head of product did a really good job of finding beautiful colors that evoke a feeling that is universal. People have strong opinions on the colors they like, and I understand that, because you look at a color, and it sort of reminds you of home. For instance, our green pan is called Sage. That was in part inspired by my mom’s favorite color, which is green, and it was also in part inspired by the work we’re doing to go carbon neutral. So there’s always little links and hidden things. We are also always thinking about what our community wants. For example, Lavender was picked by our community. The colors are not all here to stay, so if you do have a favorite, we recommend getting it before it’s gone.
Which color is your absolute favorite?
It’s a tough one. I do love Spice, which has a warmer terracotta undertone and is not your typical pink. It’s a very unique color. I also love our newest color, Blue Salt. It’s festive, and my kitchen also happens to be blue, so it fits perfectly. Those are my favorites at the moment, but there are more colors to come, so that might change!
How did you pivot to adapt to this very strange year?
When the pandemic broke out, we were a couple of months old, so these notions of who we were and how we worked changed overnight. As a brand, we have always been about gathering and bringing people together around a dinner table, and now we couldn’t gather. When the quarantine started, it was around April, and it’s a really interesting month because you had Passover, Ramadan, and Easter — three of the biggest home-cooking traditions that are celebrated by the majority of the world’s population. So we decided to turn to our community and ask them how they were trying to stay connected with loved ones, and we discovered it was through home cooking. People were finding hope through cooking. They were calling up their mom or dad and saying I miss you, can you teach me how to make your biryani and dumplings, and Zooming and cooking and eating together. Once we realized our product, our messaging, our brand had a role to play at this moment, we put our heads down and focused on doing the very best we could from there on.
What are some of your favorite dishes to cook in the Always Pan?
I have been trying to reconnect with the foods that my mother used to make, especially now that I can’t see her, until hopefully all this over. I have been making things like khichdi and chicken kadhai. I also love making simple things like eggs. I get bread from my local favorite bakery, eggs from my local farmers market, I’ll top it with some spices from home, like turmeric and Pakistani chili powder, and then top it all with some local Californian avocado, and that’s it. But it feels wholesome because I made it, I sourced it, and because I’m having it with my husband or over Zoom with my sister in London.
What can we look forward to from Our Place in 2021?
Our hope for 2021 is that at the end of the year you’ll be able to press a button, and have everything you need and nothing you don’t to prepare a meal for yourself and whoever you call family. So we’re never going to be making a saucier. We’re always going to be combining use cases, simplifying, making things streamlined. And while the Always Pan covers more use cases in the kitchen than probably anything else, there are still some use cases left in cookware, dinnerware, and prep. So we’ll be releasing some really beautiful products that will make you want to cook at home even more!
Get 20% off your Always Pan with code KITCHN20 only from Dec. 16 to 19.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.