Nathaniel Mell is the founder and CEO of Felt+Fat, a ceramic design, and manufacturing studio serving both professional and at-home chefs. Nate Mell started the Philadelphia-based company in 2014 after graduating from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and working at the world-renown Philadelphia Clay Studio.
Before his foray into ceramic design, Nate gained experience that included working in a variety of media, including glass, metal, wood, and mold-making. The opportunity to design a beautiful line of plates for Eli Kulp’s award-winning restaurant ‘High Street on Market’ oriented Mell towards exploring ceramic design in-depth. In doing so, he came up with the concept for a ceramic design studio catering to the Hospitality industry. The company name, Felt+Fat, came as a nod to the material explorations and theories of midcentury artist Joseph Beuys, one of Mell’s favorite artists.
Today, Nate Mell’s Felt and Fat has a track record of working with over 100 restaurants worldwide, producing more than 30,000 pieces annually, and being featured in the NY Times, the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and many other publications. Timeless design, ethical manufacturing, and intentionality toward relationships are the core values of the ever-growing team at Felt+Fat.
When he is not immersed in creative work as an artisanal dinnerware producer, Nathaniel enjoys gardening, cooking, and hiking with his partner Katherine and their dog Potato.
Tell us about yourself?
I am the 4th child of a great, creative family. We lived in Hawaii until I was 10, with our parents working a mishmash of jobs they were passionate about but paid very little. At 10, we moved back to the area my father is from in the Philadelphia suburbs. Straight out of high school, I moved to Australia, where I spent 4 years doing volunteer work and traveling around that large continent and surrounding island nations like Fiji and the Salmon Islands.
Returning home in 2007, I pursued a degree in fine arts at the Tyler School of art at Temple University while working full time in restaurants to pay the bills. Soon after graduating, I stumbled my way into making ceramic dinner plates for what would become one of the ‘best new restaurants of 2014’ according to Food&Wine magazine: ‘High Street on Market.’
Since then, I’ve poured my life into the building of my business Felt+Fat, working with restaurants and chefs all over the country and at times in places as far away as Qatar and Japan.
Most recently, I’ve married the love of my life and am excited for what the future holds!
What makes you different than other professionals in your field?
I care about profit only so much that it means we can make better, more interesting product and provide for our employees. I will not sacrifice quality or worker satisfaction for the bottom line.
How much potential market share can you achieve in the next 3 years?
It’s a big market, and there’s lots of room for growth, though what I care most about is how we can make our product the best and more innovative on the market.
What was the most important part of your professional journey?
Failing. Great big failures and little everyday failures have taught me more than any successes. They teach you how to bounce back, what to change about your approach, and how to change your outlook on something you thought you knew.
What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
Best purchase: the ring for my partner Katherine.
Worst purchase: a smartphone.
What takes up too much of your time?
Scrolling Instagram and Reddit, it’s a terrible habit.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students/new startup business owners who want to become entrepreneurs?
Stop opening businesses with the sole intention of flipping it for big profits in 10 years, instead find something you’re truly passionate about and work on that; the money will come.
Find the very best person in the field you’re interested in and ask to learn from them. The worst they can say is no.
Start small so that when you fail (and you will fail), you can fail small and learn how to bounce back before you go dumping enormous amounts of money into an idea.
Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
Of the people I know personally, I immediately think of one of our employees: a guy who only a little over a year ago came out of spending 20 years incarcerated for something that happened when he was a young man. Since getting out, he’s lived with family to save money, worked his way from nothing to become a really valued employee here with a great skill set and a rapidly growing wage that’s allowed him to buy a car and start saving to buy his first home. To come out of his background, having to start a new life in his 40’s, he is incredibly impressive to me.
What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?
When things are really hard, I remember that difficulties are temporary, and I am incredibly fortunate to lead the life that I do with a loving partner and family, working on something I am passionate about, surrounded by good people who care about their work.
How should people connect with you?