Situated on a busy street in San Francisco’s Mission District, Mel Rice Ceramica is a hidden gem that’s well worth the hunt. Founder Mel Rice recently opened her tiny little shop (no bigger than a coat closet) as a way to share her love for well-made ceramics. And boy, is well-made an understatement. I sat down with Rice recently to hear her story.
We met up at Outerlands Café, a busy and warm eatery just blocks from Ocean Beach and a million miles away from downtown. Rice greeted me with her trademark smile and eyes that could warm anyone up on a cold winter day. The topic: how she turned her passion into a working job and a flourishing company.
Mel Rice Ceramica is new to the ceramics scene, but it’s obvious that it’s going to stay. Started just a few short months ago, Mel Rice Ceramica was born out of Rice’s desire to create beautiful things and do what she loves. Originally a pastry chef, Rice came at ceramics with a brain full of knowledge and a soul ready for love. Rice has found a way to interweave her skills from being a pastry chef into the throws of ceramic madness. She served as the Pastry Lead at places like Tartine Bakery, managing huge backlogs of croissants for the masses in tiny spaces meant for the local bakery. Now in her own ceramics studios and far away from sugar land, she uses her inventory skills to make, store, and deliver hundreds of items at once. And yes, she’s a onewoman shop.
I asked Rice what it was like to start up her own ceramics company and she gave me perspective on what it takes to be your own boss: hard work and then more hard work. Did I mention hard work? 15 years ago, Rice arrived in New York City to pursue her pastry chef dreams. And she killed it, rising through the ranks and working at some amazing places. But when she realized that she’d never get paid enough for her hard work, she set out on her own, traveling around the world and rediscovering her creativity. After taking a lot of ceramics classes at a local San Francisco university, she started Mel Rice Cermica, which has exploded in popularity amongst individual and business customers alike.
But how in the world did Rice get so much business right out of the gate? By being herself and benefiting from the strong relationships she’d made over the years. She turned her kitchen into a studio and started throwing pots, teacups, and bowls. Friends came over and watched. One visitor loved what they saw and emailed it to their friend, owner of SF famous The Mill. They loved what they saw and placed an order with Rice. Then another restaurant called. And another. And just three months later, Mel Rice Ceramica can list The Mill, Samover Tea Lounge, and The Battery among others as clients. Pretty awesome, huh?
It’s not all gravy though, Mel Rice Ceramica has had its challenges. Rice came up against some serious obstacles when setting up her popup shop, all of which made her question whether or not a physical store was a good idea. But with a lot of perseverance and some trial and error, the little popup shop is thriving in it’s own right, open on most weekends and catering to the people of San Francisco. Now that it’s is so popular, Rice is trying to scale, turning the first floor of her home into a studio for more inventory and perhaps an apprentice or two. What’s clear to me is that no matter what Mel Rice Ceramica decides to do, it’s going to do well. Both the company and Rice are visionaries of the kind of place we all want to work and live – a happy, soulful, and passionate spot. Oh, did I mention she fosters rescue dogs and cats? Yeah, this chick is pretty cool. Check her stuff out on Instagram, or if you’re lucky, at one of the places that serve with her stuff.