For Years, This Black Founder Learned an Uncommon But Essential Craft on the Side. Now His Creations Are Beloved By Celebrity Chefs — and Can Sell for More Than $1,000.

Quintin Middleton, artisan and owner behind Middleton Made Knives, found his passion for blades at a young age, inspired by 1980s fantasy films like Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. “I wanted to imitate what I saw,” he recalls, “and [in] some of the scenes in the movies, they had this blacksmith forging the hero’s sword, and I was just enamored by that.”

As a child, Middleton would experiment with the craft by beating household items — like his mother’s shower curtain rod — into knife handles. But it wasn’t until 2003, when he was in college studying to be an aircraft mechanic, that Middleton would get to try his hand at the real deal. Middleton was working at a local knife and cigar shop to earn some extra cash when legendary bladesmith Jason Knight walked through the door.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Middleton Made Knives

“He bought a few things and started telling me about himself and was saying, ‘Oh, well, I make knives for a living,'” Middleton says. “And so [I] lit up, and I asked him, ‘Hey, can you teach me? Can I come by your studio workshop one day?’ And graciously, he allowed me to.” Middleton would go on to apprentice for Knight for about six years.

Middleton stresses that “to be really good with anything, it takes a lifetime,” but after about a year of working with Knight, he said he was a “competent knifemaker” — and he saw the potential to build his own business around the skill “from day one.” After college, Middleton worked as an industrial mechanic for Mercedes-Benz, but all the while, he kept “making knives and learning and pushing and creating.

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Eventually, Middleton’s skill set extended to a variety of knives and swords. But he says he had a dream where “the Holy Spirit told [him] to make chef knives,” and “it was like somebody pointing him in the direction [he] needed to go.”

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Image Credit: Courtesy of Middleton Made Knives

“These are knives, yes, but they’re not what a professional chef would want.”

So Middleton began doing his research, attempting to replicate the chef’s knives he saw in pictures and considering what a chef would need from the tool. Then, once he’d made a few knives, he called “every top chef in Charleston, South Carolina like a telemarketer” — and faced rejection after rejection. So he tried a different tactic: He contacted Craig Deihl, executive chef of Cypress and Artisan Meat Share, and asked if he could help develop the chef’s knife.

“He allowed me to come to his restaurant,” Middleton says. “I brought a few knives and laid them out and let his crew check them out. And I’m thinking, maybe I’m going to leave with a few hundred dollars. And somebody’s going to buy something. Nobody bought anything. And I was so deflated. And so he told me, ‘Okay, these are knives, yes, but they’re not what a professional chef would want.'”

Middleton asked why that was, and Deihl explained that Middleton’s knives, honed from his hunting knife and sword background, were too heavy and thick for a chef’s needs. Instead, the ideal chef’s instrument would strike a balance between “a needle and an ax,” Middleton says.

Like an ax, a chef’s knife needs “to be strong and very durable,” but like a needle, “it needs to be precise” and go “exactly where it needs to go,” he explains. So that’s what Middleton created.

Deihl told his friends about Middleton’s chef’s knives, and the business started to grow. “It’s almost like throwing a rock in a pond,” Middleton says. “I started a small ripple, and it rippled out to other people.”

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“That’s my dream down the road — to create a manufacturing company that’s in my town or near.”

Middleton Made Knives officially launched in 2010, and in 2011, Middleton was interviewed by Entrepreneur and Garden & Gun, which “created the big buzz” that “solidified him as a maker,” he says.

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Image Credit: Courtesy of Middleton Made Knives

In the years since, Middleton Made Knives has continued to carve out its space in the industry, supplying hand-made high-carbon steel knives that can retail for more than $1,000 to the nation’s top chefs, including Sean Brock, Michael Anthony, Mike Lata and others.

Middleton also wants to reach another milestone in his blade-making business: employing people in his hometown of Saint Stephen, South Carolina, a predominantly African American town of less than 2,000 people. “That’s my dream down the road — to create a manufacturing company that’s in my town or near where we can produce high-end knives.”

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And his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to follow their big ambitions into business?

Money comes, and money goes, and it comes again,” Middleton says. “But when time comes, time just goes. So value your time.”

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