By Amy Eddings
The KitchenAid stand mixer is an object that inspires a certain feeling of admiration and craving in people for whom form is as important as function. Its heavy, rounded form, reminiscent of a 1950’s Chevy pickup truck or a Volkswagon Beetle, hints at pleasure and power. It inspires visions of cake batter blended with thoroughness and speed, or breads and rolls kneaded to airy lightness, all done while the baker looks on, hands freed from the dough, freed to fiddle with levers and a dough hook attachment.
“It’s the only small appliance I know that has inspired tattoos,” said Ken Hossler. He is the plant lead at KitchenAid’s 476,200 square-foot plant in Greenville, the county seat of Darke County, where KitchenAid churns out stand mixers, mixer attachments and blenders.
You’re forgiven for being surprised that the manufacturing and distribution center for this global brand, owned by the appliance giant Whirlpool, remains rooted in a rural Ohio town. After months of rhetoric on the recently concluded presidential race, you’d think there were no manufacturers left in these United States.
“Whirlpool’s strategy has always been to be competitive in the United States and to ride the storm of the mass movement of taking things to China and taking things to Mexico,” Hossler said.
The first stand mixer was made around 1914 by the Hobart Corporation for industrial use. You’d be hard-pressed to find a commercial kitchen or bakery without one. The company started working on prototypes for home use, giving them to the wives of factory executives to beta-test. According to company lore, one of them declared it to be “the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had,” and a brand was born.
They were initially marketed to farmers’ wives, and one look at an early mixer shows you why. They were built for big kitchens and big families. A model from 1924 is nearly three feet tall, its cylindrical, bulky motor stacked above the bowl like the skyscrapers that were just beginning to make their mark on city skylines of the time.
“Women sold them door-to-door,” said Lisa A. Hileman, a spokeswoman for Whirlpool. “Can you imagine?”
Vintage mixers are everywhere, on display in the main hallway of the plant and at the museum in the basement of the KitchenAid Experience retail center in downtown Greenville. But what brings out customers’ sighs, and wallets, are the new ones in a rainbow of hues.
“The amount of colors that we have gives us a ‘complexitive’ advantage,” said Hossler, refering to an in-house term used at the factory. “It’s our competive edge, but it’s also a lot of complexity. Producing so many colors is probably the biggest challenge we have.”
Colors range from the iconic Empire Red to Contour Silver, which matches the popular stainless steel look in modern appliances, to the newest color, Hot Sauce, a brilliant red-orange. It was the color of the new Artisan Mini Stand Mixer that Jim Sommer was using during a cooking demonstration at the retail store downtown.
“It’s 25 percent lighter and 20 percent smaller,” Sommer said. “You’ll see it’s just as powerful as the five-quart mixer.” He said it’s perfect for people like him, a retired school teacher, who have downsized into smaller kitchens with less space.
“I want to get me one of those,” said Delores Beisner, one of 14 people, mostly women, who had gathered to watch Sommer make scones.
She said she liked the color. Beisner, a Greenville native, said she usually attends one of the three cooking demonstrations that are held weekly at the retail store.
“Saturdays are guest chefs,” she said. “That’s very busy.”
Busier still is KitchenAid’s sidewalk sale, held every year to coincide with Annie Oakley Days, Greenville’s tribute to the legendary sharpshooter. It’s held the third weekend in July.
“The line goes around the corner, it’s two blocks long of people waiting to get into the store,” Hossler said. “And there’s one group, they camp out overnight. The same group, every year, because I’ve met ‘em! They want the latest gadget.”
Think of them like pilgrims to Greenville, to stand in awe before objects of beauty that promise ease, and style, in the kitchen.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Beisner said.
KITCHENAID EXPERIENCE RETAIL CENTER
423 S. Broadway St., Greenville, OH 45331
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Closed on Easter, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Cooking demonstrations are 10:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
KITCHENAID FACTORY TOURS
1701 KitchenAid Way, Greenville, OH 45331
Tours are 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Walk-ins welcome. Appointments are required for groups of eight or more. Enclosed shoes are required and safety glasses are provided. You must be 12 years of age or older.