Wild for Wedgewoods
Apple Stove Restores Yesteryear's Ranges
When Laura Mankikar was working in the high-tech field as a technical writer, she never envisioned herself as a shopkeeper, especially not one specializing in stoves built before the age of computers.
“I had a Wedgewood that came with the house I owned in Berkeley,” she says. “When I sold the house, I took the stove and kept it in my new garage. My husband and I f
pulled it out sometime later when our rental property’s oven started leaking gas. At the time we didn’t know anything about stoves, other than how to turn them on.”
Fortunately a neighbor did; he worked at a stove restoration business. When he repaired Mankikar’s Wedgewood, he offered to recondition it as well. Mankikar and her husband, Gregory Fisher, who at the time owned a moving company, were excited to have the old appliance restored.
A year later, the same neighbor mentioned his boss wanted to sell the business and asked if Mankikar and Fisher had any interest in taking it over. Despite their complete lack of experience in the industry, the couple took a leap of faith and in 2006 bought what they describe as “the sadly neglected, 20-something-year-old company in serious need of TLC.” Mankikar relied on her problem-solving skills and Fisher on his moving business acumen and assistants to salvage what they could of the business —and re-invent what they couldn’t.
Today, the renamed and, like the ranges they fix, rejuvenated Apple Stoves (it was originally called Apple Antique Appliance) is a haven of history. Every vintage piece has a story, though no one could possibly know them all. Mankikar notes, “What I am sure of is that each stove belonged to someone who loved it.”
And what’s not to love? With their sturdy steel and cast iron hardware, shiny chrome, durable porcelain and solid Bakelite surfaces, these relics are an important part of American history. If cared for properly these gems will live to serve generations to come. That’s where Mankikar and Fisher come in. “We deal with rusted metal parts that cannot be reproduced. We see wonderful craftsmanship in the porcelain work that no one does anymore. We rescue parts and assemble good stoves out of the best parts we can find,” she explains. “It can be tough; we run up against a lot of challenges. But it’s incredibly rewarding when we can push through those hurdles and successfully restore one of these beauties.”
Customers appreciate their craftsmanship and sheer refusal to give up. “Our customers treasure the past these stoves represent,” she says. “People are willing to do what it takes to restore them. It’s a way of honoring the kitchen and how families used to spend much of their time together around food.”
Mankikar and Fisher honor that tradition with their O’Keefe & Merritt. They needed a smaller oven and found this one in their warehouse awaiting a buyer. “I don’t know its history. Sometimes people drive up with a stove in the back of their truck on the way to the metal yard and ask if we want to buy it. They drive off with a little more cash in their pocket. We take in that oven to love, cherish, restore and allow it to continue on its journey to touch other people’s lives.”
Mankikar and Fisher couldn’t imagine a better career for themselves than that.
Apple Stoves, 2509 Myrtle St., Oakland, www.applestoves.com, (510) 420-8096; showroom hours are 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment.