Brulee torchThe world has changed a little since 1878, when London & American was founded in Ballarat. When it started out, the name meant something – all the items sold were sourced from the UK or the US. Since the founder, Albert Ferne, started the business, there have only been four owners. The current owner, Phil Kelly, took over the business from his father Eric, who in turn bought it off the owners in 1982 after having worked in the store as an in-house tailor, making workwear for chefs, since the end of the Second World War.

By 1982 the menswear side of the business was not going anywhere, but a lot of chefs were coming in for their workwear, and for the knives that the business stocked, and then going elsewhere to get all of the rest of kit they needed. In 1984 Phil made the change, moved out of menswear and converted the business to focus on kitchenware and cookware, specialising in the commercial sector.

The final change was the move to the current store in Elizabeth Street, which happened in 1991, with the only slight change after that being the addition of domestic cookware to cater to the passing trade.

Now the business stocks over 10,000 items – a huge selection of professional grade chefs' knives alongside cutlery and cookware, in fact anything remotely connected to cooking. Today the store is predominantly focused on the domestic market, although many home cooks, especially since the arrival of Masterchef and all of the cooking TV shows, only want the professional grade equipment.

“Before Masterchef we used to sell maybe six brulee torches a month. After Masterchef we were selling sixty a month, plus a lot of pasta machines and other items featured in the show.” Phil says.

The story with I.O.Shen is similar to a lot of the other stockists – after TKC gave them a few I.O.Shen knives to test out, all their staff raved about them. Phil says the I.O.Shen is “a really good knife” and the sharpest knife he's ever used. Needless to say Phil ended up putting the full range into stock. They also stock the Nirey electric knife sharpeners, which sell very well.

“We've not had any bad feedback from buyers of the Nirey sharpeners or the I.O.Shen in two years – we've had only one occasion when an I.O.Shen had a fault and TKC replaced it immediately.” explains Phil.

Times continue to change for London & American. The latest challenge is the general retail environment and the rise of internet shopping, so the business is moving with the times and now has an extensive online presence at www.chefsales.com.au, which will shortly feature their entire stock range. So whether you prefer to shop online or to get advice face to face, London & American can still help you, 136 years after they first opened their doors.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnjoh/368463391/