Deneen Pottery ramps up production in St. Paul – Twin Cities

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St. Paul’s Deneen Pottery, which once filed for bankruptcy, is increasing its production and focusing on future goals.

Located just off of University Avenue at 2325 Endicott St., Deneen Pottery spans 60,000 square feet and has increased production from a pre-pandemic average of 2,600 mugs a day to 3,000.

Niles Deneen, CEO and son of founders Peter and Mary Deneen, said “Some days it doesn’t feel like enough and other days it feels like a massive number.”

Deneen Pottery sells custom mugs directly to retailers like Surly Brewing Company, The Original Pancake House and national parks across the U.S. All told, their mugs account for about 95 percent of the company’s revenue, said Niles Deneen.

The company’s expansion involved the purchase of two $90,000 pugging machines, which remove air bubbles from the clay, and a $500,000 kiln that can fire 1,800 pieces at once, Deneen said.

Niles Deneen, CEO of Deneen Pottery, with the company’s 1,800-piece kiln, the newest part of its production expansion on March 9, 2023. (Courtesy of Niles Deneen)

The company’s revenue hit $8.5 million last year and the goal is $10 million in 2025, although Deneen is keeping his expectations in check. “When you’re too fixated on a goal, you can fall flat on your face,” he said.

Company history

Peter Deneen grew up in the Como Park neighborhood of St. Paul and studied pottery at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and at Marguerite Wildenhain’s Pond Farm School in northern California, according to company history.

Mary and Peter set up their first studio and showroom in 1972 at Park Square Court in Lowertown St. Paul. During the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in 1974, the Deneens cleared the first of many soon-to-come milestones – they made over $1,000 in a single day.

One of the landmarks of Deneen Pottery’s growth was the invention of “glaze engraving” by Peter Deneen and David Christofferson in 1985. Glaze engraving utilizes a plaster molding technique that allows customized designs to be stamped onto flat medallions and easily attached to mugs. The 1985 Renaissance Festival featured the first mugs to use this process.

A man throws a mug on a pottery wheel
Potter Eric Tuttle makes mugs at Deneen Pottery in St. Paul on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)

Tragedy struck Deneen Pottery in 1988 when it filed for bankruptcy after a $50,000 payment fell through. Just three years later, Peter Deneen was hitting the ground running again, purchasing a kiln and reviving Deneen Pottery.

For about 15 years, Peter Deneen decided to keep the company small until his son joined the family business in 2006 to focus on marketing. Soon enough they were expanding once again, the Pioneer Press reported in 2013.

“The optimism and confidence he has to this day is inspiring to me,” Niles Deneen said of his dad, who still works for the company as a consultant and unofficial tinkerer. “When you have to experience the lows at the level he did, it gives you a perspective that I may hope to have one day.”

For now, Niles Deneen said they are taking things slowly and focusing on the quality of each mug and the 24 pairs of hands that handle each one before it is boxed.

“It’s good to look up at the horizon to see where you want to go,” Niles Deneen said. “Our goal is to create beautiful work for our customers.”

Deneen Pottery mugs

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