Borough Furnace forges its own path
In 2014, Liz Seru and John Truex got a phone call they didn’t expect—Anthony Bourdain wanted to feature their new business, Borough Furnace, on his show Raw Craft. “That was an amazing call to get out of the blue,” says Seru. “We’ll be forever grateful.” Borough Furnace started making its handmade cast iron cooking products in Syracuse in 2013, offering just two sizes of skillets at the outset.
Truex was already a highly regarded industrial designer when they began planning the business from scratch; Seru, his life partner, has a background in art and enjoys working with her hands, so jumping into the business was a natural fit. When Bourdain visited the workshop, he admired their crucible as well as the painstaking trimming, grinding, buffing, and sand blasting that result in high-quality handcrafted products. He then used one of Borough Furnace’s freshly manufactured skillets to cook steak au poivre over the couple’s melting furnace.
Happily, the show appearance was a great boost for business, and Truex and Seru have been re-investing in the company ever since—they now produce several products, including roasting pans, casseroles, and cazuelas. Borough’s products are made with design and functionality, as well as human health, in mind—there are no unpronounceable chemicals in these pans, Seru explains, but they are easier to use than vintage cast iron because they sit flat, they balance better on the stove, and their longer handles stay cool during cooking. “They also have thicker walls for good searing,” she explains. The pans are pre-seasoned with organic flaxseed oil before they leave the workshop, so they are ready to use right out of the box.
Not only is each product handmade, but the couple make their own molds as well. The molds are made using sand, and making a mold is “like putting two halves of a sandcastle together,” Seru says. The couple is environmentally conscious, and Borough Furnace uses sustainable practices. It uses all recycled iron as source material, and the sand it uses to make the molds can be reused. The supply chain is all US-based. Various reclaimed materials have served as fuel along the way, and the couple is now working on establishing solar energy in their new workspace in Owego.
These days, Seru and Truex live in Ithaca, and they enjoy their commute “through beautiful
farmland” to go to work, she says. Owego “has a lot going on,” and it has been a welcoming and lovely community to work in. The couple plans to keep offering their popular cast iron products as well as some new enameled iron cookware. Borough recently introduced a Dutch oven coated in a semigloss porcelain enamel. This product is currently the only enameled cast iron Dutch oven made in the United States, and, true to form, the porcelain enamel formula adheres to strict environmental standards.
In the future, Borough Furnace will continue to innovate, and the couple hopes to offer products that are more democratically priced, says Seru. They enjoy experimenting with new products in their own kitchen before offering them for sale. In the meantime, she says, many customers are thrilled to find the cast iron products to give as gifts. The skillets are especially popular as wedding gifts—“Sometimes parents are not ready to hand on grandma’s skillet”—so Borough products are helping to launch plenty of new couples’ cooking journeys in consummate style. The products are not sold in stores, but they are available at boroughfurnace.com.
Carolyn Sperry is a freelance writer who lives in Rochester.