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Letters from Daniel

A Big Part of that Future - March 8, 2022

A Big Part of that Future

I have a list of heros. I keep it running in my head constantly. I started compiling it early on. It was necessary. It was survival.


As a boy I loved playing hopscotch on the playground, even though it often led to getting pounded on the playground. I quickly figured out who to run to when things got dicey with the anti-hopscotch gang. Thankfully, even in third grade those ruffians knew certain things were absolute. You did not screw with Ms. Corden, or try sly with Mrs. Murdoch, and you especially didn’t mess with Mrs. Jeffs. Her cat eye glasses and Thatcher up-do made her fierce. I, of course, made extra sure all three loved me. Survival and all.


It started the first couple times I had trouble out in the yard. Ms Cordon took me in, patched me up and let me sit in her class while she ate lunch. She let me draw, dance, look through Encyclopedia Britannica and tell her stories of my imaginary animals. I had an elephant. His name was Philip. He lived in a hole in my backyard. I still swear he was real. She did great at seeming fascinated. She also did great at stopping a little boy’s tears.


I’ve always been curious, and Ms. Corden, Mrs. Murdoch and Mrs. Jeffs, they made special assignments to match whatever I was into that day. They let me ask questions. A lot of questions. I felt like I was always learning something. As it turns out, I was right. I realized later it was because they spoke to me like they spoke to each other. They were at work after all. They weren’t interested in baby talk and neither was I. I learned more for life with that kind of straight talk than anywhere else. My need for it stuck.


In fact, my life has been a consistently orchestrated repeat of 3rd grade in regards to how I maintain the accuracy of my moral compass and objectivity. To that end, my list of heroes has grown long. Not surprisingly, the great majority of those names are tough, smart and very straight talking women who all share the kindness of my 3rd grade teacher bodyguards. Also not surprisingly, the Graf Lantz org chart pretty much reflects that list by design. Or maybe by divine. Either way, I know who to go to when I need setting straight and I’ve made sure to surround myself with a team of women who have zero problems doing just that at Graf Lantz.


That’s why I’m glad there’s an International Women’s Day on the calendar. It always reminds me of the direct line between where I came from and where I am now. It is a line of the great Women who not only brought me here, it includes great women who are taking this company to the future, rooted in a culture where women's careers can thrive and their achievements are celebrated.


This year I want to introduce you to a big part of that future. One look at our company org chart shows it is populated by many amazing women who literally teach us new things daily. At the top of the chart sits Menaka Gopinath, President / COO of Graf Lantz. Menaka has been on my list for a long time. Holger and I have known her for 20 years and we’ve been close friends for most of it. As we grew the company, we were secretly adamant that, one day, Menaka would lead it. Last year in early July we met that goal. Menaka’s advocacy for empowerment and her experience in business give her a unique perspective that strengthens the culture, values and the future of Graf Lantz. I want to share our gratitude and excitement with all our customers and introduce Menaka here for International Women’s Day. Dear Graf Lantz Customers, meet Menaka Gopinath.



Daniel Lantz

Popcorn Steaks - September 18, 2021

Popcorn Steaks

I guess it was still a thing in the 50s. People got married young, really young, and they had lots of kids. Farm life was boring. Dad thought he was Elvis. Mom can be rather driven at times. They traded farming for ranching and that’s how I came to inhabit space number 10 of 13 kids. I like what it taught me, like my love for tools and well made things. We didn’t have a lot. What we did have, we chose for how it was made, how long it could last and how useful it would be. I guess it rubbed off on how we decide what Graf Lantz sends out to the world.


From early on I noticed everything. Big families have big dynamics to navigate . Beautiful memories awash in golden light go on forever in my head. We invented games and toys that made us the creatives we are. But there were other kinds of memories, like popcorn steaks, that just kind of lingered out there for a long time, unsettled and suspicious, not knowing what to become.


With only 10 kids at the time my parents had moved us from the back hills of the Ozarks in southern Missouri across the country to the big city in hopes of getting treatment for my oldest brother’s disability. They landed with nothing but determination. In the end, the family thrived, but the first years were very, very lean.


I like popcorn now, but for a long time I couldn’t stand the thought of it, let alone the smell. It meant fear. It meant a kind of shame and guilt. It meant a 5 year old boy instinctively knowing not to cry when mom and dad, not such great actors, walked in projecting an oddly strained excitement about tonight’s super extra special dinner treat extravaganza: popcorn steaks!!!!!


It was code for: There is no food in the house. Their search that day hadn’t managed to pull a meal together and bring it back to the nest. However, once my dad gave a rousing “HEY KIDS, MOM SAYS WE GET TO HAVE POPCORN STEAKS TONIGHT!!!!!!!” We all joined in.


A bag of popcorn, food coloring and little sticky melted sugar can go a long way when you get to play with your warm dinner and shape it into unicorns and air planes. Early on, I made a T-bone steak for my dad. I worked hard. In all that golden light it is perfectly formed. I can see a thick, well marbled slab with the bone and fatty parts rendered perfectly. I’d nailed it. He ate it with a fork and knife. I wondered how he could cry and smile all at the same time. He said the steak needed a little salt and tears have a little salt. I’ve wondered since whether he’d lifted that line from a movie, but who cares. I won first prize. The name stuck.


Unfortunately, that kinda thing can only happen so many times before the kids get to gossiping. Young minds create all sorts of monsters. We came to face those nights pretending bravery with complete dread inside. I’ve tried to imagine what it must have been like for my parents. I can’t. If you’ve never experienced the fear of daily hunger, you can’t either. It should be hard to imagine. But I can tell you first hand it’s a lot more than just feeling hungry. It creeps into every aspect of life and grinds away at the bonds that hold a family together.


My parents came with all the optimism and blind courage they could muster but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until they found the courage to reach out for help that things changed. Reaching out isn’t easy, but someone was there to respond, without judgement. They just saw the situation for what it was and filled the most basic of needs. That’s because they knew, just like Feeding America knows, the very simple act of removing food insecurity can enable a family to make their way back to independence and on to a life that has room to make all those golden memories.  


Feeding America understands exactly what my “popcorn steak” story means. As an adult I had long since come to terms with these memories, but working with Feeding America showed me how to make them helpful, and valuable. That’s why we love working with them. They just get it. They see my story every single day of the year and they know what I know; food solves other problems, not just hunger. Food is like oil in the gears to get things moving again. Or like the perfect simple tool, right when you need it. It changes lives. It changed mine.


Thanks to the Graf Lantz customers, our Mask campaign with Feeding America is a huge success — we’ve donated 5M meals to date. But there are many people in need and reaching out. That’s why we are expanding our ways to Support Feeding America with our new campaign, A Place Around the Table.


I named it for the hope it represents. I was at my mom’s place in Utah recently. I told her I was going to write about the famous popcorn steaks. It got a good laugh. She made me promise to talk about the good times around “the table”. When the hard times passed, popcorn fell deeply off trend around the house. Rice crispy treats suffered the same fate by association. Huge family dinners became the fashion. At some point she had my dad make a giant circular table. It was 10 feet in diameter and seated 16 tightly. There was a 4 foot lazy-suzan carousel in the center. It never stopped revolving. We even had a food fight once. It took up a whole room and it was the center of everything in the house. She said, “I had him make it because I wanted all you kids to know you would always have a place around the table”. The name stuck.


A Place Around The Table is a commitment to extend our Feeding America partnership. We’ll be donating five meals for every tabletop item purchased. We thank you for the support that allows us to continue to provide meals for our communities. And, we thank you for giving Graf Lantz a place around your table.


– Daniel Lantz

The Lantz half of Graf Lantz

Mother's Day Bulldozer Academy - May 9, 2021

Mother's Day Bulldozer Academy

Last year I didn’t get to meet my mom. Now I’m on my first road trip in a year heading to Utah for Mother’s Day.
Apparently, she is very excited to see me. I have a suspicion that’s partly because there is yard work she has planned just for me. She says it's not much and mentions something about removing a tree and building a berm,....or two. It’s just, y’know, a little spring improvement kind of thing that will only require one of those “very small” kinds of bulldozers. It’s already reserved.
I don’t know how she got the idea that I know how to operate even a mini bulldozer, but it’s generally in line with how she sees me. She always has this idea that I am more than what I think I am. I am always happily surprised when she is correct.
And that’s what Moms do best. They hope. They never stop hoping. And that has always left us kids with room to explore the world and ourselves so we can find out just how right she is about everything. And I’m ok with that. That I’m always happy to help as a first reaction to any situation is something I got directly from her.
She is 85 this year. She is upset that she can’t lift the bigger stones or shovel as much dirt as she used to. I hate that she feels that way. I’ve never seen her slow down. However, she is very excited to teach me how to operate the bulldozer, so I guess I will have acquired a new and valuable skill, and she will be right yet again. Moms, they may not be perfect, but they are still the greatest.
Wherever you are, and however you celebrate, Happy Mother’s Day from Graf Lantz.
– Daniel

Smiling With Your Eyes Seems to Be a Talent We Are All Born With - April 7, 2020

Smiling With Your Eyes Seems to Be a Talent We Are All Born With

Like most people, we hadn’t imagined the odd reality that would see face masks as daily necessities right up there with socks, underwear and toothbrushes, but change happens, and here we are. Like most people, somewhere in the space between urgency and longevity, we are adapting.


As the initial shock fades and the logic builds, it’s fairly obvious that protecting ourselves actually means protecting complete strangers, even the ones who don’t quite get it yet. It’s not exactly some high minded principle. The golden rule is usually pretty simple. For example, I’ve come to think of masks like stoplights. My sentiments toward most red lights are seldom warm, especially when I’ve been on a smooth roll down Sunset Blvd at a sweet 45. But, I get why they exist. We all do. It’s not a question. They make logical sense. They let everyone know what’s going on in the intersection. They keep us safe. They give us peace of mind. Simple.


As we debated our approach to mask production, we figured we could handle the “how” part. Our factory was designed to make us independent and nimble and it has always carried us. We were more interested in the “what” and “why”. In the end, we decided we wanted to produce more than masks, we wanted to create peace of mind, and our new Anshin line was born.


Anshin is one of those words in Japanese I’ve just always liked. It is pronounced (awn-sheen). It means peace of mind, but the characters, 安心, actually read as peace in the heart. It conveys stability, dependability, predictability and a sense of the comfort and ease of normalcy.

We figure everyone could use a little Anshin right about now.


Adapting to new environments requires everything learned in the old one. As we got things up and running we realized the changes we thought we would have to make were not as big and scary as they seemed at first. We think everything we make should have a purpose for life and lifestyle. All we had to do is what we always do, use quality materials to create beauty that is useful and lasting. It’s the same with the changes we all have to make.


Immediacy and comfort may not be the guarantee we once thought. And yeah, there will be inconvenience to some extent, but we are convinced the best way out of this is directly and forcefully through it, with everyone working together. Things like realizing the coffee breath in your mask is actually yours is never pleasant. Struggling to remember patience while waiting in line on X marks can be tedious. Greeting people with a bottle of hand sanitizer instead of a handshake is just plain weird. There are many. But I’m betting most are things we can all live with, and for good reason: many people can’t live without it and we may be one of them. That’s good enough for us, so we’re sticking to it. We hope you will, too.


Beginning with masks, the Anshin line is a set of tools we are designing to make the transition to all these new routines smooth. In the next few weeks, we will begin to release more of them as we ramp up safe production. Stay tuned. And in the meantime remember that smiling with your eyes seems to be a talent we are all born with. It costs nothing and it takes no effort. It has more value and gives more peace of mind than anything we could ever make. Use it.  


Thank You for reading this far.


– Daniel Lantz and Holger Graf

And It's All Your Fault - December 30, 2019

And It's All Your Fault

Anyone who would take time to read another Graf Lantz email at this time of year is a trooper. Ideally, you are somewhere being lazy, with snacks handy, maybe even possibly bored from all the relaxing you’re doing. If you’ve been able to swing that in your life, we salute you. But, most likely, you’re not. Most likely you’re on the go like crazy, keeping everyone else sane, gracefully plowing through obstacles, diversions and a swarm of last-minute details as the sun flashes on and off. If you are reading this, Thank You. You’re our hero.
At Graf Lantz, we are on the go like crazy as well. And It’s not stopping. And it’s totally all your fault. If you’re still reading this, we want you to understand that you have been part of the most fascinating, challenging, inspiring and encouraging year ever here in the Graf Lantz universe.
With your help 2019 has been a year that allowed us to simultaneously deepen our roots, explore new ideas, open new territory, and focus our vision. It taught us how to produce more and waste less. It solidified our belief that growth, product quality, excellent customer service, and better working conditions for our team are all the same thing.  
When we started this adventure our goal was to make beauty that is useful, lasting, low impact and trusted. That has not changed. 2019 made us better at it. We are ready for 2020. Again, it’s all your fault and we are beyond grateful. We are energized.  
Finally, 2019 was the year we made it easier for people to talk to us. Perhaps that’s been the best part. That is how we get to keep being the company we started. So, keep talking to us. Let us know when we’ve done well and when we’ve missed something. It keeps us on our toes, it keeps us inspired and it keeps us on track.
With Humility, Gratitude and all our Best Wishes to you in 2020,
– Daniel Lantz and Holger Graf

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