The Woman Who Outfits SF’s Best Restaurants Has a Special Offer for You

You get plates, she gets a production facility. Everybody wins.

MaryMar Keenan
MaryMar Keenan's new collection is exclusive to Kickstarter

MaryMar Keenan, founder of MMclay, has made dinnerware for many of San Francisco’s top tables, from Stuart Brioza’s The Progress (available for purchase right here!) to Wildhawk, A16 and SPQR. If you need a spectacular salad plate, Keenan — and her Hayes Valley retail space — should be your first and last stop.  

And you should soon be able to get even more of that magic at home: Keenan just launched a Kickstarter to fund a new studio right in the heart of San Francisco, on Gough Street. Help her build a facility that will triple her production capacity and you’ll get something beautiful for your table, ranging from a 4-inch ramekin ($35) to a 12-person dinnerware set or a 6-person pottery-making workshop, which sounds A) like a bargain at $2,000 and B) like the best-ever team-building event.

Today, we chat with Keenan about her work, whether or not San Francisco is still a creative city, and her take on the Instagramization of the dining space.

Mary Mar Keenan
Mary Mar Keenan (Instagram/@mmclay_ceramics)

InsideHook: Everyone wants a beautiful table, but it’s hard to know where to begin. What do you do when you’re starting a tableware collection from scratch?

MaryMar Keenan: When you’re building a tableware collection from the very beginning, it’s important to really look at the way you eat and what kind of food you typically like to serve. An 11-inch dinner plate, a 9-inch salad plate and a cereal bowl are generally a great way to start. A pasta bowl is fantastic for salad, pasta or an entree. If something smaller would work better, a small soup bowl is a great add on.

Your Kickstarter rewards offer pieces ranging from ramekins to a full dinner set, but they’re all available in the same glaze. Do certain colors, dishes or cuisines look especially good with them?

I’m thrilled how the new Kickstarter line has turned out. The drippy, dark edges contrast beautifully with the stark white. In the Kickstarter video, Kim Altar from Nightbird plates one of her gorgeous carrot dishes on them, and it’s stunning. I feel like this line will complement food with bright colors: beets, tomatoes, greens, the brilliant natural colors of vegetables. I can’t wait to see what kind of magic this line makes out there in the world.

Mary Mar Keenan

Speaking of: Your work is hugely popular on social media. What’s your take on Instagramming food?

I’ve been making pottery for over 20 years, and I feel like much of my most recent success is due to social media, and how we’re able to instantly share images. It’s been an amazing tool — it’s an incredible opportunity to showcase my work, especially with my pieces in more than 50 restaurants. People can see firsthand how beautiful food looks on them, thanks to the fact that restaurants, food bloggers, customers and designers are posting and photographing it. I am completely grateful and beyond excited.

Ramekins are so interesting to me because their use is so flexible. What’s the best or most creative way you’ve ever seen a ramekin used?

This is a great question. I had a customer once buy the ramekins as feeding bowls for her pet birds. She claimed that they were the perfect size, that the bird food would look fantastic in them, and that her birds would certainly appreciate them. It may have been my favorite sale. I’ve always said that food should always be served out of handmade [work] — not only does it taste better, it really enhances the entire experience of a meal. Clearly this doesn’t just apply to humans.

Mary Mar Keenan

Do you believe that ultimately SF is (still) a creative city? Or one amenable to creative production?

While the cost of living in San Francisco has certainly run out several artists, I feel like there will always be creative production within this city. The art scene seems to have changed a good bit in the two decades that I’ve lived here, but I am determined to do my part in trying to keep it alive and well. It would have been much easier for me to find a larger more affordable work space outside of the city, but I feel a connection to this city that is motivating.

I love San Francisco and believe that the people in it want to see art thrive here. With so many new people coming in and condos being built, architectural and interior design have become a prominent art form. My pottery is a small part of that — but it’s one that can be reasonably obtained by both restaurants and individuals. There’s so much importance in providing people the opportunity to beautify their space with handmade, artful work. Right now I am dedicated to it.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.