If you run into Jonathan Porter in Polk County he may be greasy and grimy fresh off a job as a farrier, fitting a horse for shoes. Or he might be wearing his Sunday best after a renowned chef rolled out the red carpet to highlight some of his timeless custom knives.
Since DogHouse Forge was highlighted as a Lakelander MADE honoree in 2014 the business has grown, split, shrank and is now growing again in a way that makes the most sense for the industrious Porter, a fourth-generation Polk County’ian.
He and his wife Emily have built a business that has produced more than 15,000 knives and has an Instagram following of more than 80,000 followers. The reality, Porter will tell you, is that the experience has been less like a steady ascent and more like a rollercoaster.
“Some years, it’s been growing pains,” he says. “And some years have been just like…’I can’t believe we’re doing this’ and I can’t believe people are buying so many kitchen knives and whatever else!”
Within about five years of launching the company it had grown to a sizable operation with multiple employees, but Porter had a tough time coming to terms with the fact he spent most of his time on management and logistics instead of the metalwork.
“I hadn’t built a knife from scratch in about two years…it just wasn’t fun.”
So he and his business partner amicably dissolved their partnership and Porter got back to building the tools he loved.
He spent (and still spends) many hours as a farrier to pay the bills, while his CNC machines (essentially digital automated metalwork machines) churn out custom designs to build knives with beautiful handles that are work horses in the kitchen.
Along the way his brand has caught the eye of many restaurants and chefs, including Joe Sasto, a Michelin-star chef who was featured on Top Chef for several seasons.
After Porter was introduced to him by his friend, and renowned chef, Ferrell Alvarez, Sasto drew up ideas for Porter. Porter would craft products accordingly and they would send prototypes and notes back and forth through the mail.
This January, the Sasto Tools line is set to officially launch and will include pasta cutters, texture boards and more.
He credits much of his ability to be able to survive leaner years to his unofficial cheerleaders in Lakeland and Polk County.
“It’s my local clientele here that has kept me alive some years…if you don’t have a local following you won’t survive,” he says.
He says his relationship with Bank of Central Florida has helped him through a lot of challenges and he thanks the Ruthven Family for providing him a space to teach blacksmith classes, which he did for more than 200 students before COVID hit.