Lodge Cast Iron museum to open Saturday in South Pittsburg

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Visitors to the Lodge Cast Iron Museum check out what the company calls the world's largest cast iron skillet on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Officials said the skillet weighs more than 14,000 pounds.
Staff photo by Mike Pare / Visitors to the Lodge Cast Iron Museum check out what the company calls the world's largest cast iron skillet on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Officials said the skillet weighs more than 14,000 pounds.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- A company that calls itself America's longest-running producer of cast iron cookware has fired up a new museum that tells the story of the industry and of one of the region's oldest companies.

"There's so many people who want to know how it's made," said Mike Otterman, chief executive and president of Lodge Cast Iron, at a preview of the museum this week.

He said officials believe the museum will draw 200,000 visitors a year through it and the existing factory store to which it's connected.

Otterman said the 10,000-square-foot museum sits near where Lodge's foundries churn out its iconic skillets and other products which are sold nationally and in more than 70 countries worldwide.

He said in an interview that the museum, which will hold its grand opening Saturday, traces the history of the 126-year-old, family-owned company that employs about 600 people.

Also, the museum examines the so-called cast iron culture in which the products are used by backyard barbecue cooks as well as celebrity chefs, said Otterman, who is the company's first non-family CEO.

A key attraction at the museum, costing $10 a person, is what Lodge calls the world's largest cast iron skillet. The immense piece measures more than 18 feet and weighs 14,360 pounds, according to Lodge.

Susanne Champ, Lodge's vice president of marketing, said a new restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast, one of a chain of the eateries that focuses on Southern favorites, will open soon in adjacent space.

"They're talking about another in Chattanooga," she said in an interview.

Lodge officials said the museum had been under discussion for a long time.

Otterman said South Pittsburg annually hosts the National Cornbread Festival which draws crowds of people who are interested in Lodge's products and how they're made. The museum is a venue where people can learn year-round about a process that's been around 2,000 years as well as the company, he said.

"It's really interactive and educational at the same time," Otterman said.

Walker Henley, Lodge's brand development manager, said a part of the concept behind the museum is to show people what takes place in the foundries.

"We've gone from a regional manufacturer to a worldwide brand," he said during a museum tour.

The company was founded in 1896 by Joseph Lodge. It began as The Blacklock Foundry, named after the founder's minister. That foundry burned down in May 1910, according to the company.

Three months later, the foundry was rebuilt under the Lodge manufacturing name.

  photo  Staff photo by Mike Pare / Mike Otterman, center, chief executive of Lodge Cast Iron, listens during a preview of the opening of the company museum on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. At right is Walker Henley, the company's brand development manager, who led a tour through the new museum.

According to the company, the Lodge family found ways to keep doors open during the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. For example, novelty items such as cast iron garden gnomes and animals were produced and sold to keep workers employed.

After World War II, in order to meet growing business demand, the manufacturer began converting its foundry from a hand-pour operation to an automated molding process. Over the years, the company instituted processes leading to safer and more efficient manufacturing, according to a history of Lodge.

Lodge updated its foundry in 1994 with the replacement of coal-fire cupola furnaces with an electromagnetic induction melting system. In 2002, the company began to season each piece of cast iron cookware, which it calls an industry first that has since become the standard.

Otterman said Lodge has seen revenue growth for 20 consecutive years, though he declined to reveal a sales figure.

He said the coronavirus pandemic bolstered business as people stayed home and cooked.

"It taught a whole new generation to cook," Otterman said.

Lodge's cast iron cookware can last generations, he said, adding that "food just tastes better."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

  photo  Staff photo by Mike Pare / Walker Henley, left, brand development manager for Lodge Cast Iron, shows one of the exhibits at the company's new museum in South Pittsburg, Tenn., on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. The 10,000-square-foot museum is to open Saturday.

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