Today’s men and people of all genders are getting creative in the kitchen—it’s no longer a “women’s thing.” So why should the imaginary kitchens that kids love so much be sold in a pink or gendered package?
This month, mom and entrepreneur Shari Raymond launched her brand-new business called Milton and Goose, it’s a line of US-manufactured eco-friendly, gender-neutral toy kitchens for kids.
Kveller was lucky to get a chance to hear from Raymond about how she went from searching for her ideal play kitchen to inventing it herself, and the Jewish values that animate her new venture.
What experience as a mom inspired you to create these play kitchens from scratch?
Ever since he could crawl, my son was drawn to play kitchens—so when his first birthday rolled around, I knew I wanted to get him a special play kitchen as a milestone gift. After months of searching for something that wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb in my apartment, I came up short and disappointed with the outdated selection of play kitchens on the market.
As a style-minded parent, I went out of my way to stow toys in storage ottomans and tuck stuffed animals into adorable printed bins, so when it came to a play kitchen that would take center stage in my home, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.
So I set out to design a play kitchen that complemented modern decor, met the highest safety standards, and was built to last, so it could endure my son’s enthusiastic daily play—and still look good as new when it gets passed on to his baby sister.
I love the neutral colors. I assume you were trying to make something that appeals to all genders? Shouldn’t boys be encouraged to get in the play kitchen too?
Since I designed this kitchen with my son in mind, appealing to both genders was a no-brainer. Our adult kitchens aren’t gendered, so I didn’t see why play kitchens had to be. Boys love play kitchens just as much as girls!
Where does the name “Milton and Goose” come from?
In my childhood home, we had a large painting of the 17th century British poet John Milton, a seemingly random piece of art that had been given to my grandfather as a barter in exchange for work. Nearby was a colorful goose that sat near the fireplace and would magically lay chocolate eggs each Friday night—thanks, Mom.
For me as a child with an active imagination, these two figures were a source of countless make-believe stories. So when I started brainstorming a name for a company that’s all about imaginative play, Milton and Goose fit the bill nicely.
What was your background before you began the company? Did you have business experience?
My background is in television—I was in the NBC Page Program before jumping around to various jobs in the industry in both New York and Los Angeles. So when I announced to family and friends I was going to start a play kitchen company, it was definitely out of left field. My learning curve was steep, but I’m grateful to the many entrepreneurs and business minds who have shared feedback, advice and direction along the way.
Why was it so important to have them be made in the USA and eco-friendly?
From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to manufacture in the US for both practical and ideological reasons. Making my products here means I can enjoy small batch manufacturing and have greater oversight over the process; I can make site visits more easily, ensure fair working conditions, and have easier access to the origin of our materials and finishes. Our country has fabulous woodworkers and some of the best materials in the world, so I didn’t see any reason to go overseas.
In terms of the environment, the last thing our landfills or the world needs is more stuff. So if I’m going to produce something, I want to make sure I’m doing it with the utmost care and respect for our environment, and am making something that will last for years. After all, it’s all for the children and they’re the ones who will one day inherit our planet.
Why do you think kids are so drawn to imaginary and fake food (I know I was)?
Because it’s so fun! Children love having a chance to be just like their parents, and play kitchens with fake food are an ideal space for them to imagine and play without someone yelling, “Don’t touch that!” or “That’s going to make a mess!” It’s also a great way for children and parents to play together. My son makes me tea nearly every day and loves when I pretend the cup is hot and ask for seconds.
Are there any particular Jewish values that guided you on this entrepreneurial project?
Whenever I tell someone I’ll be offline for the holidays or won’t answer the phone past sundown on Fridays, I’m keenly aware that I’m bringing religion into my business. To that end, I always strive for honesty and integrity in my business dealings. And I’m grateful to have found my manufacturers in the Amish community, who share those same values and have become trusted partners.
Toy kitchens are pricey. Do you have plans to donate any of these kitchens to schools or families who can’t afford them?
Absolutely! I started giving them away in my mind before I even produced them. I’m in the process of identifying charities to partner with, and it’s something I’m actively working towards.
If you could come up with one imaginary dish to make in a play kitchen, what would it be?
A cake! Because unlike in real life, all of the dirty dishes made in the process are pretend and the result is guilt-free deliciousness. Best of all worlds!
Do you have a favorite Yiddish word?
Shtick. It’s just such a fun word.