Tuesday August 13, 2013

WILMINGTON -- Originally, John McLeod was going to leave Scotland and move to Canada. Instead, he fell in love with Vermont and stayed.

"I saw this plenitude of wood and thought, ‘If I could get my hands on this wood!'" said McLeod, who owns Vermont Bowl in Wilmington.

McLeod emigrated to the United States in December of 1967. He started to see advertisements for the finest woodwork in Vermont and became curious.

"I was just a naive Scots engineer," said McLeod. "I believed this."

He soon learned that American advertising wasn't always exactly true. That has been one of the reasons he hasn't advertised much over the years.

"We've been very successful in bowl manufacturing but also very good at hiding ourselves," said McLeod.

Owner John McLeod, his dog, and Vice President Tom Fox stand in front of the Vermont Bowl Company in Wilmington.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Owner John McLeod, his dog, and Vice President Tom Fox stand in front of the Vermont Bowl Company in Wilmington. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
"We're spectacularly good at that."

McLeod is referring to the partnership that began after initially starting the business himself. McLeod and his partner Tom Fox have run Vermont Bowl together for about 30 years.

"Tom saw that this was an interesting operation to learn the trade and that there was a business here without any sense of reward in the form of partnership or ownership. He did it all for himself," said McLeod.

They specialize in wholesale manufacturing. Two of their biggest customers are Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel. America vintners also have been known to use McLeod's products as gifts.

Wooden bowls, cutting boards and utensils are among the most popular products that Vermont Bowls has to offer.


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According to McLeod and Fox, there are hundreds of designs, styles and species of wood that they lose track whenever they attempt to count merchandise.

Behind the actual store that sits at 111 West Main Street, there is a workshop. No one is allowed back there because there are secrets of the trade that McLeod is not willing to disclose. All the products are made there, he said.

McLeod and Fox created a different way of turnery, the process in which bowls are made. It is a mixture of using hands and technology.

"When we first developed it, we tested it out and the factory was locked," said McLeod. "We set this whole operation up and we were hiding because we didn't know if it was going to blow up."

Fox told the Reformer that peeking out from behind a sheet of plywood, they witnessed a bowl starting to appear.

"Everything is now behind cages in case we ever blow up," said McLeod.

He said the key to their success has been the quality of their products.

"Being handmade does not mean that you're allowed flaws," said McLeod. "That's often a misconception."

Vermont Bowls has different varieties of wood from which to choose when looking at the styles of products. There is walnut, mahogany and more varieties.

The newest creation at the workshop has been the Green Mountain Bowl, which combines an old colonial style with the expertise of the joinery used today, McLeod said.

After producing in a borrowed workshop from his mentor Walt Davis in Halifax, McLeod bought the building he is currently operating out of. Except back then, it was much smaller.

"As I describe it," said McLeod, "it was the only poured concrete floor I've ever seen and I came out of the construction industry. Because, they poured it and that was all they did. They never even flattened it out. They just poured it."

Throughout the years, he has made several additions to the building.

Products at Vermont Bowl Co. in Wilmington.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Products at Vermont Bowl Co. in Wilmington. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

While Vermont Bowls grew more and more successful, McLeod seized the opportunity to purchase neighboring buildings. There is an antique book store next door as well as the Mary Wright Art Gallery. Both are tenants of his.

There is also a farmhouse that McLeod owns and has recently renovated for one of his employees to live in.

Vermont Bowl is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The only two days it is closed during the year is Christmas and Thanksgiving. For more information, visit VermontBowl.com.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.