Hard choice: Del Mar’s Eucalyptus Stoneware company closing doors

Whether holding fruit or warming bread, baskets from Eucalyptus Stoneware have become the centerpiece of thousands of kitchens across America. But after 40 years in business, the Del Mar company is closing its doors.

“It’s comforting to know that we have made as many people happy as we have,” said founder and owner John Laver. “It’s just time to close.”

Located along the banks of the San Dieguito River Lagoon, Eucalyptus Stoneware has manufactured an estimated 1.5 million bread baskets over the past four decades.

While other manufacturers reinvent their products to stay relevant and keep up with the latest trends, the local company’s baskets have never changed. It’s the simple, open-weave design that makes Eucalyptus Stoneware baskets better, Laver said.

“I think the design is perfect,” he said. “You can put this basket in a traditional kitchen. You can put this basket in a modern kitchen. It goes everywhere.”

A Los Angeles native, Laver grew up working with his grandfather, an Italian sculptor. While majoring in psychology at San Jose State, his experience in a ceramics class prompted him to minor in the craft.

“I always enjoyed working with my hands,” Laver said. “And when I first took a class in college, the first five minutes were inspirational. I knew that it was something I was going to do.”

After a brief stint as a teacher, Laver began working for a clay supplier in the same building where his company is now. The Encinitas resident decided to open his own business a few months later in 1974.

In 1979, Laver created an open-weave stoneware planter he intended to fill with greenery. When a friend pointed out it would make a great bread basket, an industry was born.

“I remember where I was when he told me that,” Laver said. “The light bulb came on.”

At one point, Eucalyptus Stoneware baskets were sold in more than 2,400 mom-and- pop stores across the country. High-end retailers such as Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom have also sold the handmade, ovenproof baskets, which are available in several sizes and 16 colors.

In 1990, the baskets were introduced to Williams-Sonoma’s catalog and stores. The retailer became Eucalyptus Stoneware’s biggest client.

“We started them, invented them and perfected the idea,” Laver said. “We got them out there into the world, and it’s become an iconic product.”

With the rise of big-box stores, however, Laver’s mom-and-pop clients began closing their doors. The company was hit hard during the recession and never truly bounced back.

Over the years, Laver has employed as many as 26 people at his shop at 2201 San Dieguito Drive in Del Mar. He had 11 people on staff in July, when the final baskets were produced. With just a few employees left, he is now cleaning up the shop and selling his equipment.

Although the shelves will soon be empty, Laver has no plans to abandon his craft. Once the shop closes, he intends to work at his friend’s Encinitas-based stoneware shop, The Wheel.

“It’s what I was meant to do,” Laver said. “I still enjoy it.”

His workplace is what he’ll miss.

“Del Mar has been good to me,” Laver said as he looked out at the lagoon. “This view has been wonderful. We get to watch the tide come in and go out, and come in and go out. It’s one of the reasons I stayed in this place for 40 years. More than the pottery, that’s what I’ll miss.”

Call 858-755-5656 or visit www.eucalyptus-stoneware.com.

Copyright © 2018, Del Mar Times
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