Townecraft’s founder, Ernest H. Barbaris, was born in June 16, 1913 in Paterson, N.J. to Italian immigrant parents. “Senior”, as he was lovingly referred to, was one of seven children – five boys and two girls. Senior’s mother died when he was very young, and his laborer father was unable to keep a job due to the times. It became necessary for the children to leave school and get jobs. Child labor was very common at that time, and Paterson's economy was booming, so Senior started working in the silk mill on weekdays, and on weekends he would take a trolley to Ridgewood and caddy at the country club. Senior was in the 5th grade when he left school and started working.
Senior was a very quiet and insecure young man, and was always very interested in his health. In 1932, Senior’s sister hosted a cookware dinner party and the salesman from a popular cookware company came to their home to do a cookware demonstration. The demonstration was all about health, and Senior was quite inquisitive, asking many questions and engaging with the salesman. The salesman was impressed by the questions and asked Senior to come to his office to discuss opportunities selling cookware. Senior, being a polite young man, could not say no, but had no intentions of going to the office or selling cookware. “How could a person with my background put on the demonstration?” thought Senior.
Three times the salesman made appointments. Three times Senior did not show up. After much insistence and persuasion, he went to the salesman’s office and was presented the opportunity to sell cookware. He timidly accepted the opportunity and after one week…Senior quit! His manager called him in. Spent a lot of time with Senior training him, building his self-confidence, coaching and teaching him the business, the product and how to present and speak. This changed his life! Senior became a phenomenal and successful salesperson. This opportunity, this salesman’s insistence, changed Senior’s life forever. The 10-year-old little boy working in the Paterson silk mill, son of Italian immigrants with a 5th grade education was now a successful entrepreneur!
During World War II, Senior sold cookware at cooking demonstrations, to be delivered when the war ended. During this difficult time in our country and around the world, he hired several local schoolteachers and taught them about the cookware business. Always the entrepreneur, Senior negotiated with the teachers that in return they would teach and tutor him, giving him the schooling and the education he missed.
After the war, stainless steel cookware was invented and became very popular for kitchen utensils. Stainless steel did not pit and was healthier to cook in. In 1947, Senior, always the entrepreneur and now an established businessman, met and partnered with a lawyer turned investment banker and together they formed “Englishtown Crafts, Inc.” – what was later to become “Townecraft”. The company started in New Jersey and grew throughout the New York/New Jersey tri-state area, including establishing a New York City headquarters at 280 Fifth Ave, in the heart of Manhattan, c. 1948.
In the 1950’s, the company grew tremendously, expanding into multiple states and adding new products like silverware, crystal and fine china. It was also around this time that the company was renamed and rebranded, and “Townecraft” was born. As expected, given the times, the target customer for sales was women, particularly young working women and single young ladies whose parents ensured at all cost that their daughter had all the kitchen necessities required for when she married and had a family
Throughout the tumultuous and culturally changing 60’s, Townecraft continued growing across the country, selling and recruiting new dealers and distributors by the hundreds under Paul Ando, executive vice president and partner at the company and a Townecraft since 1964 until his retirement in 2018. Paul led the charge of this explosive growth well into the 70’s expanding the company’s network and forming the Southern Division with over 300. New and complementary cookware products were added, and with the ever-changing times, different methods of selling were introduced.
The 1980’s was a redefining decade for Townecraft as the company’s dealer network grew exponentially and became a multi cultural and diverse network. Under John Di Maria, Executive Vice President and Partner at the company and a Townecrafter since 1960 until his retirement in 2018, the company’s network added hundreds of Hispanic Spanish-speaking dealers, Koreans, Filipinos, and Brazilians, among others. John’s direct-sales acumen and visionary outlook on the business led to Townecraft’s growth in these communities. This diversity and the opportunity to offer these communities a life-changing opportunity, is something Senior was very intent on and proud of and under John’s tutelage it was achieved. Senior saw himself, his family and his past in these individuals.
Aside from being a sharp and astute entrepreneur, Senior was a great recruiter and he was passionate about it! Everyone Senior met and talked to, he would tell about Townecraft and the great opportunity direct sales presented. Senior was known for stopping people on the street, in the theater, at the grocery store, anywhere to tell them about Townecraft. If he was at a restaurant having dinner, he was talking to the waiters and waitresses about Townecraft; not trying to sell them cookware but rather the opportunity of starting their own business in direct sales.
Senior was a consummate businessman and always focused on ensuring the business was generating revenue and doing well. That was a requirement or necessity to ensure the business was solvent and capitalized, but it was not his passion, nor his key focus. His passion and ultimate focus was expansion through recruiting and building out teams, organizations and regions. If a dealer or distributor sold $100,000 in cookware in a month, or even a week, Senior would not be anywhere near as excited as he would be if the dealer or distributor recruited someone and offered them a life-changing opportunity.
Senior firmly believed he had an obligation, and was compelled to offer everyone the life-changing opportunity someone gave him; the same opportunity that changed the life of the son of Italian immigrants with a 5th grade education.
Senior managed and directed Townecraft day-to-day for nearly 60 years. Senior passed away at the blessed age of 95 in August 2008.