The first thing you notice about One Sharp Dude is the vehicle that Steve Collins uses to take sharpening on the road. It may be unexpected, but that vehicle is a repurposed ambulance carrying Steve's slogan, "Are you dull?"
Every chef will tell you that the most important thing for home cooks to know is to always keep your knives sharp. Kathleen Flinn even used the rule to title her book about studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.
But even if you use a sharpening steel and cut only on cutting boards, eventually your knives will dull, whether they're high-end or not. To get a true hone and an edge as sharp as you need, you should go see Steve and his wife Vicki.
It was Steve's hair stylist who gave him the idea to get into the sharpening business.
"I was sitting in her chair, and she was looking for her shears before she remembered that she had mailed them off for sharpening," Steve says. "She told me that if there was a guy who sharpened here, he would make a lot of money. She wasn't really telling me the whole truth on that," he says with a laugh.
Becoming a professional sharpener is not an easy endeavor. Steve went to workshops, conferences, and three knife factories before he earned his certifications. But after working in advertising for 30 years, he was ready for a change.
Making his business mobile allowed him to turn his sharpening business into a full-time job. Stylists use expensive, specialized shears and are hesitant to hand them over to someone who has to take those shears elsewhere. Before Steve, stylists in the Memphis area had no choice but to mail them off for sharpening and do without them, sometimes for weeks. But since Steve brings his services to them, they don't have to wait to get professional sharpening for their tools.
Of course, beauty salons aren't the only businesses to benefit from Steve's ability to bring his services to them. He also visits pet salons, restaurants, and L'École Culinaire where he sharpens the students' knives. Home cooks have to come to him.
As Vicki says, "Sharpening is a good business in a bad economy. People get their knives sharpened instead of buying new ones. And people always have to get haircuts."
Steve sharpens more than knives and shears. He'll take care of your lawnmower blades, pruning shears, and scissors. For people and pet stylists, he sharpens trimmers and clippers, too.
When he sharpens your knives, he's also going to tell you how to treat them right: "Don't ever put your knives in the dishwasher. Vicki did that before we got married." (Sharing that piece of information earns him a dirty look from his Dudette.)
He'll also teach you the right way to use a sharpening steel. "You should sharpen your knife four or five times on each side at a 22 1/2 degree angle," he says. It sounds complicated, but it's not that hard to get that angle.
"Hold your knife perpendicular to your steel," Steve says. "That's a 90 degree angle. Swing it down halfway, and you'll have a 45 degree angle. Swing it down half of that angle, and you'll have it just right."
Be prepared to take some heat from Steve if you've been putting off getting your knives sharpened. My nicked paring knife earned a raised eyebrow and the question, "Who's responsible for this?" My husband and I blamed our son since he wasn't with us, but we were suitably abashed.
That repurposed ambulance may be great for Steve's business, but a real one might not be such a bad idea either. Sharpening is dangerous business. As Vicki puts it, "He should probably have dismemberment insurance."
Steve says, "You know, you really don't want to test the edge that much after you've sharpened it." He actually does test it — on the bed of his thumbnail. "If it cuts on there, it's gonna cut anything you need."
You'll find Steve at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market and at the Memphis Farmers Market on alternating weekends. You can also drop off and pick up at the UPS Store at Poplar and Highland. Check out his Facebook page and website for details and pricing.
You'll find a special sense of humor when you stop to talk with One Sharp Dude. Like many vendors at the farmers markets, Steve is proud to advertise that he's organic. By all standards, his business really is. After all, he doesn't use any unnatural pesticides or fertilizers to work his craft.
But one important question remains: Where can you get a used ambulance for your own? (You know you want one.) Steve Collins gives a smile and a simple one-word answer: "eBay."