While many companies had their pandemic pivots, the Steere family’s perhaps wasn’t the most orthodox. Instead of extending their automotive machinery business by releasing, say, a new piece of precision car molding, the Ohio-based owners of Square One Engineering rolled out an over-the-top, luxury ice ball press.
In lockdown, Brock Steele had taken to cocktailing, making his way through a home bar and the cocktails it could concoct. Doing so, he realized that no ice press seemed to efficiently and succinctly produce perfect spheres. So Meltdown was born; an engineer’s answer to plump, pamplemousse-sized, cocktail-ready ice.
While the brand started as an ancillary business to his family’s engineering business — a side hustle, so to speak — Meltdown has sold over $600,000 worth of product since coming to market in fall 2020.
After 100-plus trials, Brain and brother Brock decided on a unit made from 99.8% solid copper — a material 1.7 times more conductive than aluminum and notably 3 times heavier. “Most of the units out there were just basic aluminum,” says Steele. “Copper is more conductive, it’s heavier, it looks higher-end, and it’s just a very tough material.”
Place a chunk of ice in the press, drop down the lid, and the all-copper unit will melt and mold the ice within 30 seconds thanks to both extreme conductivity and gravity running its course.
If you’ve tried freezer spheres before, you’re aware of how much fuss and finessing is required to produce a perfect ball. Meltdown is surprisingly quick, easy, minimal effort; producing a perfect sphere sans seams, bumps or clumps.
The unit comes with three silicone cups to freeze ice before using. Unlike most units on the market, this can make several ice balls in one sitting, without waiting for another one to freeze. Just run the unit under warm tap water to warm it up and you’re ready for another round. “We’re also one of the only ice makers that don’t use a pin system,” says Steere. A smart base catches any residual meltwater.
The catch? The price. The units range from $895 upwards with “our most popular unit, The Mogul, retailing for $1,495.” The lower-priced end of the spectrum uses all aluminum, while the high-end Mogul is crafted from copper. Each product weighs almost 15 pounds and comes with a swathe of color, monogram, and engraving options.
If the price tag seems steep, I divert to The Rock. Just before the 2020 holidays, Dwayne Jonson reshared a video of Meltdown in action.
The video collected 100 million views in just a few hours.
“There were too many people trying to get on our website.,” says Brian Steele. “It crashed. When they restored our website early in the morning, we found out 185,000 people were on the website at the moment of the crash.”
“We weren’t prepared for that mega rush,” continues Brock. “The Meltdown is already a very popular item, and combined with this, we were slammed over the holidays. We did over $200,000 worth of sales in those seven weeks.”
While technically a side hustle, the Steeles had the infrastructure in place to support the group. “We’re an engineering company, and the product has been invented through our innovation teams,” says Brock. “This business unit is a startup, but we still have the support structure in place. We have over 300 employees.” While other producers faced supply chain shortages, the fluency between the rest of the business curbed any issues and bridges the cost of custom precision machinery that these units require. While the machining business was slower when automotive tooling was slow, Meltdown kept them busy.
What’s the fuss with a perfect sphere? These larger balls subject significantly less surface area (24%, to be precise) to the drink. Large format ice cubes melt at a slower rate, introducing less water into a cocktail. Less dilution means less watering down of what you’re drinking. If you’re sipping nice spirits, dilution matters.
The current line spans a series of ice balls, plus tongs. In 2022, the line is poised to expand, offering a clear ice accessory for the unit.
While the unit has a role in a bar setting, the target consumer is the home drinker; one who loves their appliances, appreciates a decent cocktail, and is happy to host; it’s a unit that creates experiences for guests. “Most of our customers tell us they saw it on social media, or they saw a friend or client had one and they had to get one as well.”
Interestingly, 15% of their business is repeat customers, often, corporate clients purchasing presents.
“Ultimately, you can buy a plastic mold, but our clients really want the experience. It’s a gift for the person who has everything.”