The Plater to the Stars

Michael Vetrone and his sister, Lisa Thorsen, both acknowledge that the website for their plating shop in the Queens borough of New York City, isn’t the best in the business, but it doesn’t have to be when TV celeb Martha Stewart has you on speed dial.

Columns From: 2/1/2013 Products Finishing, , from Products Finishing magazine

Michael Vetrone and his sister, Lisa Thorsen, both acknowledge that the website for their plating shop in the Queens borough of New York City, isn’t the best in the business, but it doesn’t have to be when TV celeb Martha Stewart has you on speed dial.

Michael and Lisa’s family-owned business, Empire Metal Finishing, received another big boost – as did the entire plating and finishing industry – after Stewart took some plumbing fittings, serving trays and light fixtures to Empire for replating and then featured their shop on her website in December.

This came on the heels of Vetrone making an appearance on the “Martha Stewart Living” television show a while back to demonstrate the ins and outs of good plating techniques for flatware, silver trays, antiques and any other metal contraptions that may need sprucing up.

And that was after the New York Times spotlighted Empire’s efforts to help its arts columnist repair a weathered floor lamp.

Let’s just say that having Stewart—a business magnate, author, magazine publisher and global television personality—and the New York Times vouch for your services to millions of devout followers are nice notches to add to the “good” column.

“I thought Martha's blog only attracted the attention of old ladies with a need to have the tines on their forks straightened out,” Vetrone said when I contacted him to talk about rubbing elbows with the Queen of Fine Living.

It’s all pretty cool to Vetrone, whose grandfather started the business in 1906 and whose father ran it for decades before turning it over to his children.

When Vetrone started working with his father as a kid, there were just three employees and a few tanks. Their niche was religion items, just like the grandfather focused on back when he started the company on 46th Street in Astoria, Queens.

“If it’s metal and it’s decorative—and it was expensive at one time—we’re the shop for it,” Vetrone says.

After he graduated from the Academy of Aeronautics in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical applied sciences and spent a few years as a volunteer firefighter with the nearby Plandome Fire Department, Vetrone and Thorsen, who has a history degree from St. John's University, set out to establish a new direction for their plating shop.

“About 20 years ago, we changed the name and shifted the focus of our business on servicing high-end residential and commercial designers, antique dealers, fabricators, contractors and architects,” says Thorsen, whose company has grown to 12,000 sq ft with 30 employees. “We excel in service and quality, and we are used to satisfying even the most demanding clients.”

Who’s to say Martha is demanding? Well, everyone does, actually. She is known to be a perfectionist and someone who pays extremely close attention to details. In other words, she may be the possible plating customer from hell.

But Vetrone, Thorsen and their staff warmed up to Stewart pretty quickly, handled her personal plating projects extremely well, and made a friend for life. Along with millions of her friends, too. After Stewart gave a video tour of Empire’s plating operation, fans went gaga over the way the company added new life to what some would call junk.

 “What an amazing job Empire Metal Finishing did on your trays, Martha,” one viewer commented on the website posting. “I love the idea of metal outlet covers; it never occurred to me they could be anything other than plastic!”

“Michael Vetrone is a brilliant fellow!” wrote Trish on the blog post. “I've never been to one of these places, and love being able to tour it on your blog.”

“Martha, I applaud you for showcasing craftsmen like Mr. Vetrone,” Melinda posted. “I'm just saying, thank you for sharing their talents with us all.”

Vetrone says his shop can restore just about anything, including lighting fixtures, door and architectural hardware, antiques and decorative items. It also can perform light fabrication, and customized lighting and chandelier wiring, as well as rebuild an item with broken parts.

Some day he’ll get to work updating his website, but for now he’s just too darn busy working his shop.

“I asked Michael if he could make them beautiful again and, indeed, he did,” Stewart said on her television show.

Keeping the Queen happy.

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