The cutting edge: Kansas inventor’s Knork makes way to Lawrence

Elsa Carrillo, 3, uses a Knork to eat her plate of spaghetti during an outdoor lunch at Mad Greek Restaurant, 907 Mass. The Mad Greek is one local establishment that has started using Knork flatware.

Marisco’s is one of a couple of local restaurants using Knork flatware, which includes the combination knife/fork. The flatware line is made in Kansas.

The idea came to life as many often do — by complete accident.

Sitting in a pizza parlor, sweaty from a basketball game and working with the adolescent metabolism of an eighth-grader, Mike Miller’s fork just wasn’t cutting it.

Cutting his pizza, that is.

As he used the side of his fork to politely cut the slice in front of him, he noticed the men in the back of the kitchen easily slicing away with a rocking-motion pizza slicer.

Miller stared at his fork. If only its edge were more a bit more … cutting edge.

“When I was using a fork to cut the pizza,” Miller says, “I realized it doesn’t really cut, I was smashing the pizza, especially the toppings and the crust — trying to cut through it didn’t really work.”

In that instant, the Knork was born.

Yes, the Knork — half-knife, half-fork.

Fifteen years or so after the Wichita-based Miller came up with the idea, the Knork has gone national, showing up in restaurants and stores across the United States — including in Lawrence. The flatware is in use at the Mad Greek, 907 Mass., and Marisco’s, 4821 W. Sixth St., and for sale at Bed Bath & Beyond, 3106 Iowa.

“They brought it to my attention and I looked at it and I really, quote, unquote, got in love with the product. It really had the quality, quantity — the design is just fabulous,” says Fee Monshizadeh, part-owner of Marisco’s, which replaced its flatware with 480 sets of Knork silverware two months ago. “It’s been really a talk of the town — anybody that comes here, that’s the first thing they notice, besides our food, of course.”

The Knork is born

The Knork’s success story is the kind that proves ingenuity is alive and well. After first thinking of the Knork as a kid in junior high in Newton, Miller couldn’t — wouldn’t — let the idea go. While still a teenager, he “borrowed” his mother’s flatware and used an auto putty called Bondo to create the first Knork prototype.

His Knork modifications were simple, yet deliberate. First, the Knork had to mimic the ability of the pizza cutters to slice with a rocking motion, not a sharpened edge. The last thing he wanted was for unaware folks to slice the sides of their mouths with a sharp-edged fork. Next, he wanted to create a “finger platform” to give the user extra support for the pressure needed to cut with the side of the fork. In addition to the finger platform, he also added an indentation on the back of the Knork for the index fingers of folks who like to flip their forks over when stabbing at their food. And finally, he wanted it to be ambidextrous — Miller is left-handed and sensitive to the needs of lefties.

Eventually, after borrowing $10,000 from his grandparents, Miller would drop out of the entrepreneurship program at Wichita State University to work on the Knork full-time. It was a gamble, literally — Miller ordered $40,000 worth of product from a factory with just $200 to his name and only days to get investors. The investors came through, the bill was paid, and he was in business at 21.

Miller debuted the product at the Kansas State Fair, and then moved into Wichita restaurants. From there, it has spread around Kansas, into Oklahoma and Colorado, and is now in all 50 states and available at places like and in chains like Taco Tico, where it helps the restaurant save space on inventory by taking the place of two utensils. The Knork has been featured on the Food Network program “Unwrapped,” “The Rachael Ray Show” and CNBC’s “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.”

Helping Miller get the product out there is Lacy Simon, whom he hired right out of school in 2003. Simon, now the vice president of marketing for Knork Flatware, knew her first job was going to be akin to reinventing the wheel.

“It’s like the hardest challenge ever,” she says. “We’re reinventing something as enduring, as iconic, as the fork.”

To sell the Knork, Simon has gone undercover of sorts, bringing it to restaurants and leaving it on the table with a business card. Though that strategy has been helpful, it’s also been a bit embarrassing.

“I actually bring Knorks in restaurants with me sometimes and I’ll … pull it out of my purse … and they’ll look at me like I’m kind of a germophobe,” she says, laughing.

The company has stainless-steel Knorks, plastic picnic Knorks and Knork flatware sets, which include a Knork, salad Knork, spoon, soup spoon and yes, a knife. For those wondering why a knife would be included in a set with a knife/fork combo, Simon explains, “You still will always need the knife for heavy-duty steaks and spreading butter.”

Future of the Knork

Nine years into the Knork experiment, Miller is feeling the dream. The Knork’s success has allowed him to take other ideas into production and begin other companies under the aegis of Phantom Enterprises Inc.

“The Knork is truly my baby, that’s the thing that started everything for me,” Miller says.

His dream for the Knork? To have the flatware in use in Pizza Huts nationwide. Pizza Hut, of course, was started in Wichita and, ironically, is now owned by Yum! Brands, which also owns Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken — probably the two most famous commercial users of sporks.

Miller knows the Knork has a long way to go before it’s as acceptable as the spork in the realm of hybrid flatware, but he believes in the idea as much now as a 29-year-old as he did as an eighth-grader in a local pizza parlor, fumbling through his pizza.

Sums up Simon, his marketing guru: “We’re not trying to replace the knife at all. We’re trying to make the fork better.”