David Muise relaxes on the deck of his apartment in Lewiston where he has been doing a lot of work lately on his laptop. In the foreground are samples of his ceramic utensils.

LEWISTON — David Muise graduated from Edward Little a year early in 1995.

After a long, colorful road that included moving to Oregon at 18 to join a Grateful Dead enclave, work in Europe as a wine ambassador, and two months living with an indigenous Costa Rican tribe, he’s back home, has four businesses and he’s trying to get Americans to reconsider the fork.

And the knife. And the spoon.

Muise, 39, is one of three co-founders of the Portland company Certine (pronounced sir-TINE), making high-end, advanced technical ceramic flatware. 

“You don’t use metal dinner plates, you don’t drink out of metal glassware, you don’t drink coffee out of metal,” Muise said. “The only thing that’s not ceramic on your dinner table is the thing you put in your mouth, which seemed crazy to me once I had that realization.”

The metal-eschewing company is on the upcoming season of entrepreneurial pitch show “Greenlight Maine.” Its flatware spent years in development before launching last summer.

“The biggest hurdle to overcome is the tine of a fork because it’s so thin,” said Muise, who excitedly talks up each angle and carefully designed feature: a curve here, a deep well there.

“We’re foodies,” he said. “It’s not that you don’t taste (food dishes) correctly, it’s that you didn’t taste them at their best.”

Muise grew up in Auburn and still has family there. (His mother was the late gospel singer Diane Muise.) After a year at the University of Maine at Farmington intending to study political science, he said he decided college wasn’t for him, and so began the wild adventure that would lead to forks, knives and spoons.

He calls a Greyhound bus ride that took him out of town at 18 to join a group of Grateful Dead followers the “worst experience ever in the history of the world.”

“It took eight days to get from Maine to Eugene, Oregon, and every possible story that could have happened between the two points definitely did,” said Muise. “I got peed on by a baby. I got mugged in Chicago. I met an evangelist in Dallas who ended up writing a letter to my mom. I got, I think, propositioned in a bathroom stall in Los Angeles.”

From Oregon, it was on to Utah and, eventually, work in copy writing and marketing.

“For years, I was a strategist, either at an ad agency, marketing agency (or) public relations agency,” he said.

One of those jobs had him spending six months in Austria marketing Austrian wines back to Americans.

“That was a natural thing because I’m (also) a sommelier,” Muise said.

He spent 2008 to 2010 in Costa Rica where, through a job at a rafting company, he met the matriarch of an indigenous Indian tribe. To his surprise, she welcomed him for a long stay.

“(They) did not speak Spanish, or English, and I didn’t speak their language,” Muise said. “I hunted with them, lived barefoot in board shorts.

“Ultimately, after six or seven weeks, I realized I’m no anthropologist,” he said. “I enjoyed my time with them, but I didn’t have a spiritual awakening or anything, or whatever that thing is people want to go out in the woods looking for. I didn’t find it, but I had fun, and I saw a completely different style of living, different culture, and that was amazing.”

Nearly out of money and looking for what was next, he moved back to Maine.

A meal at an Asian restaurant in 2011 with future co-founders Bill Todd and Rachel Rodrigues helped inspire Certine, he said. Todd shared a story about having zapped himself with a metal fork while tasting a tomato-filled stew — the metal interacted with the acid in the food — as they dined with bamboo chopsticks and ceramic dumpling spoons.

“I was like, so why do we use metal flatware?” Muise said. “We ended up talking to the server who came over and asked him. He said, ‘Oh, no, nobody uses metal in China.’ And I asked why? First of all, their food is prepared in such a way that those are the only two utensils that they need, but also, they think it’s gross. So a little bit of further research showed that more than half the world’s population chooses not to use metal when they eat. We are the weird outliers that put dirty, scratched-up metal into our mouths.”

The result years later: sleek black zirconia-based ceramic dinnerware with slightly triangular, weighted polymer handles. (The weight was added because, Muise said, consumers don’t like their knives, forks and spoons too light.) It’s dishwasher-safe, with some caveats on its use: No scooping ice cream, cutting hard cheese or other uses that might stress the flatware-handle joint.

One setting costs $39.95. This summer, the company rolled out a $20 chef’s spoon. Unlike metal, ceremic doesn’t get hot in soup or cold in icy dishes, a selling point to chefs, according to Muise. 

Certine is self-funded, debt-free and so far hasn’t had investors, he said. The founders aren’t drawing paychecks; all of the revenue is going back into the company, he said, while they convince the marketplace to give it a try.

Besides Certine, Muise splits his time with three other endeavors: a health care marketing company, residential painting company and work as a freelance writer.

The Twin Cities have made a good home base for all that work, he said.

“I love it here. When I left Auburn, Maine many, many years ago, I did not anticipate coming back because I didn’t feel there was much for me here,” Muise said. “I found an incredible vibrancy, a community of people who are sharing not just ideas, but really authentically sharing successes and failures in a vulnerable way that brings communities closer together.”

[email protected]

David Muise

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: