Mike Zieba was born in Rzeszow, Poland, and grew up in both Poland and Germany. He landed in the United States at the age of 18 with $300 in his pocket. Now, Mike has a custom metal fabrication business in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Upon arriving in the U.S., Mike put down roots in Bay Ridge. He describes, “You can imagine an 18 year old immigrant in Brooklyn asking himself, ‘What am I gonna do with my life?’” Mike worked for years as a carpenter, did all his paperwork, and became an American citizen. Eventually, he saw an opportunity to join the ranks as a knife manufacturer. Keen to learn, he watched dozens of online videos — yes, online videos — and tested skills and techniques.
Mike recalls the beginning of his journey: “You get inside the community, you talk to people. You’re nobody. Imagine: young guy, you try to do something, and get nowhere. But, I have dealers who gave me a hand in the beginning, helped me do what I wanted to do.” With the support of these dealers, Mike pursued the life of a craftsman. “I’m not a guy who wakes up and says, ‘Another shift, another day…’” At times, Mike will stay late at the workshop on a weeknight, a Saturday, or a Sunday. Why? “You’re not getting tired,” he explains.
The idea of work as something to dread deeply saddens him. He reports, “I was listening to the radio and something like 98% of the population waits until the week ends. I think, as a craftsman, every day is a challenge. You want to do more and more, you want to improve. Today, you have to do things that are impossible with a machine, and as good as a machine, even better. I know so many people whose products look cool, but they fall apart.” His knives are hardy and artful, many of them embellished with a delicate feather (Zieba translates to Finch), a stunning juxtaposition.
This notion of producing a long lasting, quality product is incredibly important to Mike, who has authentic relationships with his suppliers. “I source my steel from Upstate New York, and other materials from people here in Brooklyn. We know each other. We’re all like family. That’s how it should be.”
What’s best for New York, in his eyes, can be summed up as: “Someone who lives over here, makes stuff over here, supports others.” Just 10 years after his arrival in America, Mike has been to shows all over the country, and the world, to display and sell. To young people questioning their future, Mike advises, “If you have a goal and you want to achieve that, work hard.”