Loading...
 

content

Food Issue - Culinary art

What do one visual artist, two menu designers, a sign painter, and a rapping lobster have in common?

The Menu Designers

??
When it comes to a restaurant's personality, nothing is more defining than the menu. It's not just what's on it that's important, but where and why and how. Which is where Travis Ekmark and Alvin Diec come in. The founders of Office of Brothers have designed more than 400 local menus since opening shop together in 2012, with clients ranging from old-school Buckhead Life restaurants to relative newcomers such as Ford Fry's Marcel and Guy Wong's Le Fat. Their own origin story hinges on a shared affinity for the Atlanta and West Point Railroad dining car menu from 1954, which they discovered upon bumping into each other — literally — while racing to separate design team meetings inside Coca-Cola's headquarters. As they cleaned up the contents of their respective briefcases, their common source of inspiration seemed too coincidental to dismiss. That bit of serendipity led to a partnership. They quickly uncovered more points of harmony — like their fondness for such oddities as undesirable cars and Birkenstocks. That quirky sensibility defines their design aesthetic. Needless to say, personality is always on the menu with these brothers.

??
What have been some of your favorite local menus to work on and how many would you estimate you've designed locally?

??
Alvin Diec: The work we've done that we're proudest of was for OK Cafe, but all evidence of it was lost in the fire.

??
Travis Ekmark: Our greatest collaborative achievement is probably the time we decided to do an "all-over" print of gold Lexus logos on one of the menus for Allen Suh's Gato Arigato pop-up. It's hard to say how many menus we have designed. We have been so old for so long.

??
How do you go about trying to reflect the personality of a restaurant through its menu art/design?

??
AD: One of our partners here at Office of Brothers, Jamie Allen, was formerly a corporate behavioralist for several Fortune 500 companies. He quit his job in corporate America to follow his first love, writing. But his expertise on corporate personality types is highly valuable to our work and capturing the character of each restaurant in its menu.

??
TE: Jamie's process is this: When we first secure a contract for a restaurant menu, we tell Jamie everything we know about the place and the food. Jamie takes that nugget of information and goes on a 3-6 month sabbatical at his writer's retreat and shapes the nugget into a full-blown literary psychological profile of the restaurant, usually in the form of a novel.

??
AD: Although he's also crafted plays, fan fiction, comic books, and mixed-media creations, he typically writes a 200-300 page novel about the restaurant as a protagonist in a complex story.

??
TE: For example, for Kimball House he gave us what you might describe as a rip-off of The Great Gatsby if a gifted seventh grader wrote it. It really helped us "go there" creatively with the menu.

??
AD: Jamie created a real tour-de-force coming-of-age tale for Yeah Burger, even though we have never been hired by Yeah Burger.

??
Does liking the food help with overall inspiration?

??
TE: We usually try not to eat the food at the restaurant until after the menu is totally finished, so that we won't be influenced by conflicting inputs. The times we have broken this rule it's very evident in the final product, which is not as tight and clean as it would be otherwise.

??
AD: I echo that. I don't want to name names, but you don't have to look far to figure out which restaurants we sampled before finishing the design. Those menus represent my greatest professional failures.

??
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Atlanta, whether they're past clients or not, and what do you like to order there?

??
AD: I like anything that's very spicy and comforting, whether I have worked with the restaurant or not. The seafood cheese dip at Jalapeno Charlie's has just the right kick. I also love the taco salad at F.R.O.G.S. in Midtown.

??
TE: The club sandwich at the Druid Hills Golf Club is the bomb! We really like when restauranteurs make the kind of restaurants they would personally want to go to, regardless of "trends" or "market research" or "conventional wisdom." Giovanni di Palma (Antico, Gio's, etc.) is that type of business owner.

??
AD: Also, we just generally really like Bone's.

??
Do you get lifetime discounts for designing a restaurant's menu? Is it like a coupon with no expiration date?

??
TE: Ideally, yes. When it happens, we call it "the Ferrari Card" and it is sick as hell. You know the emoji with the smiling guy wearing sunglasses? It's like that, but with food.

??page??

The Visual Artist

??
Julie Ann McKevitt's inspiration for her first food-related painting came from a likely source: her kitchen freezer. She decided to treat herself to a Bomb Pop one day while waiting for another painting to dry. "I took a picture of it and was looking at the photo later and I thought, 'That could make a really cool painting,'" says McKevitt, who completed a commissioned mural for the Beltline last year and also runs the nonprofit Paint Love. The original ice pop painting would become the best-selling piece among her portfolio of flowers and abstract works. More foodie flicks followed, each as colorful and whimsical as the last: cotton candy, popcorn, a bowl of Fruit Loops, a doughnut with pink icing and sprinkles. Her color palette is so vibrant you can practically smell the goods. In fact, one time she did. After hanging several of her works in Uncle Maddio's, the former Toco Hills pizzeria, she eventually brought her paintings back home only to discover they had absorbed the scent of pizza. "I joked that my next piece would be a scratch-and-sniff," she says.

??
Why do you think the Bomb Pop became your most popular piece?

??
I think it's because of the nostalgia of people remembering having popsicles when they were young. I think that's why I bought it to begin with, 'cause I just wanted to eat a popsicle like a kid. People have such a connection to food.

??
Food is so visual.

??
Even before the visual aspect, food has such a tie to memories. Food is generally consumed around celebrations. You eat cake at your birthday, you get together for Thanksgiving and it's just kind of that around-the-table vibe. The visual aspect for me is an immediate reminder, and food has a lot of fun colors. You can do a lot of fun things, too, with food — even just a simple popsicle, a simple bowl of cereal. It brings out emotions and thoughts that even looking at a flower wouldn't necessarily bring out, but there's so many memories tied to food that the visual has so many narratives because of it.

??
How do you feel about the city's food scene? Any favorites?

??
Atlanta has some great barbecue. Me and my husband, I think that would be our favorite when we go out. We love Community Q. Food trucks are also a huge draw for us. We threw a big studio opening and we had an after party and brought in the Good Food Truck. Their signature was the Poodle, like a sweet and savory hot dog, which is incredible. It was just so much fun, so again food plays a big role.

??
You use the word "whimsical" to describe your art.

??
Food is a funny subject sometimes. It isn't necessarily the first thing that pops into your head when you think of fine art. So there is a whimsical aspect to it. But I like to paint things that are fun. It just became a natural thing. I started painting a whole collection of food because I enjoyed it and because people were really resonating with the pieces that were coming out.

??
Do you find yourself hungrier when you paint the food pictures versus the flowers?

??
It's not the painting that makes me hungry; it's the research. I did go through a couple of popsicles just to get the right angle laughs. I had to test it out to make sure. I didn't want it to look too fresh-out-of-the-box.

??page??

The Lobby Dom

??
Those who know Dillon Vaughan Maurer best know that his inner Lobsterdamus is always lurking. The Atlanta-based MC/DJ/producer's hip-hop alter ego is as oversized as the red lobster costume he dons to personify the character. A longtime fixture within Atlanta's indie hip-hop scene, Maurer has always been a foodie at heart. Known for pressing paninis on stage, the former Hibachi chef's independently released solo albums all have titles alluding to food, such as 2013's Southern Smoke, Studies in Hunger, Food Chain.

??
After a relationship-gone-bad left Maurer with enough spare change to begin regularly treating himself to the Octopus Bar's lobster roll, inspiration struck and Lobsterdamus was born. It became the perfect vehicle for Maurer's snappy sense of humor. Denied the opportunity to perform at 2014's Atlanta Lobster Festival, Lobby Dom lobbed back with the ultimate diss track, "I Invented Lobster." "They didn't get the joke," Maurer says. His own dinner parties, however, are a serious cultural mashup. For last month's Plates & Crates — the monthly dinner club-slash-vinyl records swap he hosts and executive chefs — he diverged from his typical "sneaky vegan" menu for a special main course: lobster rolls.

??
What inspired you to begin marketing yourself as a hip-hop foodie?

??
When social media started first getting big, I would always just come with pictures. Every day. I lived by myself and I was just making fabulous shit. I was going through a breakup and so I was just at home cooking for one, making all these ridiculous things, putting 'em online trying to get some laughs. Straight up, like I can cook this for you. This could be us! So it was like some regular-ass man shit. And that's where I came up with Dillon Ate That, which was my first little blog.

??
Is the fusion inseparable or could you ever choose one over the other?

??
I want to be the rapper, but motherfuckers just know me as the dude with the sandwiches. I can't be mad at that. The fact is I'm into the food a little more than the records, a little more than DJing or making rap — even though that's what I do all the time. It's just gratifying, and it's a skill set that nobody's really fusing or pushing out there. So it's a niche for me. 'Cause Lobsterdamus has trumped Dillon, that's why I had to put him in the back. I got him in claw cuffs right now.

??
How did the Lobsterdamus alter ego come about?

??
Lobby Dom. You see I got the lobster wall. Lobsterdamus came directly as a result of a ferocious breakup. And as much as I hated that broad at the time, I can only thank her now because she gave me my greatest gift in Lobsterdamus. It really just stems from going through a nasty breakup and just having extra money in my pockets. You know how it is. And all of a sudden I had a little time on my hands and I was going to 529 in East Atlanta every night. That was my little spot and Brannon Boyle is my fucking crony. Every night we'd be like, "Let's go to Octopus Bar." I just started getting the lobster roll 'cause it was the most fire thing on the menu. It was like drugs, dog. One time we did that shit like three days in a row, and I was Instagramming the fuck out of this. I was like, damn, I spent $150 on lobster rolls this week. And I said, OK, I guess I'm gonna be Lobsterdamus. This is me now. I done invested in enough lobster. That's who I am. For whatever reason, it just kinda stuck.

??
Does Lobby Dom have a backstory?

??
I've made up the lore of it as I go along. But everything just kinda fits. He's got the claws. Just everything about lobsters, man. They're reserved, they're DOLO, they're hiding under a rock, they're gonna fuck you up. It's like all this shit that Dillon can't say and get away with, Lobsterdamus completely embodies and personifies. So I can just do all the machismo shit, all the braggadocio shit, and people can believe it.

??
And it's not like, "Aww man, he's such an asshole."

??
Yeah, it's like, That's Lobby Dom. That's my dog. It's been a fun little introduction. He's definitely made infinitely more headway than I've made as Dillon.

??
Do you feel the need to be embraced by the food world?

??
As far as the food community, I don't have any particular wants or non-wants, except I wanna be down with well-known vegan chef and nutritionist Chef Ahki. You can keep that on the record; she knows. But my cuisine, I've always called it sneaky vegan. Every Plates & Crates is vegan, except for the lobster one obviously. I'm kind of an asshole like that. I'm pescatarian. I'm from Florida, dog, so I'm not gonna front on oysters or certain things. And I do eat cheese. What else are you gonna eat when you're drunk and it's three in the morning? You gotta have pizza.

??page??

The Sign Painter

??
Adam McNeil came across his trade innocently enough. While browsing the paint aisle at a home improvement store, someone asked his advice on what color to paint her restaurant. Having known sign painters in his past, McNeil asked on a whim whether she might need a sign painted. The sign he painted for her small Caribbean restaurant in Edgewood became his first. McNeil scored his second client when a rubbernecker drove by, slammed on the brakes, and asked for a sign. "It was right then that it really set in: if I worked hard at it, this could become a career." After that earnest beginning in 2010, he went on to found McNeil Signs in 2013 and hand-paint over 150 commercial and personal signs. Nearly a lost art during the last century, hand-painted signs have started to make a comeback in recent years. Restaurants bearing McNeil's handiwork — such as Woody's, Atkins Park, or the intricately designed skill logo of Mezcalito's — tend to convey an immediate authenticity. Needless to say, he does his best work on a full stomach.

??
Any local signs you've painted stand out in terms of the experience working on them?

??
Generally, the restaurant signs stick out a bit more than the rest. I've had many service industry jobs (cooking, serving), and anytime I'm painting at a restaurant I feel a certain connection with the staff and environment that I'm working in.

??
Do you work well on an empty stomach?

??
I do not work well on an empty stomach! I truly believe that if I eat a quality meal, it greatly influences the quality of my work. If I eat garbage food, or not well, I feel that my line work & brush strokes are not up to par. So good food plays a huge role in how I make a living!

??
How did you develop your technique?

??
I've had an eye for hand-painted signs for a long while now. When I started trying to paint them myself, I was not able to make the brushwork the way I wanted. So I tried and failed a lot. I practiced, both on jobs and off, for years. Finally, I was able to produce a solid product. Now I'm very confident with my brushstrokes and my abilities. That being said, most of the signs I paint are pre-existing designs, logos, etc. When I do produce custom/freehand work, I absolutely attribute the style I have to years of practice.

??
Do you ever worry that as that style becomes more ubiquitous it could end up losing the very authenticity it's come to convey?

??
I think hand-painted signs could never become ubiquitous enough, post-computer. Before vinyl signs started being produced, and all of the decades preceding, huge companies like Sears Roebuck would have 50 guys on one floor, all just painting signs, day in and out. Every sign everywhere was always hand-painted, and you still had to be a polished tradesmen to be a sign painter. Painting signs modern-day is different in so many ways. No matter how many millions of sign painters produce hand-painted signs, nothing will ever take away each sign's authenticity, due to its very nature of being handcrafted.

??
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Atlanta, whether they're past clients or not?

??
I have so many favorite Atlanta restaurants. The first that comes to mind is a past client: Better Half. The quality and integrity of the menu and restaurant as a whole is seemingly unrivaled. The menu is always rotating with amazing dishes. You can't go there and not love what you eat. Another favorite is also coincidentally a previous client: The Bishop. They serve top-notch brunch and dinner — if you're there for a brunch you must try the pork shank.

??
Interviews have been edited and condensed.



More By This Writer

First Slice 1/5/16: Snowpocalypse Atlanta 2017 could be a thing... Article

Thursday January 5, 2017 02:44 pm EST
And the Atlanta Falcons could win the Super Bowl | more...

Nikishka Iyengar: The changemaker Article

Thursday January 5, 2017 02:32 am EST
One social entrepreneur scales her mission to fight inequity by creating extended families | more...

Tory Edwards: The storyteller Article

Thursday January 5, 2017 02:27 am EST
An indie filmmaker has turned Atlanta's civic conversation into the hottest meal ticket in town | more...

First Slice: 12/29/16: Atlanta resident moves to Charlotte, rails against ATL Article

Thursday December 29, 2016 02:57 pm EST
Traffic and Thai restaurant selection drove him away | more...

First Slice 12/28/16: Driverless cars coming to North Avenue? Article

Wednesday December 28, 2016 02:47 pm EST
And speaking of cars, Queen Latifah's got stolen at a local gas station | more...
Search for more by Rodney Carmichael

[Admin link: Food Issue - Culinary art]