Creatives, Subject 4: The Hand Crafter

phil

Phil Barbato makes fantastical plush creatures, prints, paintings, cartoons, and whatever else his mind impels his hands to create.

Having studied fine art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Phil had spent a number of years working as a web designer here in Richmond before deciding to make hand crafting his vocation. Whether it’s drawing a bear a day for a year on his iPhone, a wall of small paintings, or hundreds of hand-sewn monsters, bears, robots and sea creatures, Phil’s work is unified by a playful aesthetic, reminding me that even serious art can be silly and light-hearted.

Oh, and buy his stuff, ‘cuz it’s pretty awesome.

Portra 160NC
Graflex Speed Graphic

P.S. I promise I didn’t ask the last three subjects in a row to dress with any formality. Purely their choice, but I like how it worked out. I think I’ll go for more casual shots on the next few, though.

Creatives, Subject 3: The Web Slinger

ross

Ross Catrow is a web designer/developer and co-owner of PharrOut, a Richmond-based design shop.

There was no major for web design at Virginia Tech while Ross attended, so he chose math in an effort to keep himself interested. It also afforded him more time to watch his beloved Hokies football. Tired of working for other people after college, Ross and his friend, Scott Pharr, started their business so they could be their own bosses. Out of this environment, Ross created RVANews – a publication of broad scope that covers news, events, and editorial content in and around the Richmond area. Ross maintains the website in addition to contributing a portion of its written content.

jaks bagels

Look, I wanted to like Jaks Bagels. So Badly. The prospect of bagels in Carytown was wonderful. I like Cupertino’s well enough (though they’re no Bagel Oven up in Jersey), but they’re all the way out near Innsbrook and I live downtown. Having a shop about ten minutes from home would be great. Sadly, it is not (yet) to be.

Now let me get this straight – I don’t want any of this to come across as mean, because I understand that these folks are new. Not just new to a Carytown storefront, but new to bagel baking as well. But I’m not going to sugar-coat my review for the sake of politeness either. This is a business, and they want people to spend money on their wares.

I went in on Saturday morning with my wife. She had one bagel with cream cheese, and I had two different bagels, each with butter. Rather than a long, draw-out narrative, here are a few long, drawn-out points:

1. Service was terribly slow and inefficient from the start, with the people ahead of us already having ordered. The woman who took my wife’s order was having some serious issues cutting the bagel with the knife and nearly mangled it in the process. There should be a better bread knife, or a drop-in slicer, I think. If a knife, I’m hoping a week of customers has been enough practice to speed that up.

They were also using a 4-slot consumer toaster. This is less than ideal for more uniform, commercially-produced bagels, but for Jaks, it was worse. These bagels were more amorphous and, having been cut unevenly, had to be shoved into the toaster slots. After the slow toasting time I watched as another server had to dislodge half of a bagel with the slicing knife.

Also curious was the storage of the butter and the cream cheese. The servers used individually packed condiment cups even for our eat-in bagels. I can understand keeping those around for take-out, but pulling little cups out of the bottom of the fridge case meant extra firm, barely-spreadable condiments that added more time to the order as our sever struggled to coat the surface of the bagels (the second of my two bagels was missing butter entirely).

I’m going to cut a lot of slack on these service issues – I understand they only opened on 2/2 and I visited on 2/5. I wish they had better prepared for customers, but these problems can be ironed out.

2. The bagels. Oy. Where to start? The outside, of course. I had a salt bagel and an asiago cheese bagel. The mention of salt bagels on their website had me excited about the place prior to their opening. It was a sign that, perhaps, the owners were familiar with proper bagels from Up North. But this salt bagel seemed to have only a light dusting of…kosher salt? Yeah, I think it was kosher salt flakes. The outer skin of the bagel was rough and uneven, as if it had been stretched but not rolled afterward. There was no faintly crisp skin, no shine to its surface. The asiago, on the other hand, was just so covered in the cheese that the skin/crust/whatever was less of a factor.

Taking a bite out of the bagel highlighted the real problems, though. The dough was too dense, so instead of the expected slight, tender chewiness it felt more like the bagel simply tore apart. The density wasn’t uniform, though, so each bite varied slightly, and you could see some darker spots inside on my wife’s bagel and mine where it seemed too much moisture had prevented part of the bagel from cooking all the way through. It wasn’t un-cooked or doughy, but perhaps not as cooked as it could have been.

The flavor really wasn’t there, either. I’m no baker myself, but It seemed to me that the floury taste hadn’t fully cooked out of the bagels. But there may have been something else, too; if they par-boil their bagels – as any proper shop should – perhaps they are using baking soda in the water (some shops do this instead of honey or malt)? If so, maybe they’re being a bit heavy handed with it? Not sure. I only ate the top half of each of my bagels.

I give a lot less slack for the food than I do for the service. I feel like something as simple in concept (though certainly not simple in execution) as a bagel should be all set before you open to the public. This reminds me of Pie in The Fan, a restaurant where the branding appeared more fully-formed than the dough recipe when they opened. People have strong opinions about pizza and bagels, so it’s risky to serve something that isn’t ready for prime time.

So.

I want Jaks to succeed for selfish reasons. I want good bagels closer to my house. But I cannot tell my friends to go eat bagels that I don’t like just to keep a restaurant alive. I may not have to, though. Plenty of people might love Jaks. They may very well survive on the palates of Richmonders, and that’s fine, I suppose. Most folks in my fair city did not, after all, grow up in the Tri-state Area, so they have different tastes and that’s okay. But if other people feel the same way I do, it could be a rough road for the new shop. One of the most important parts of a brand is what you’re actually selling, and no website or clever slogans can hide that.

For the time being, I can only hope the new Cupertino’s location (now open on Main between 12th and 13th) is open on weekends so I can get a serviceable bagel without having to drive out to the West End. If anybody DOES repeatedly eat at Jaks Bagels, however, and notices improvement over time (and consistency is established), I’d love to give it a second try. But I’m not going to pay to be a test subject.

Creatives, Subject 2: The Graphic Artist

ansel olson

Ansel Olson makes environmental graphics through Ansel Olson Design and puts his camera to work for Ansel Olson Photography.

Photography has been a thread running through Olson’s life and career. While he holds degrees in Interior Design (BFA) and Graphic Design (MFA), he has created an additional business for his work behind the camera that highlights not only the output of skilled architects, but Ansel’s own love of the created space. His primary line of work, through Ansel Olson Design, involves a broad range of signage, wayfinding, and brand/identity work projects around Richmond and far beyond.

His professional and personal work have been an inspiration to this photographer.

Ektar 100
Graflex Speed Graphic

Creatives, Subject 1: The Chef

tim

I’ve started a personal photo project celebrating people whose daily work revolves around their own creative output. All of them will involve my Speed Graphic large format camera. Here’s the first shot, taken with Kodak Ektar 100.

Tim Bereika is the executive chef at Secco Wine Bar.

Once a graphic designer for a national advertising agency, Tim has turned a mixture of classes (both domestic and abroad) and a variety of commercial kitchen experiences into an extensive culinary toolbox. Blending his skills as a designer and cook, he produces some of the most creative food in Richmond, VA.

tough gristle

A friend of mine informed me that Belmont Butchery’s Tanya Cauthen is suing Sausage Craft, the nascent wholesale sausage company started by former employees Chris Mattera and Brad Hemp. While the Style Weekly article and Mattera suggest this is about the sausage itself, Cauthen intimated that the wholesale sausage business was the cause for concern. I don’t know the main parties here on a personal level, and I don’t think I could expect Tanya to discuss this during business hours with a semi-regular customer like myself, but I do have some lingering questions about the whole situation, because this whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my Richmond-food-scene-loving mouth…

1. What IS the suit really about? Is it the recipes? The wholesale sausage concept/business model?
2. Did Mattera and Hemp actually plan and start executing on this idea while Cauthen was away?
3. Is Sausage Craft actually an idea stolen from Cauthen? That is, was it a firm plan in motion (about which at least Mattera or Hemp was aware) that Sausage Craft preempted? Did Mattera and Hemp work with Cauthen on the idea under false pretenses?
4. Most important, I think…Was there any kind of non-compete contract?

Without a contract I don’t think there’s much support for this suit because, regardless of the ethics behind the formation of Sausage Craft, this is a lot closer to a carpenter saying he’s going to start building cabinetry, and his partner parts ways to start a cabinet business first. Making and selling sausage is trade craft, not trade secrets, and the concept of wholesale commerce is older than the city of Richmond. If Mattera and Hemp did anything sneaky (and I don’t know enough to say whether they did or not) than it sure dues suck, but I just don’t see grounds for legal action.

Now I like Chris and Brad and Tanya, and I like their work a lot. I always liked chatting with the guys when they were still at Belmont, and I still like chatting with Tanya when I go in there. I’ve always felt like, for a layman like myself, they were able to assist and inform me when I needed help or suggestions. I don’t really want to take sides here, but I’m honestly kind of miffed that this lawsuit even exists.

Why not simply try to compete instead? Belmont Butchery is already well-established. Wouldn’t they, then, have an advantage over Sausage Craft if they wanted to move into the wholesale business? They have an existing reputation on which to trade and existing facilities to get started. That, at least, could have been a head start over Sausage Craft. But Sausage Craft is making deliveries today and Belmont, to my knowledge, doesn’t yet have a wholesale operation. I say just let the market and consumers decide this one. I buy sausage from both outfits, and I buy plenty of other products from Belmont Butchery that Sausage Craft never intends to sell. Perhaps we’ll find that Richmond has plenty of room for both companies.