EPPC20130813 1160 Edit THE PIE MAKER   DAMIAN PARKER

The first thing I learned from Damian Parker is that pies are sexy.

He’s not the only one who thinks so either: Disney, Google, and the US Military are just some of his customers.  The Telegraph named The English Pork Pie Company the Best British Shop in the World three years in a row. Even Gordon Ramsay is a fan of Damian’s products.

Not too bad for an English expat making meat pies in South Buffalo.

My dad loved pork pies. He used to eat them with these powerfully bitter pickled onions that he brought home from Marks and Spencer when I was growing up in Canada just outside of Toronto. I know that meat pies aren’t usually considered a kid friendly snack in the States (and I have a hard enough time trying to get adults like my girlfriend to even try one at first) but they’re a little more common in Canada, and for me sharing one of those pies with my dad was a special treat when I was young (and a very fond memory of mine since he passed away a few years ago). I owe a lot of my adventurous palette now to my family introducing me to a lot of different food back then. Things like head cheese, liver, and paté were pretty normal for me, and there was always something unique being served in my house.

One day not so long ago I was buying some beer at one of those gourmet craft brew stores that seem to be popping up everywhere when I came across something that excited me – a round pie wrapped in humble white paper labeled “Stilton Pork Pie.” The logo that joined the British flag with the ubiquitous motif of a buffalo that so many businesses around here use in their branding caused a sort of pattern interrupt in my brain; I was more than a little confused to realize that someone was making pies like this – right here in Buffalo. With a combination of skepticism and reserved excitement I bought one and walked calmly to my car, trying to look natural (I was acting like I had just negotiated some illicit deal and was trying too hard to play it cool) unwrapped the pie, and cautiously took a bite… then a less cautious one… and finally devoured the rest of it like a man who hadn’t eaten in a month. It was perfect.

I went right back into the store and bought one of every flavor they had.

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Damian Parker was burned out on his career in the legal profession in England “My superiors had been in their positions for twenty years, sitting in the same chairs at the same desks, and that scared me.” he told me. After re-examining the direction his life was taking and pondering what to do next, Damian realized that the American pot pie industry had been in stasis since the mid 1960’s and that there was a community of expats living in the US who didn’t have access to the kind of pies they missed from home. Damian spent a year apprenticing himself to the most renowned butchers and pie makers in the UK, learning the finer points of meat curing, baking, butchery, and picking up some secret family recipes in the process. “I wanted to learn the craft from the old boys while thinking of ways that I could create and innovate a future brand, so I started touring the UK to train with some of the best.” After this period of hands-on education (and how amazing would it be to have a meat-pie-centric training montage in this post right now?) Damian and his wife and business partner Vicky sold the majority of their belongings and moved to the US to start a new business.

The couple started making pies in a converted garage in Vermont, but quickly outgrew the space and soon relocated the business to a bakery in Buffalo, NY. Supplying British expats, who were ravenous for EPPC’s pies, sausages, and bacon, as well as doing wholesale orders for major companies like Disney’s Epcot Center, kept the company’s growth rate high, necessitating their most recent move to a much larger manufacturing facility in South Buffalo where they produce 20,000 pies a days for distributors and private customers. They ended up making such a splash in expat circles that they now feed some of the UK’s biggest celebs – like comedian Nick Frost from Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (and the much missed Spaced, which was pretty much the funniest TV show ever) when they are feeling a bit homesick.

Damian has a lot more ambition than just bringing traditional British flavors to the US. He’s currently set his sights on totally reinventing the way American customers think of the pot pie. Damian and Vicky recently launched a second brand called Pie Mad which moves away from the niche of the traditional cured pork flavors of most English style pies to tackle more regional American flavors. Damian has spent years developing recipes to appeal to regional and seasonal American tastes, and when I say recipes, I mean hundreds of them.

“We’re basically reinventing the wheel and finding what’s quirky state by state: a Boston fish pie called Pie-Tanic, a Woodstock hippie veggie pie, a spicy chicken Buffalonian pie, a cheesesteak variety for Philly. On top of that we’re doing seasonal variations like a Valentines Day pie, which is a very decadent steak and chocolate stout gravy, and one for a holiday that comes the month after Valentine’s Day – National Blow-Job Day, which is a steak and blue cheese pie. We’ve also been creating custom pies for clients like the Kennedy Space Center who wanted something hot and spicy, so we created the Re-Entry Pie for them, which is an extremely hot chicken curry pie that burns both ends. We don’t want to be Marie Callender or Banquet. Pie Mad is reinventing the idea of pie culture and creating an innovative pie-sexy environment.”

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There is something so perfectly retro and comforting about a pot pie that gets absolutely turned on its head after Damian and Vicky are done with it, and I mean that in a wonderful way. Most people have viewed pies like this as a utility item, relegated to memories of grandma’s freezer or long abandoned sections of the frozen food section – you know, the one fridge with the flickering lights that always has a dazed but intimidating weirdo breathing heavily in front of it. But the Parkers are creating modern reinterpretations of the classic format and drawing inspiration from regional food cultures all over America and elsewhere, delivering better quality and taste, and making pies cool again (It’s so hard for me to resist the urge to add something appropriately British about The Doctor swaggering out of the TARDIS and saying something along the lines of “I eat pot pies now, pot pies are cool” that you’re all just going to have to forgive what a sad and unredeemable geek I can be sometimes).

Celebrity buzz, support from food bloggers, endorsements from celebrity chefs, and strong word of mouth have helped the English Pork Pie Company to build a thriving business, and they are starting to channel that success not just into growing their two pie lines, but into revitalizing the local culture in their new home of Buffalo. The fields along the the Erie Canal where their bakery is situated will hopefully soon be home to a full size international soccer stadium that the Parkers are making the cornerstone of their next project – the creation of an actual English village in South Buffalo that is slated to include a brewery, a fish and chips shop, guest cottages, a live music venue and more – transforming the long unused land into a potential new cultural center of the local community. Pies are just the beginning of the New British Empire that the Parkers are starting to build in Western New York.

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Required Reading is a monthly roundup of the good stuff: links, projects, videos, and cool things I’m reading and watching.  These are the things to get your brain moving and make your day just a little better – fun, informative, and a little addictive.

Sonder (above) is a wonderful little reminder about both the dramatic importance and unimportance of our lives, and that others are no better or worse than us. Everyone is the protagonist of their own story.

I spent a lot of time traveling this month, and after long trips to Texas, San Diego, and Toronto i’ve been feeling a little under the weather (I think I have 6 different kinds of cold all at once) here are some tips from Sarah Wilson on how to maintain your health while flying all over the damn place. 

I love this poster of the Sugru Fixer’s Manifesto (And I love Sugru too – I can’t tell you how many cables, cases, and odds and ends I have fixed with it the past few months). There’s something universally appealing about being able to fix something rather than replacing it.

My pal Bruce Katz has a great feature on Photography and Architecture this month .

Though images have become one of the most important methods we have of sharing memories and illustrating experiences they are often undervalued by businesses and the media. One French newspaper performed a brave experiment into how we relate to images by taking a sobering look at a world without photography.

The master of pop-culture nerdism shares some of his best time management tips, and someone as busy as Chris Hardwick is had better know a thing or two about efficiency.

I was so happy to find this beautiful gallery of Charlie Chaplin movie posters, it make me want to go an re-watch all his classics.

These scenes from old malls bring back weird childhood memories for me, and remind us why fashion in the 80′s was both glorious and terrifying. 

A different take on Shawn Wrafter of Wrafterbuilt (featured in a recent story of mine) by my assistant Shawna Stanley. 

Need help coming up with a witty social (or just plain weird)l media post? Try What Would I Say?

Want to learn to do something better in just 100 days? Give your learning an audience with Give It 100.

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DG20131018 1145 Edit THE SHIRT SELLER   YOU & WHO

Dan Gigante is going to make the goodest shirt ever.

He was wearing a chicken suit when he told me this – but in his defense, it was Halloween and the look kind of worked for him.

You And Who is a buy-one/give-one t-shirt company based in Buffalo, NY that collaborates with artists and designers in cities all over America to create limited edition designs for their shirts (Iron Octopi will appeal to any of my fellow sci-fi geeks in a very cool way). For every shirt sold they are donating clothing or meals to organizations that work with the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and at-risk youth in the hometown of that shirt’s artist. If you own a pair of TOMS shoes or glasses from Warby Parker you’re already familiar with this kind of business/giving model (and can I ever say enough good things about Warby Parker? I love their glasses – they’re the official eyewear of my face right now. Even Dan is rocking a pair in these portraits). Dan has grown the business from eight cities in 2010 to forty cities, eighty-nine charitable organizations, and over one hundred artists across the country in 2013.

Dan was watching an online talk by TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie when the idea for You and Who came to him, and the notion of creating a charitable company that also promoted the work of up-and-coming artists stuck with him until the urge to leave the web development company he had founded in 2000 was too much to ignore (and isn’t there something wonderfully cinematic about that? A catalytic moment followed by leaving the past behind to create something new for the benefit of others – this story is one t-shirt making montage and a synth soundtrack away from being a really good 80′s movie). Dan set out on his mission to make his job one that mattered “The idea that I could have a company in which every sale resulted in helping someone appealed to me. In my off time I used to sit on a lot of different boards, and I have always been a giving person, so to be able to combine that with my main job is kind of the ultimate – what I was able to do as my main job was also able to help people.”

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They say to build a business it takes time, money or luck. Dan certainly puts the time in: handling production, fulfillment, travel, marketing, and working with the many artists and charities involved with the company (Dan seems to be a vague human shaped blur most of the time, as he moves amongst the seemingly limitless tasks of his business while making it look effortless – but I have photographic evidence of his existence now). As for money, the company has relied mainly on word of mouth and grassroots efforts to get their name out in lieu of spending a ton on advertising – they have been able to do a lot with their modest budget in three short years growing the company with revenue and not outside funding. Luck is the last factor, and You and Who had some good luck in its early existence, but in their case I see it more as preemptive karma. For their 25th anniversary the Crowley Webb agency decided to offer up the services of the their entire staff for one long 25 Hour Workday. Of the over 40 local startups that applied, You and Who was eventually able to use their social media skills to secure the vote and were entirely rebranded in one day by Crowley Webb – a brand they later launched at SXSW to national coverage.

The idea of the triple bottom line (profit, environmental impact, and social impact) has been a guiding principle of the business since its start, but after three years in business a global tragedy become an eye-opening moment for You and Who that is redefining how they create and source their products. In April of this year the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, killing 1,129 and injuring thousands more. The Savar collapse was the deadliest garment factory disaster in history, as well as the world’s deadliest structural failure.  Though not the first garment factory disaster to happen in Bangladesh, this nightmarish global tragedy was a wakeup call for Dan “Our shirts weren’t made there, but they could have been. We realized that we needed to take control of where they were made”, Dan related in a recent fundraising video.

All plans for expansion were temporarily put on hold as You and Who underwent a major change after this Bangladesh incident. Dan sourced new fabrics, manufacturers, and dye shops that would allow him to move all of You and Who’s production to the US while providing a more unique home-grown product. “This is our shirt, our own custom pattern, made here.” It’s a bold move for a young and growing company that in many ways built its brand on selling design and goodwill, not custom garments, but bold moves have a tendency to pay off and be remembered. This new direction kicked off with an Indiegogo powered presale that brought in over $25,000.00 in shirt sales for the company, allowing them to make the shift to this new method of production – a shift that seems like a natural extension of You and Who’s philosophy and core values. not just in giving them more control over the ethics of their supply chain, but in contributing to keeping domestic garment jobs viable, and developing partners in their giving mission to make the goodest shirt ever.

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hd 17570d9e6c0438f330171c7c0d29f0f5 REQUIRED READING 10.30.2013

From Transient Realities by Chris Round

Required Reading is a monthly roundup of the good stuff: links, projects, videos, and cool things I’m reading and watching.  These are the things to get your brain moving and make your day just a little better – fun, informative, and a little addictive.

Between moving into my new house (Yay adulthood!) and working on some immensely fun but time-consuming new projects I haven’t had a ton of time to surf the net this month – but here are a few spooky and fun things to get you ready for Halloween tomorrow (which I will be spending on an airplane, in civilian clothes, because I’m not sure if traveling is costume will make me a favorite with security). I’ve also been pouring through a lot of books the last few days including re-reading a lot of old Clive Barker during a bad bout with a cold spent in bed, checking out Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep (so good), and Johnny B Truant and Mark Platt’s The Beam (still reading this one so the verdict is still out). I’m about to leave for two straight weeks on the road, but I will be sharing one or two new stories while I am gone. Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

Milos Raijkovic’s animated collages of human robots are totally engrossing (and a little creepy, but hey, it’s Halloween)

I share my studio with a pretty cool guy named Scott Gable, he just spent four months traveling all around asia and has started to post some really eye catching images from the trip.

I’m a little in love with this simple and perfect video from National Geographic about the importance of photography.

There is a lake in Tanzania that kills and turns to stone any animal that touches it, but Nick Brandt uses these mummies to create serene images in his new book.

A look inside the creative insights of Guillermo Del Toro’s creepy notebook - just in time for Halloween.

Congratulations to my intern Valerie for being named as a student winner in ASMP NY’s Image 13 photo contest AND being a judges choice recipient – Go Val!

Stuck on naming your new product, service, or domain? Let the marvels of modern science help you out by using Wordoid to generate some strange names.

The fifty greatest horror movie posters of all time – Poletergeist and Inferno are still two of my favorites.

I get so tired of the who is or isn’t a photographer debate, I don’t care what people call themselves if they are doing what they are crazy about. Jeremy Cowart just made a pretty perfect post about the whole topic that you should check out.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty damn excited that The Sandman is coming back today.

This will make everything better.

SHAKE from Variable on Vimeo.

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WB20130804 1127 Edit THE WOODWORKER   WRAFTERBUILT

A man walks into a coffee shop and sits down (at a table and chair he didn’t build – because this man is me, and I don’t know the first goddamn thing about building furniture). Soon, another man joins him (this one has an awesome beard, and though he didn’t build this particular chair and table set he most assuredly could have – though his version would have undoubtedly been far cooler and better made) and begins to speak reverently about tools in a way reminiscent of how old movie samurai speak about swords. The conversation is rife with invocations that extol the virtues of certain indigenous woods, litanies dedicated to the importance of the trades, and excited odes to furniture built from reclaimed materials. It is without a doubt one of the most stimulating and entertaining conversations I have had in weeks –  few things are as engaging as talking with someone about what they are really excited about.

Meet Sean Wrafter – owner of Wrafterbuilt Salvage and Reclaimed LLC. He just started a furniture business in Buffalo, NY.

Wrafterbuilt is a blue-collar-turns-white-collar-makes-heroic return-to-blue-collar kind of story – After dropping out of college in 2000 Sean got his first taste of professional woodworking when he responded to a newspaper ad (and doesn’t the idea of a newspaper ad being the catalyst of this story just seem cinematically perfect?) and ended up working for an artisan who trained him as a finish and trim carpenter. But in his mid-twenties Sean wanted to pursue some other career options and ended up moving into sales, working for a variety of companies selling advertising and setting up pro-local marketing programs in cities all over the northeast for City Dining Cards (their drink deck is a working photographer’s best friend!). Sean spent a lot of time on the road the last few years working these sales jobs, but continued to hone his woodworking skills making furniture for himself and friends. “Any time I’ve needed extra money or had the misfortune of not having a job, I’ve picked up my tool belt and been able to provide for myself” Sean told me when I interviewed him “My decision to come back into the trades and start building furniture was very organic, but only recently have I gained the confidence to start showing it to other people. It actually took me a while to realize how much people liked what I was doing, someone actually had to bring it to my attention. Once I started paying attention to how much people liked it I kept doing it.”  Sean left his sales position and started focusing on his woodshop and furniture full-time this summer.

There’s something sexy about the furniture Sean makes. I’m not sure if it’s the age and character of the wood, the functional design, or even something less tangible like the feeling of accumulated history in the materials he builds his pieces from. His farm tables and benches are robust, timeless, and smell like hard work and craftsmanship. I stopped by the launch party for his new furniture line last weekend at Ró furniture in Buffalo and the place was madness – packed to the doors (and spilling out onto the sidewalk) with people loving the collection Sean debuted. Wratferbuilt has become a brand that came suddenly out of the dark and obscure and found itself suddenly in the spotlight – everyone is talking about it.

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Why such a big deal about old wood?

Sean broke it down to me like this: Most of the wood used in reclaimed furniture is barn wood; beams and planks taken from old rural structures and put to new uses, often with a high price tag attached. This is the kind of wood used so often in the furniture lining the stalls of kitschy country markets that I’m too scared to visit (there are so many horror movies that start that way) and in high-end urban boutiques that I’m too poor to shop in. Sean doesn’t use barn wood – his materials come a from a place closer to home.

Approximately one out of every five houses in Buffalo are abandoned right now, as are many of the old industrial structures that are so ubiquitous in a city with a manufacturing history like Buffalo’s – these buildings are where Wrafterbuilt gets most of its lumber. Sean reiterated to me many times during the course of this project how mystified he is by the value people in other cities he has traveled to put on reclaimed materials while Buffalo seems so quick to devalue something he sees as a precious and limited resource. “We have a wealth of this wood that everyone else in the country wants and they can’t get. And we throw it away and burn it, because we have so much of it that we don’t know what to do with it.” Sean sees the use of reclaimed materials not just as an aesthetic choice, but as one of conservation as well – every piece of reclaimed lumber he gives new function to is a living tree that doesn’t have to be cut down.

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The wood that Sean reclaims from these derelict or demolished buildings is what he turns into the tables, benches, decorative objects and other products he creates in his woodshop. “Everything about the reclaimed look, the way it feels, and the history behind it is important. “What I’m trying to do is find a customer base that appreciates the aesthetic and the character behind this material that I find and cares about it like I do. I think that if you live in Buffalo, and you love Buffalo like so many people who I know do, you are going to appreciate everything about this reclaimed lumber that comes from here.”

“Buffalo is big enough to be interesting, but small enough to be really intimate. Buffalo doesn’t have everything that NYC or Philadelphia has to do, but if you put the effort in you can find something interesting to do here almost every night. I think it’s natural, coming from a smaller area like Western NY, to want to seek out somewhere ‘bigger and better’ but I’ve spent so much time traveling over the last few years and I really appreciate Buffalo now when I come back.”

There are young people in Buffalo succeeding, people who have decided to stay here and make a difference – often (as Sean points out) in spite of the political and economic climate. Entrepreneurs, local non-profits, and craftsmen like Sean are the driving force behind this unsure transition, moving away from the city’s industrial past and towards a more contemporary interpretation of Buffalo’s local culture. Wrafterbuilt is proof that even the refuse of this city can be the building blocks of something new and desirable – and the transformative nature of Sean’s reclamation and building process seems wholly appropriate as a metaphor for the changes happening here.

You can check out Sean’s furniture and designs by visiting the Wrafterbuilt website

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