Valley eateries serve large, eye-catching artworks
New restaurants are serving up more than food and drinks these days.
Noodlefun, which opened last month in downtown Warren, and Condado Tacos, which opened Thursday in Boardman, are examples of restaurants incorporating the work of local artists in their interior design.
“It’s nice the community can come together and highlight each other and support each other,” said James Shuttic, an artist and director of the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County. “They could have gone with cookie cutter art, designs in taupes and browns. It’s nice to see this growing trend of restaurateurs who are choosing to showcase the arts and the community.”
Condado Tacos, which opened its first restaurant in Columbus in 2014, now has 33 locations in seven states. Alyssa Martin, visual experience manager for Condado, said working with local artists helps them connect in new cities.
“We always wanted to keep the local vibe however we could, and the artwork turned into another way we could do that, by hiring local artists,” Martin said. “It makes it feel like a part of the city. We don’t want to be something that doesn’t fit or doesn’t feel right to the people who live here.”
Diners at Condado will find themselves surrounded by colorful murals on all walls of the high-ceilinged restaurant at 1051 Boardman-Poland Road. The drive-in movie theme of the murals was inspired by the drive-ins that still operate in the Mahoning Valley, and the work includes elements that draw from the former Idora Park amusement park and the Dave and Ed’s Super Swap Meets at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
After about two months of planning, Martin said, a team of artists spent three weeks working in the space as soon as the drywall was up.
Joe Gergley of Liberty, one of the artists Condado hired for the project, said it was a a great opportunity.
“There’s not a lot of local artists who get big mural gigs in this area,” Gergley said. “Art is not really heavily publicized in the area, so when the opportunity comes to put some of it in public, it’s definitely an instant yes.”
It was a fun project to work on — “It reminded me of going to art school. I got to hang out with a bunch of artists all day and paint,” he said — and Gergley believes it could lead to future projects.
“There are a lot of people who make art,” he said. “To have a staple in a local public place, that says you’re doing it, it’s not just a hobby. I have an actual paid gig by a big company that contacted me to paint their walls, so I think that kind of speaks for itself.”
Condado and Noodlefun certainly aren’t the first to use local art. Many restaurants have wall space where selected artists can display and sell their work. Shuttic said putting his work in Saratoga Restaurant in downtown Warren several years ago allowed him to reach a clientele that wouldn’t see his work online or at an art show.
“I didn’t sell a lot of those pieces, but I can’t tell you how many reached out to me to buy other stuff,” Shuttic said. “I reached a completely different audience.”
Shuttic is the first artist in the rotating space at Noodlefun, 176 N. Park Ave. And one piece already sold — to restaurant owner Nate Barker, who made it a permanent part of the restaurant’s decor.
“When James put this one up, I thought it fit perfectly,” Barker said. “I said, ‘Don’t even put a price tag on that one, it’s staying.”
Barker and his wife, Carissa, also made local art a permanent part of the restaurant by having local artists paint many of the dining tables inside.
“We sanded them down to nothing,” he said. “My wife put a couple of coats of primer on them, and we hand delivered them to the artists.”
Visitors also can contribute to the visual aesthetic with a large chalk wall next to the open kitchen.
“Every couple weeks, we’ll erase it and start clean with new messages,” he said. “Kids love it. The lower you get, the more childish the art gets.”
Those elements reflect the philosophy of the restaurant.
“When I was thinking about what this place was going to be — Noodlefun — I wanted to encapsulate really good noodles and a lot of fun,” Barker said. “When I think fun, I think color, I think art.”
And the motivation behind working with local talent isn’t wholly altruistic.
“The 5 percent, capitalistic side is the artists are out there promoting the restaurant,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Check out my stuff. It’s on the wall’ or ‘I made this table.’ That helps too. It was right in my niche. I knew they were going to be my customers. Why not let them be a part of it in other ways?”