Go behind the scenes with some of our favorite makers! We sit down with entrepreneurs for a deep dive into their businesses, what makes them tick and what they’ve got in store for the future! Join us as we Meet the Maker!
This time, we chatted with Eugen Beer of Vintage Menu Art! Let’s dive in.
Q: Give us your back story! What made you want to start your business?
A: We discovered that America has a treasure trove of vintage menu art images and thought they would look amazing as art prints that people could use to decorate their kitchens, dining rooms – anywhere in the house. The illustrations are witty, imaginative and a fascinating insight into the culture and history of particular eras. For example, after the repeal of Prohibition in the 1933, there was an outpouring of celebration as bars and restaurants opened up again (sound familiar?). Another reason for the amazing diversity of images is that these were produced before the big restaurant chains came in. Restaurant and bar owners wanted them to reflect their own personality and that of their particular establishment so they’re amazingly diverse – and funny and interesting.
Q: Did you come in with experience or did you learn as you went?
A: We were complete novices. The images we work with are damaged because they’ve been used in the restaurants and bars. They have tears, coffee stains and marks caused by aging. They wouldn’t look good in their natural state so we learned how to restore them. We scan them at high resolution and then clean them up, pixel by pixel. Some of them are so damaged that we’ve sent them to professional art restorers, but mostly we’ve learned how to do it ourselves. It’s immensely satisfying to bring them back to their original state. We also include the interior menu with every print so customers can see how much a martini or a hamburger cost – usually just a few cents!! And we include an information sheet with the date of the original image and the story behind it. These illustrations show the history of dining out and we spend a lot of time on the research. We think that’s very important.
Q: What makes Vintage Menu Art unique compared to other companies?
A: At its simplest, Vintage Menu Art finds and restores vintage menus and brings them back to life. We’re also helping to preserve an important part of the history of dining out in the United States and other countries around the world. We work with The Culinary Institute of America which has an amazing 40,000+ menus in its archives and is putting many of them online. We also work with a select group of wonderful private collectors who are happy to share the images they have amassed with an outside audience. And we are building our own small collection, as and when we find them.
Q: What kinds of challenges have you had to overcome as a small business owner and entrepreneur?
A: At first, people would look at us and say, “menus?” Many people thought we were talking about the very basic menus you see now, instead of these humorous and imaginatively illustrated menus of the past. But, as soon as people understand the concept, they absolutely love it. We had a great compliment the other day when a customer said vintage menu art prints are like potato chips: you can’t have just one. We love to see them as decor in people’s kitchens or as part of a gallery wall in another part of the house.
Q: How have you coped with COVID? How have you had to pivot?
A: We love to sell our vintage menu art prints in person; people want to hear about the history of particular images. Art shows, street fairs etc stopped because of COVID but we are lucky because we live in Los Angeles and socially distanced, outdoor shopping has come back again. With masks! And, of course, we sell online and people enjoy looking through the 1,000 or so images that we have on our website. With more added every week!
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: Wake up to new online orders and customer messages. Print, pack and fulfill the previous day’s orders. Scan newly acquired old menus and clean them up and if there’s any time left, start printing for the coming weekend’s markets. Our giclée prints take their time to print and we’re very proud of the quality of our work.
Q: Is this your full time job?
A: Pretty much!
Q: What are your goals for the future of Vintage Menu Art?
A: We’d like to continue to find and restore vintage menus and put them before new audiences. These images can go onto all sorts of surfaces and we’re working on new ideas all the time. We are on a mission!
Q: What do you like most about what you do? What keeps you going?
A: We believe that what we do, helping to preserve these great vintage menu art images and put them before new audiences, is important work. We love what we do.
Q: What are you looking forward to most, post-COVID?
A: Doing more art fairs and markets farther afield. We were booked into a number of two and three day fairs all over the West and they all got cancelled. We love meeting new customers who have never experienced this lost art and talking to them about it.
Q: We’re suckers for fun facts! Tell us more about you; share some deep dark secrets!
A: We’re married and we love walking and exploring the world. We’ve lived in England, Scotland, Italy, Australia and now here on the West Coast. The last year has seen us binging on The Great British Baking Show and French shows like Call My Agent. We love the birds that come into our garden and spend a small fortune and a lot of time feeding and looking after them.
CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF VINTAGE MENU ART?! US EITHER. VISIT THEIR SITE AND SHOP THEIR FULL LINE OF PRODUCTS, OR GIVE THEM A FOLLOW ON INSTAGRAM OR FACEBOOK!
Be sure you check out our virtual market and see if they’re participating; our virtual market vendors often offer up exclusive discounts to our virtual market attendees. Shop small and save! Drop us a comment if you’ve shopped this maker and tag us in your photos when you’re using their goods! Put your money where your heart is and join us as we continue to support small. We believe this artisan is the next big thing, and we’re happy you met them here first!