The Garage

The summer after graduating from the VCU Brandcenter, one of my favorite Art Director partners asked if I wanted to move to Pittsburgh and start an agency. It was the middle of 2001. The dot-com bubble had just burst, but the new medium of “interactive” communication was still brimming with possibilities. It was the time of Flash, ethernet cables, and Strong Bad, and we had no idea how much the world was about to change, or how the experience was about to change us. 

Ice House Studios Our “corner” offices (in the right-hand corner of the patio) at the Ice House Studios. Photo: Lawrenceville Corp. 

The photo above doesn’t quite do justice to the feel of Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceillve neighborhood in the early 2000s.

What’s missing are things like:

1) The burnt-out, vermin-infested Dodge Aries that luxuriated across the street from the Ice House Studios. I ending up calling the mayor’s office as a “concerned business owner” to get the city to tow it away.

2) The woman we found one morning parked in a visitor’s space sunbathing on the hood of her car. 

3) The guy who was a dead ringer for Charles Manson who used to walk down the street with a tiny dog handing out candy to strangers.

Lawrenceville has changed a lot since then. I believe there are now two yoga studios — hot and cold —and a bustling ramen shop on Butler Street, but to this day the smell of burnt car vinyl still brings back some powerful memories.

“Allison”. Über profesh. 

Yes. We got a lot of phone calls from people who wanted to know how much we charged for break jobs.

Yes. We mailed people copies of our “interactive portfolio” on CDs.

Yes, just like AOL.

Yes, we apparently included not one, but two derrière jokes in the marketing packages we sent out to prospects.

Yes, it was crazy. Yes, it almost completely burned me out and, Yes, it drove me this close to giving up and entering into that waking death known as law school.

Yes, I’ve never had a job where I learned more or slept less.

And yes, if I had to do it all over again, I would probably do 99.99% of it differently, just as long as I still got the chance to do it.

I promise this felt much edgier on the tail end of the 1990s piercing/body-modification craze.

One of our very first clients was a family-run bakery called Loafers Bread Company which had several retail stores around the Pittsburgh area.

They ground their own flour on stone mills in the backs of their stores. They had us over for 6:00am client meetings, which for bakers was pretty close to mid-day. They taught us how to properly herringbone-cut a round loaf and sent us home from every presentation with cinnamon buns larger than our heads. 

At the time, I didn’t realize how unusual it was for a client to do things like pick up the check at an initial pitch lunch; even more remarkable was their willingness to make a significant investment in the ideas of a couple of starry-eyed kids — even as Panera was trying to put them out of business. 

They were good to us, and in the work we created we tried our very best to capture the unique and generous essence of who they were, what they did, and why.

Co-Founder: Jason Smith

Ally Fouts is a creative director, brand strategist, writer, and awestruck human living and working in Los Angel-ish.
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