Recently, I’ve taken on a new role at Feisty Brown: client. Albeit a tad uncomfortable at first, I have settled nicely into this side of the studio dynamic. And I’ve got to say, the experience has been pretty revealing.
During the long months of the coronavirus pandemic, like many people, I found myself longing for the love and comfort of family. I grew up in a third-generation Lebanese/Syrian American family that assimilated quickly in the early 1900s. What we kept from our past – food, family, and faith – looks different in my house than that of my cousins or my brothers, but our love for each other and for our parents and grandparents is strong and similar. When we were young we all loved visits to my grandparents’ house. They were wonderful occasions marked with platters of meat and spinach pies, hummus, baba ghanouj, Syrian bread, olives, pistachios, and my favorite, kibbeh nayeh. My Grandma’s kitchen smelled of onion and allspice, a combination that I’ve always associated with love.
One morning during the pandemic, I woke up craving fatayer, the evocative, savory hand pies that were always made for us by the older members of my family. They were unavailable in Columbia County, New York where I live and until then, I had never made them myself. It was heartbreaking that I couldn’t have one or share their comforting nature with my kids. I realized then that there was an opportunity here to step up and continue the tradition of cooking, or else my kids would lose the strongest remnant of our Lebanese heritage. So I started cooking Lebanese food in earnest and with intention. And soon after, I became a client of Feisty Brown.
Hamrah’s Seven Spice, our new Lebanese prepared food business, is named after the enigmatic spice blend used in Lebanese cooking that varies from family to family but is beloved by all. Its fluid boundaries and the passion that surrounds it appeals to me and our new business’s name is a loving gesture to both my family and culture. Hamrah’s Seven Spice has begun offering its foods locally in Columbia County, including some of my family’s favorites like fatayer, hummus, baba ghanouj, and za’atar pita chips. Feisty Brown helped make that possible.
As an account director, I understand what goes into building a project from the ground up: business and marketing plans, audience development, and of course, the brand. With my recipes receiving positive feedback, I was excited to begin building my business, but also cautious not to expand too quickly. I wanted to run, but other work—namely, paying clients—required me to move forward at a slower pace. So, I developed a schedule that would allow me to pursue my passion project while prioritizing Feisty Brown.
When it came time to articulate the brand, there was only one choice: Theo. As both my partner and recipe guinea pig, he understood the intention and essence of Hamrah’s Seven Spice. As we do with any client project, the process started with a deep dive into the product. Theo learned about the food, Middle Eastern culture, and he explored how that would tie in to the bounty of Columbia County.
With an intimate understanding of my aesthetic in hand, Theo developed a palette and font to complement the design, featuring patterns found in Middle Eastern architecture and the shape and flow of Arabic script. Admittedly, the final design came after—ahem, many—concept iterations and rounds of revisions. But I can say in earnest that it was a completely collaborative and enjoyable process. I believe this was the case for two reasons: first, Theo welcomed me into the process as both colleague and client. I had a vision for Hamrah’s Seven Spice, and Theo respected both my steadfastness and accessibility.
Second, we used the same language. Theo and I were mindful of communicating our feedback and ideas, and as a result, the project only got stronger with time. Critiquing the studio’s work is a constant, so this was comfortable even with my own business. Additionally, as partners in Feisty Brown we have developed effective protocols, and we did not stray from them for this project. No shortcuts. No unreasonable demands. To get the results we wanted (and that I was thrilled with), we used what works: good communication and a proven process.
I should also mention that Hamrah’s Seven Spice is committed to using local and organic ingredients, as well as finding the right recyclable packaging. While sourcing fresh ingredients takes time, it creates a stronger tie with the community and respects our bucolic county. Our plastic containers are PLA (Polylactic Acid) made from plant-based bio-plastic; PLA products break down in 45-90 days and require 65% less energy to produce than traditional, petroleum-based plastics and they emit 68% fewer greenhouse gasses. Additionally, the paperboard material of our boxes is recyclable and biodegradable and features a cellulose acetate window that is also biodegradable. Theo took all of this into consideration when developing the brand, integrating it into the essence of the product.
A year after I woke up on that pandemic morning, Hamrah’s Seven Spice went to market. Our products can be found at the Philmont Cooperative in Philmont, NY and every Saturday morning at the Kinderhook Farmers’ Market in Kinderhook, NY. How will we measure success? Sales certainly, but more so, through client feedback. This project is so much a part of me—us—that we’ll be able to feel if it is resonating with our customers and community.
So, what did this experience reveal? I may be a partner in Feisty Brown, but I’m also a good—no, great—client. Why? Because I’m always thinking on behalf of the client. Am I demanding? Yes, in this instance, because I needed to “own” every aspect of this incredibly personal project. As a creative director, Theo understood and respected that. And I’ve got to say, after engaging in the process from this side of the relationship, Feisty Brown is a great design studio.