Brooklyn’s simultaneous emergence as both a design and culinary mecca is no mere coincidence. The best restaurants always have a fully-realized design narrative—one that is not only unique to the space, but also instantly recognizable and appealing to discerning patrons. Some of the Brooklyn restaurants that have been most successful at achieving a cohesive design narrative include Diner, Marlow & Sons, Roman’s, and Pies and Thighs. And behind all these designs is Derick Holt.
Holt came to New York City in 2001, moved to Greenpoint with a friend from college, and was ready to start his career as a graphic designer. But, as Holt tells us, “It’s a tough industry to break into with no professional experience and no money to take on an internship… I applied to be a line cook at the better restaurants in Williamsburg. I had no experience on the line but put down that I was a dishwasher on my resume. It’s really not a good idea to put dishwasher experience on your culinary resume but it got my foot in the door. In a pinch, Diner in Williamsburg needed a dishwasher and I really needed a job. I washed dishes for a few weeks and pleaded with them to give me a cooking job, which they did. After a bit of badgering they hired me to do a t-shirt, which went well and then I was hired to do the Marlow & Sons branding which helped me get enough design work to segue out of the kitchen and into graphics.”
It might not be the traditional path to graphic design superstardom, but it has really worked for Holt. “Inspiration usually comes through vintage research,” Holt tells us. “Clients come to me with their concept and I interpret their vision, collaboratively. Marlow & Sons, opened in 2004, was the first time I was paid for design. It helped that the Marlow concept was especially worked out. Owners Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth provided a back story and general time period. They wanted it to look as if it was opened by ‘European immigrants to Brooklyn in the early 20th century’—that’s the most direct concept I’ve been given to date.” The mark of a designer as gifted as Holt is that this concept is articulated so implicitly in the smallest details of the Marlow & Sons menu, that diners know what the restaurant is about without even having to think about it, they can just sit back and enjoy the artistry at work.