Summary and photos by Paul Nylander

A look inside Bodega Ltd., the design partnership of Josef Harris and Liz Gardner, and their client relationship with Chef Erick Harcey of Upton 43

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This Solopreneurs Showcase and Cocktails event on April 29, 2016 sold out within hours of registration opening. Talk about a testament to the tight friendships that define the design duo of Bodega Ltd., Josef Harris and Liz Gardner. The setting — Upton 43, the new restaurant by Chef Erick Harcey in Mineapolis’ Linden Hills — is possible through an ongoing creative relationship between the three. In creating the Upton 43 branding, Liz pointed out how much more branding is than just a logo. The colors, plate appearance, presentation…it is how people know there is a heart and soul.

“Soul” was a recurring theme in their discussion with AIGA Minnesota’s 40+ Solopreneurs and friends. Josef emphasized that working from one’s center — your core or essence — is the key to their philosophy: “The only thing that matters is what you make.” If you are true to your center, everything will turn out as it should. As one audience member pointed out, we’re in a shift to lifestyle branding, a shift to storytelling through editorial marketing. Josef responded: “It is not about selling stuff…but selling everything around the stuff. It is all about the periphery, not about the thing itself.”

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Bodega Ltd.’s philosophy is working. Josef and Liz shared a peek inside their sincere and authentic design practice, a partnership made possible through respect, trust, and complimentary skills. Breaking away from their day jobs (Josef at Olson, then Fallon; Liz at Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine) was a consequence of each feeling stifled and constrained in their work. After a year of trying to both build their studio and work for others, they made the decision to “go solo” full time about two years ago. Already at that critical point where “clients find them,” they can enjoy the odd pleasure that comes from saying “no” to a potential client that just isn’t a good fit.

The “fit” and importance of soul are design elements at Upton 43 as well. Chef Harcey reiterated the importance of emotional connection in their relationship and Bodega Ltd.’s work. As creative cheerleaders, Josef and Liz know that their clients — who are creatives in their own markets — need support and encouragement…that notion of challenging and being challenged.

Advice from this successful team? Push boundaries. Otherwise, what is the point? If what you are doing doesn’t mean something, what is the point in doing it? Josef and Liz like to challenge each other, and to challenge and be challenged by their clients. There is no such thing as silos for this team. The more things intersect and interact, the better.

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Above: This flatware table presentation design by Bodega Ltd. sprang from Chef Harcey’s idea that fine dining shouldn’t require the intrusion of restaurant staff. Below: Clients of Bodega Ltd., Solopreneurs, and guests enjoyed the Upton 43 lounge.

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Contact Leadership

Emily McLaughlin
Emily McLaughlin
Director of Communications
Emily is a graphic designer and creative director based in Saint Paul, MN. She passionate about the potential for design to cultivate collaboration and cleave opportunities. As Communications Director of AIGA Minnesota, her emphasis is on supporting and engaging the design community while kindling new connections.