#maisonbodega is both the home and office of creative visionary Liz Gardner. Nestled in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, the three story structure is bursting with character. Inside, Gardner strategizes, creates, and consults for businesses big and small. For anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the Bodega Ltd. offices, the ethereal energy is undeniable. The space, like Gardner’s work, is always evolving in beautiful and creative ways. A hard working she-boss, we were honored to grab a moment of Gardner’s time to speak on her journey as an entrepreneur and her exciting and ever-evolving world.
BLNCD: Bodega Ltd. is truly a full-service creative studio. You guys do everything from strategy to creative direction to public relations, product development, and interior design. Have these services all been present since the inception of Bodega, or did some develop out of a need or realization of the connectivity between them all?
LG: There has definitely been an evolution of services — but most are related to the discovery + curiosity that is a part of our process. There were natural connection points between the creative direction/branding process and spaces/objects. We didn’t set out to become interior designers or product developers– but rather to create a holistic brand experience that is rooted in story and cultural context.
BLNCD: From your myriad of entrepreneurial endeavors to the way you’ve completely remodeled your live/work space, your vision and creativity is off the charts. As a younger person, was there a specific moment where you knew a more traditional career was not for you?
LG: I was raised in an entrepreneurial environment so traditional career parameters were never really expected or modeled. But the rural environment I grew up in was something I really had to wrestle to make sense of — there weren’t the kind of expanders that exist today, who could speak to how the stimulus deficit of farm life could actually be paramount in creating an aesthetic perspective. Both of those factors made me seek out ways to channel my creativity into something with edges. Magazines and editorial really allowed for me to answer “what do you do?” in one word while still making space to work with type, design, styling, creative direction, fashion, home, food, etc, etc. under one umbrella. This really informed the “constellation thinking” that we apply to projects in Bodega Ltd.
BLNCD: A live/work space is not for every entrepreneur, but your #maisonbodega is simply breath-taking. How did you and your partner come to decide on the live/work lifestyle and what were the key factors?
LG: #maisonbodega was really an exercise in taking our process and applying it to a project in 3D — people are able to see, feel, taste and sit inside of our vision. We’ve found it’s a lot easier to show than tell. So, while it’s definitely been a large scale, all-consuming project, it’s able to communicate a lot the intangibles of our work and design principles for us. It’s true that something like this is not for everyone, but for us, we have worked to create a business that is congruent with our life. We have clients we like to spend time with and make sure as many meetings as possible take place at a dinner table.
BLNCD: What are some of the biggest ways your business has evolved, in regards to both your journey as an entrepreneur and as a reaction to the fast-changing branding and digital space?
LG: When we started Bodega Ltd., the media landscape was definitely buzzing around digital, social media and tweets that had a lifespan of 2 mins. While I think we are still very connected to what’s happening in those spaces, we have also responded to our own need for tangibility. I find it more than a coincidence that we are trying to find equilibrium between permanence and impermanence by returning to the ideas of craftsmanship, true cost vs. price, lifespan — and where they intersect with transient things like trend, virality, and influence.
BLNCD: What are Sunday Suppers and how did you become involved?
LG: Sobremesa by Sunday Suppers is a global dinner series founded by chef Karen Mordechai. Hosts in cities from Milan to Minneapolis to Mexico City open up their homes and creative spaces to guests who share in a meal and conversation. When Sunday Suppers launched this initiative, we applied immediately because we have always respected Karen, her vision and aesthetic. It’s been an extremely rewarding project – more often than not, the table is filled with a few familiar faces but a majority are new to the city who are looking to meet people. For us, it’s so rewarding to use our space in a way it was intended — in the renovation process, we have found newspaper articles about gatherings, dinners and social engagements in the house. There is something pretty magical about watching how #maisonbodega comes to life when there are 30 people sitting down to eat.
BLNCD: You’ve recently done branding, creative direction, and/or art direction with restaurants like Union Hmong Kitchen, Upton 43, and Gregory’s Diner. What specific challenges and ideologies are at play in branding and producing content for a restaurant client?
LG: The food space is infinitely interesting to me — eating is one of the most unifying experiences — a great equalizer. Additionally, restaurants have become the forefront of trend and we can’t forget that a culture’s food tells their story and therefore has the power to create heroes. So, to us, the challenges hover around the largest opportunity — it’s highly personal. Whether it’s Harcey’s Swedish meatball recipe from his grandmother, or how Gregory’s is inspired by Anastasia’s grandfather’s diner in St. Louis or how Yia’s food has become a vehicle for the Hmong story — it all needs to be handled with care. This isn’t about being inspired by something trendy on Pinterest, it’s really about listening and translating a family’s legacy into something the world can interact with.
BLNCD: What would be your advice to someone looking to shake off the 9 to 5 and start their own business?
LG: Learn to listen to your gut because everyone, like, legit everyone, is going to give you advice. It’s not all bad, but there are moments where what you are trying to create may not fit into a traditional mold and even the most well-intentioned advice will feel confusing. Believe in your vision. And learn about cash flow management.
BLNCD: What are you excited about right now?
LG: This is a nerd level 12 answer: the top cornice trim is going to be installed on the exterior of #maisonbodega. It has been a year-long process of sourcing cedar, having 10 millwork knives created to replicate the original profiles, milling, kiln drying, painting, scaffolding the entire building, working around the impending snow. Just in case this renovation business seemed super glamorous — it’s mostly like herding cats!
Portrait Photography by Michael J. Spear
Interview by John Mark