GoodWood NOLA collaborates with local visionaries.
Marianna Massey photographs
For most people, being a regular customer at a doughnut shop might earn them a free treat every now and then or a complimentary coffee on the sly. But for Michael Dalle-Molle, Jordan Gurren and Conley Hataway, frequenting the Lower Garden District cafe District: Donuts.Sliders.Brew earned them the job that would be the impetus for starting a business together.
The three 24-year-olds comprise GoodWood NOLA, a finishing company whose first project was turning the shuttered Velvet Espresso on the corner of Magazine and Arabella Streets into District’s second outpost, District Hand Pies and Coffee Bar. Everything in the tiny corner shop is handmade, and eye-catching details abound in every inch of the space.
The friends met while working for the Solomon Group, a New Orleans company specializing in event and exhibit design. Dalle-Molle, Gurren and Hataway met while working on the National World War II Museum exhibit “Road to Berlin”; they were the youngest men on the job. Gurren, an Arkansas native, has experience in film work and scenic carpentry; Hataway, from Florida, is a skilled carpenter; and Dalle-Molle, who has lived many places but considers Chicago his primary hometown, has a mind for business and a lot of drive and passion, besides having carpentry skills. Together they made a great team.
While the experience on the exhibit was educational for them, they yearned for an opportunity to really show off their skills without any restrictions. They found that opportunity through one of Dalle-Molle’s favorite neighborhood spots.
“I was at [District] like, three times a week. Between here and Stein’s [Deli],” Dalle-Molle says. “Chris [Audler, owner] used to comment on my hats. He loved my hats.”
Audler shared with District co-owner Aaron Vogel that Dalle-Molle has worked with the Solomon Group, and they commissioned him, Gurren and Hataway to build a shelving unit for the shop. After that was done, they had a bigger project in mind for them: building out a whole restaurant.
“We looked at each other and immediately said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Dalle-Molle recalls.
Audler and Vogel wanted a funky, flavorful look for the space, and the GoodWood guys were able to run wild with their creativity. The theme of hands is prevalent in the space, since the shop specializes in sweet and savory hand pies. A vintage typewriter is displayed in the corner; an image of a typewriter is burned into the espresso bar; taps – for coffee, not beer – are topped with antique tools; and most important, everything in the shop is handmade. For everything GoodWood couldn’t make, they collaborated with or sourced materials from other artists and craftspeople: New Orleans woodworker Daren Sumrow of New Orleans Woodworking provided guidance and a mill shop for them to use; the guys sourced the striking handmade floor tiles from an artist in Brooklyn. Los Angeles-based street artist WRDSMITH created art and messages such as “Coffee. Now. Thank you. More. Please.” that he burned into the wood espresso bar with help from New Orleans artist Kid Python, who wrote the digits of Pi on the wall tiles.
It was a challenge to design within the confines of the 263-square foot interior and 130-square foot exterior, but they put great thought into it with outstanding results. The shop has a calming, medium-toned palette of charcoal-gray and denim blues that give it an airy feel, and the reclaimed wood on the walls from a lumber yard in the Ninth Ward lend a rustic quality.
Since GoodWood came about because of this specific project, the next step is to get organized and set up a shop so that they can take on new projects that have come their way since the pie shop. Of couse, wood is their specialty, but they can take on finishing products in a variety of media. And because of their work in scenic design, they’re experienced at making things look older and giving surfaces that sought-after patina.
“We’re all 24 years old, and we’re just honored that these guys gave us an opportunity,” Dalle-Molle says. “Every tile, every screw, everything in there is placed with a little bit of love. That’s important to us – we take pride in our work, and we want people to know that.”