By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
When Pennsylvania native Greg Kerr was 18, he had a phrase tattooed on his leg. It's from the final stanza of the Robert Frost poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
Now Kerr is 32. He has accumulated tattoos up and down his arms, launched a successful resin belt buckle company that's counted Fall Out Boy and Dominos Pizza as clients, and his T-shirt business, Miles to Go, shares its name with that thoughtful line he had inked almost 15 years ago.
It's no surprise that the unabashed bookworm would draw inspiration from writing to name his line of graphic Ts. After all, each of his shirts features a graphic depiction of a piece of literature, and he's covered everything from Moby Dick and Edgar Allan Poe to Catcher in the Rye and Charles Bukowski.
Kerr started screening the shirts about five years ago after toying with the idea while working at Acme Prints in Tempe. At first, he printed his own cover designs for jazz albums and classic movie posters, but Kerr soon moved on to books.
With super-soft tri-blend crewnecks from American Apparel as his base, Kerr screens each shirt by hand at Acme, using discharge ink (a dye that essentially bleaches the fabric) to color the designs into the shirts' material, as opposed to building ink onto the textile.
Kerr takes pride being in control of every aspect of it. "It's a very personal kind of brand," he says of his one-man business.
He's turned down offers to have his pieces stocked at Top Shop, Nordstrom, and Urban Outfitters. Instead, he prefers selling directly to his customers and working with small boutiques.
He compares his role in overseeing the line to that of an art director. Kerr seeks out artists from all over the world, chooses color schemes, and works through their designs to form two focused collections a year.
Kerr released his latest spring line in mid-March, and it includes shirts depicting Ted Hughes' The Iron Man and Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves among its 12 new designs.
He strives for designs that aren't too literal. "People get that the whale design is Moby Dick right away," Kerr says. But many of the other designs are less obvious, resulting in an instant connection for those who can recognize what books are being referenced. "I'll throw in more esoteric things here and there."
Although, Kerr adds, he's had customers buy shirts solely because they like the designs, which have inspired them to read the books.
Either way, Kerr already is plotting his summer reading list, which will influence what books will become shirts for his fall release. He will go into a sort of hibernation for reading and brainstorming, synthesize his ideas, and then get artists involved.
But his fashion aspirations don't end at pleasing literati. He's currently at work on a line called Old Souls — a reference to a poem that Kerr wrote himself. He describes the collection of button-downs and ties targeted toward young, creative professionals as "new beatnik," classic and clean, like something Kerouac might've worn.
Clearly, this guy doesn't plan to sleep anytime soon. — Becky Bartkowski
John Cavanagh is busy.
The guy has a full-time job as general manager of The Tuck Shop, and he's getting ready any day now to introduce Astor House, a breakfast/lunch/snack/wine shop opening next door to the popular dinner spot. On the side, he does some consulting for other restaurateurs, and in his free time, he's rebuilding a motorcycle.
And on his day off, he — singlehandledly, from scratch — brews tonic syrup for his own private label, "John's Premium."
On a sunny Monday afternoon in March, Cavanagh's alone in the Tuck Shop kitchen. He's chopping lemongrass and consulting a recipe he's made dozens (hundreds?) of times but still pins on the wall in case he forgets something. Sounds stressful, tending to a giant pot of boiling lemongrass, citrus, a few secret ingredients, and, the most important one, Peruvian bark powder (the stuff that gives tonic its distinct, bitter taste and is used to make quinine, which cures malaria, among other maladies). Cavanagh insists it's his time to relax.
"It's just me and the store . . . I chill a little," he says, watches the Discovery Channel or his favorite, reality shows about failed businesses. He loves "watching people make huge mistakes while they're trying to make a living."
Making a living hasn't always been so easy (albeit busy) for Cavanagh. He moved to Phoenix in the '90s from Conrad, Montana (high school graduating class: 32 kids), to get a degree in drafting. He got a job and got impatient, knowing it would be years before he'd be more than a gofer in a profession that demands dues-paying. And then he got laid off.
He switched careers, going into food service. At Blimpie's. "Yes, Blimpie's," he says, smiling, continuing to chop lemongrass 'til it fills the giant pot.
Eventually, he found himself in the front of the house at a new restaurant in CenPho, The Tuck Shop. The owner, an architect named D.J. Fernandes, didn't want soda guns in his restaurant. Cavanagh didn't have a place to store a lot of bottles. And so the idea of making tonic was born. He tinkered with a few recipes he found online, settled on ingredients, and made the first batch.