A well-made pizza pie can be almost like a piece of art. Take Mellow Mushroom’s Philosopher’s Pie, for example, a blend of steak, portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives, and three kinds of cheese. It’s a beautiful creation. But in the restaurant’s new Avondale location, the food just might be upstaged by the decor. Local artist Carl Janes is the mastermind behind the space’s design.
A former Folly Beach resident, Janes has a fascinating history with Mellow Mushroom. He initially caught the eye of a company bigwig when he used 16 Lite Brite panels and hundreds of glowing pegs to create a life-sized Elvis Presley, which can now be found in the restaurant’s downtown location. Fast-forward a year and a half, and Janes had snagged the enviable job of creative director for the pizza chain. Now based in Atlanta, he travels the country finding local artists to contibute to each new restaurant.
As local owners Michael Shem-Tov, Johnny Hudgins, and Joshua Broome began developing the new Mellow Mushroom, they immediately turned to Janes for help. “When we began work on this one in Avondale, it was a great opportunity to bring all of my experience home,” Janes says. He was familiar with the building, an old movie theater, after spending many nights in the neighboring restaurants. “Nobody realized the possibilities that were available inside.”
Once the design process began, a major problem appeared. “The walls on the inside of the building were narrow, tall, and overwhelming,” Janes says.
He began to sketch out swirls on napkins with a pen, and a spark went off. “The walls are now these long, swirling ribbons of black and white that double as a playful theme and an optical illusion,” he says.
Displayed within the ribbons are colorful screenprints of various toys and items like a fluorescent Buddha, drinking straws, a stereo, a lucky penny, dice, poker chips, and even a Tyrannosaurus rex. “There are poker chips and dice from the MGM casino, because that’s where we were when we came up with the idea for the new restaurant,” says Janes. “The gummy bears, straws, and popcorn are to pay homage to the theater aesthetic of the building.”
Surprisingly, each item was originally no more than one inch tall. Janes used a macro lens to photograph the objects and blew them up super-size. He then layered a silk screen over them so that he could paint over each individual piece. “It’s a neat discovery of how to take an image and shred it into nothing and then slowly coax it back to something meaningful again.”
On the second floor, Janes has painted two jesters opposite one another on the black back wall. Each joker is holding a staff with ribbons trailing off the end, which become the ribbons that snake across the restaurant. These subtle connections show the meaning behind each of Janes’ artistic choices. “The joker idea came from when I woke up at three in the morning of the latest lunar eclipse,” he says. “Both of them come off as a yin and yang.” More impressive is the fact that Janes painted each joker twice with blue and red paint to create a 3-D effect. “It’s a tip of the hat to the current 3-D era of film and respect to the history of the building.”
With the opening of the new Mellow Mushroom on March 28, people are finally able to enjoy all the hard work that Janes has poured into his project, which he jokingly calls the “Sistine Chapel of West Ashley.”
“I’m really excited about this revolutionary Mellow Mushroom,” he says. “I want people to take what they want from the images and have a remarkable experience.”