Meet the Artist Behind the Most Insta-Worthy Café in the U.S.

© William Werner
By Annie Quigley Posted April 08, 2016
The food isn't the only thing worth posting on Instagram at this new spot.

The Den, the newest offshoot of super-modern, super-cool Bay Area-area bakery Craftsman and Wolves, soft-opened on Monday. On the menu: Its famously-photogenic pastries like Japanese milk bread and kougin amann, plus a curated menu of sandwiches and salads. But as beautiful as the food is, the most striking thing about the new spot is the decor. One entire wall of the small space is streaked with vibrant shades of blue, a custom mural by Bay Area painter Heather Day. Food & Wine chatted with the artist about how to design a café in the age of food photography, plus what to order when you go to The Den.

How did you get involved with this project?

William Werner, the chef/owner, found me on Instagram. He left it very open-ended and told me that he loved my work and was going to just trust me on it. When I take on a commission, it has to be with someone with an open mind because ultimately my work is unplanned and they don’t totally know what they're going to get. And that's the beauty of it. When I start to plan, it can kind of fall flat, it's less energetic. It's just missing kind of its soul.

What kinds of things were you considering while you were painting?

There's the whole notion of how much we take photos. When people go into coffee shops they’re taking photos of their lattes and, when it’s a beautiful interior, me personally, I’m always Instagramming the location. So I was actually thinking a lot about, “Oh, if someone’s sitting in this area, what angle would they take a photo of the mural from? And what experience are they having just looking at it? And what kind of composition are they going to capture?” You're not only thinking about the experience when someone walks in, you're also thinking about their experience behind the screen.

Did you have a particular inspiration for the mural?

I have a series of paintings called "Proximity to the Ocean," and they’re very much about being in the Bay Area, being surrounded by water, and the relationship of being in the city and the proximity to the ocean. My work is very much about movement and also very much about water, because I’m pushing and pulling and pouring paint and manipulating it.

Where else do you find inspiration?

This past summer I did a five-week trip across the country, where I was camping and painting, and I drove from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and back. You know, it's easy to get burnt out in anything you do, and traveling always just wakes me up. My mind feels so awake traveling and taking in new textures and new experiences. After I’m in the studio for a solid two months it’s time for me to take a break and travel somewhere, so I can kind of refresh my mind and have a new vocabulary of new textures and experiences.

Did you get any sneak-peeks of The Den's menu while you were working?

They do family meals, and if I was around I always got part of the meal. So I was eating much better working at Craftsman and Wolves than in my studio, no question. Less taco truck.

What’s a can’t-miss thing to order?

The salad I was having for lunch was just so good. I actually live a block away from the Craftsman and Wolves Valencia Street location, so I spend a lot of time there, and my favorite breakfast item is the granola and fruit. They also have kind of a morning bun pastry which is very simple but delicious.

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