Decision time: What to have for dinner? See what's in the fridge? Maybe order a pizza? Hardly. These former Carnegie Mellon classmates have dinner together practically every night. But their choices come from a menu that boasts free-spirited fusion cuisine—with such entrees as red curry of crispy tofu with mushrooms; Thai eggplant and long beans; pan-seared sea trout on a salad of fennel, green apple, and pistachio; and roast lamb sirloin on crispy goat's cheese polenta.
The menu is from their restaurant, Public, which is conveniently located just three floors below their Manhattan offices. "We try to share a meal every day at five o'clock," says Adam Farmerie (A'96). "Public is where it all started, so it's like we're eating at home, with family. We've got great relationships with everyone, from the managers to the waiters to the busboys to the guys that wash dishes. Not to mention that my brother, Brad [Farmerie], is the head chef."
In November 2003, Public restaurant was the first self-propelled project launched by the firm AvroKO, which was founded by Farmerie and his classmates, Greg Bradshaw (A'92), William "Bill" Harris (A'95), and Kristina O'Neal (A). They all say becoming partners made sense because at Carnegie Mellon they were more than friends, they were colleagues.
Farmerie remembers that during his undergraduate days, he and Bradshaw would create drawings, and the two architecture majors would then switch; they would continue switching and revising so that neither ended up owning either drawing. Rather, it was a true collaboration. O'Neal and Harris, the visual artists, similarly worked together. O'Neal recalls that when she would go into the art studio, Harris would look at her project and say, "Hmm, no, how about this?" and he would change part of it. Then she would change something of his project. And O'Neal says that this is exactly what happens now at AvroKO: "We literally play with each other's projects all the time."
After graduation, they scattered. In 1992, Bradshaw headed to San Francisco but later moved to Boulder, Colo., for more job opportunities, which he found at a small architecture firm. In 1995, Harris and O'Neal drove cross-country and settled in Seattle, Wash., where O'Neal got a job in an art museum and Harris was hired by an interior designer. Every evening, though, they would pick up tacos and coffee and immerse themselves in personal projects in their art studio. In 1996, Farmerie found himself employed in a small studio in Pittsburgh. The studio was half shop and half architecture business—Farmerie would spend half of the day involved in personal projects and the other half dealing with projects for clients.
Through it all, they stayed in touch. It just seemed like their destiny that they would one day work together. They decided to formally team up in New York City in 2000 to create AvroKO—with Farmerie and Bradshaw as the architectural team and Harris and O'Neal as the design team—a firm that would provide clients full-service architecture and design expertise. According to Farmerie, it was a little awkward in the beginning. "It's almost a bit like dating," he says. "You're not sure right away if you'll work well together or what the other person is thinking."
Fortunately, that initial awkwardness didn't last long. O'Neal credits the good match to collaboration, something she says was ingrained in them at Carnegie Mellon. "That was key, because it's exactly what we do now. We're four equal partners," she says.
AvroKO's client projects include more than 20 trendy restaurants, hotels, residential living spaces, and retail locations from San Francisco to New York to Singapore to China. They have worked on projects ranging from an eclectic Park Avenue restaurant in New York City to the award-winning Bedrock restaurant in Singapore. The team also focuses on what they call self-propelled projects, which are projects they finance independently from the firm. In other words, they are their own clients for projects ranging from smart-space apartment design; to a published book, Best Ugly: Restaurant Concepts and Architecture by AvroKO; to a uniform fashion line; to the restaurant, Public.
It was at Carnegie Mellon where Farmerie first contemplated creating a trendy dining experience—a creative atmosphere with cuisine that matched the aura. Years later, with AvroKO founded, and after Farmerie's brother graduated from the United Kingdom's Le Cordon Bleu, it seemed everything had fallen into place for opening a successful restaurant. Wrong.
They quickly learned that the work of a restaurant is never done. "You're constantly trying to come up with interesting ideas and new ways to create things, reinvigorate the way the restaurant exists," says Harris. "I will say it keeps the days fresh. You're not bogged down in one thing."
The work may have been harder than they thought, but, ultimately, it didn't keep them from success. In its first year, Public was awarded two James Beard awards for Best Restaurant Design and Best Restaurant Graphics. Since then, the restaurant has received many accolades, including the 2009 Michelin Star and the Time Out NY Eat Out Award. All the while, AvroKO has become one of the hottest design teams in Manhattan, according to the Financial Times.
With all of their accomplishments, the partners haven't forgotten their Tartan roots. How can they? They are together practically every day! What they don't realize is how their alma mater sees them. They could become Carnegie Mellon Loyal Scots, members of the university's newest recognition program, if they:
- Stay informed about Carnegie Mellon.
- Stay involved (Public has hosted Carnegie Mellon alumni events).
- Contribute to the university.
- Advocate for the university. For example, they've hired designers who are Carnegie Mellon graduates, including Yong Ho Sin (A'05) and Joe Calabrese (A'97).
As for how the four single alumni see themselves, they say they are much more than business partners. Think of a real-life "Friends" with better food than Monica ever made.
For more information in the Loyal Scots program, visit www.cmu.edu/loyalscot
Laurel Furlow, a former newspaper reporter, is the assistant director of on-campus programs in the Office of Alumni Relations.