ON THE MENU: A Conversation with Joseph Verzilli

 

Whether it’s his impressive beard, vintage Stetson, eclectic mix of turquoise + silver rings, or magnetic creative energy, Joseph Verzilli of Lockeland Leatherworks is easy to pick out of a crowd. The local maker is the mechanical genius behind Tavern at Bobby’s impressive leather menu covers, making each by hand in his studio just northeast of the city. Over black coffees and a soundtrack featuring the likes of Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys, Joey sits down with Bobby to talk shop and shed a little light into his creative process.

This Is Great, Because You’ve Been Around For This Whole Process With Us

JV: The first time I came into Bobby was the day they laid the floors in the Tavern and in the lobby. It’s always interesting for me, too, because when I started doing leatherwork I never thought that I’d be involved in the hospitality industry at all. But, as it turns out, those have been some of my favorite projects and relationships. I love that I’ve gotten to be a part of this.

Can you describe what the process was like when you started on the Tavern project?

JV: Thankfully, a lot of the people I’ve worked with have given me tons of creative freedom. And for the Tavern menus specifically, that’s not your cookie-cutter leather menu. Those were pretty involved. Multiple stamping locations, the stitching of the flap… those are without a doubt my favorite menus I’ve had a chance to do.

I remember coming to Bobby with swatch books for the first time, and we were seeing how all these different samples looked in different lighting, on the tables, against the banquettes. And we ended up finding that perfect charcoal-gray color. That particular leather has actually become some of my favorite leather that’s ever come across my table.

There’s so much soul that goes into things like menu covers, too. They help tell the story in such a different way than, say, a standard plastic menu. There’s so much thought that goes into it.

JV: They absolutely do tell the story. Usually, people don’t put a ton of thought into that kind of stuff – so when Bobby reached out to me, it was great to encounter someone in a different brand and business that understands it does make a difference. To give thought to something as small as a leather menu that every single person that sits down in the restaurant will hold in their hands, that’s pretty awesome.

There’s something neat about leather in general, how it folds and creases, how every person that touches it will somehow leave a mark. It’ll change and age over time, and can be a kind of metaphor for the “community soul” of the property itself.

JV: To me, that’s the vibe of Bobby right there. Even when the leather is brand new and we first roll it out, it still has this certain feel. A little rough around the edges, a little bit rugged, but you know it’ll go through the trenches and come out on the other side weathered and smooth. And even from the first time discussing this project, that was the sentiment of what Bobby was all about: this world traveler that has been all over the place, and as esoteric as it might sound, the leather itself is rugged but resilient and elicits that same idea.

 

Your background was actually in marketing and branding… how did Lockeland Leatherworks come to be? What’s the story there?

JV: I moved to Nashville and two days after, I was offered the marketing position I ended up working in. I was here, in a new city with a new job, I was working a lot, and when got home from work I didn’t have anything to do. Back in Ohio, I built guitars as a side-hobby, but didn’t have the time or space to do that here in Nashville. So I picked up leatherworking, and at one point, everything I had fit into a small little toolbox I could fit on a shelf in our laundry room. It grew from there, especially in this community. When people asked what I did, I never wanted to talk about my work. Instead I’d say, “well I just started leatherwork as a hobby!”

So obviously, “creating” has always been an interest to you.

JV: Yeah, when I was a kid, we were one of the first families that moved into our neighborhood. There was lots of new construction and I’d go around with my brother and sister, gathering off-cuts and leftover scraps of wood into our wagon. We’d bring it all back to the house and make stuff – anything we could get our hands on; we’d make something out of. And that’s the exact thing that led me to where I am now. You know, leatherwork is awesome. And I enjoy it because there’s so much to learn, and I’m perpetually motivated to reach that next skill set. It has always been about wanting to create something. I think we all inherently have that desire to create and be artistic.

So how has it changed from rolling leather out on your floor to how Lockeland Leatherworks lives now?

JV: I was working out of my house at my dining room table, all those tools that fit into my toolbox, in a house that I shared with three other people. I quit my job December 2017 and continued to work out of the house for a few months when I was contacted by a buddy of mine, Patrick Hayes of 1767 Designs, about studio space. I moved in there in August 2018, and since then, business honestly just skyrocketed.

“The minute you invest more into your passion, people take you more seriously.”

Things happen so fast, too. I can’t believe our doors here have only been open about a year and a half. So much has come to life.

JV: It is crazy. I had seen a little bit of the project, and thought there had to be some way to get connected. When I came across Bobby’s Instagram page, there were only like three photos and one of them was of a bus getting hoisted up on the roof. I was like, “I have to get involved with this place.” And then when it ended up actually happening, it was so cool. When we know what we want, we get excited about it, and people can sense that energy. It all just has a way of working out.

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