When you walk through Ali’s door in Crown Heights, the first thing she offers you is a glass of rosé. The first thing you’ll notice about her is her impossibly shiny, blonde hair, which she protests if you bring up. “It’s not that shiny.”
What’s shinier is Ali herself. A tornado of good vibes and *the* chillest person you’ll ever meet, Ali freelances full-time for Dig Inn as their Head of Creative, producing the juiciest creative strategy to convince you to dig into a salad. On the side, she just launched Olio Club, part monthly dining club, part magazine. The equivalent of a kitchen sink salad - a little bit of everything. Produced on a whim with a good friend, Olio is a side project that encompasses everything Ali is - approachable, fun, thoughtful and vibrant.
Ali is on a mission to change the fabric of the workplace, to make good food accessible (even though she hates that word), and to prove that creative and data shouldn’t be separate worlds.
Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Edited for brevity.
Follow @olio.club on Instagram.
JT: So, you started Olio Club with a friend?
AF: Yeah, my friend Elie Anderson is one of the most talented designers I know. We got to know each other last year, and we loved connecting over food; we’d always go to really odd places together or make $6 risottos out of our pantries. It was so happenstance, it was almost like falling in love. “Oh, you want to do this?” and I was like “Yeah”.
You know when you’re falling in love and there’s that moment where you both look at each other and say, “oh.” We just started working on our first issue together almost as a joke, we were just writing stuff, taking photos and sharing with each other. I don’t think my expectation at the start was that we were going to start anything, it was just creating content. It grew beyond that, we both realized that we wanted a place to create that wasn’t bound by commercialism. We didn’t want to worry about whether or not it was going to make money for a company, or if it fit the brand mission, we were sick of that kind of stuff. I do consider myself lucky enough to be able to do creative work for money, but it still isn’t really yours, you don’t feel that close to it. We started working on it together and our relationship is more like “fuck it, let’s do it”.
JT: That’s awesome.
AF: Like, issue one definitely has typos.
JT: So there’s not really a strategy, you just do it if you feel like doing it?
AF: Yeah, it’s purely out of love and both of us just like to make real things. Everything I do is so digital; the writing is digital, so is the photography. I want something that I can hold in my hands that I made.
JT: Where did the name come from?
AF: I don’t really know. Okay, I do know. I desperately wanted to call the magazine Mulligan, which is a type of soup that’s made from whatever is in your fridge, since that’s what the magazine felt like, it felt like such a mish-mash. Everyone I ran the name past was like, “What? Like golf?” Mulligan is a golf term. I had no idea. Too many people said “oh, it’s a golf magazine?” I got wigged out and ended up changing it.
I didn’t want the name to be constraining, I didn’t want it to be too food-focused. For us, we didn’t want it to be super foodie and Olio actually just means “miscellaneous collection of things”, and it kind of sounds like olive oil. It really is what Olio is, it just feels like me and Elie on paper. It’s designed to be accessible, it’s not pretentious. We’re going to tell you about how to wing a $6 risotto from your fridge. We’ll do some technical pieces like interviews with a natural wine sommelier, so people can debunk what natural wine actually is.
JT: When I was in Australia, I used to drink McGuigan, the $5 bottle. That was my fucking favorite. Now I drink it and think, “this is the shittest wine in the world!”.
AF: That’s the reality, none of us really know anything, and we want to level the playing field when it comes to food. Food, to me, is an art form, it’s a connector, it’s not something that’s a status symbol, and we don’t think it should be. It’s more of an art journal with food being something that connects all the pieces in it.
JT: It’s funny you say that, I had a meeting with someone the other day, and they said, “everything in New York is made up.” Everyone just pretends that something is hot, and then it is. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, I think with food, there is something that’s really inaccessible.
AF: I know, it’s so like that! In New York, or anywhere, people are like. I drink my red wine cold because I don’t give a fucking shit. Red wine cold is how it should be! I don’t want to drink it hot. I think there’s so much kind of bullshit in food, and when you cut beyond it, it’s just a great experiential, creative thing.
JT: You’re reclaiming food for yourself and your friends.
AF: It’s just giving us the outlet to create exactly what we want. For a reason no other than that idea wanted to exist. Sometimes that idea just wants to exist.
JT: I feel like I have a lot of ideas but a lot of them don’t need to exist. How did you decide that this idea is what you would do?
AF: It certainly doesn’t need to exist. It just felt true. I don’t really have an answer as to why, I feel a constant need to self-express, which is why I also love clothes. I feel like there are too many clothes in the world and it’s unsustainable to be buying Zara, I’m not going to do that. But I love that what I wear every day is a reflection of my mood, it’s a reflection of what I’m interested in, and of my personality, I’m fairly tomboy in how I dress, so I’m always down to do a thing that’s active.
JT: I’m a 90’s hoe one day, and then I’m the most femme person in the world the next day.
AF: You saw what I was wearing when I came in. A baby-doll dress.
JT: What do you full time right now?
AF: I freelance full time. Right now, I’m doing creative direction work for Dig Inn, mostly in the digital and content sphere, which means all their photography, communication and overall brand vision and direction. So that’s the contract I’m on now, and beyond that, I think I’m gearing up to start my own creative studio.
JT: Was Olio your first foray into exploring that kind of life or being able to produce that kind of stuff?
AF: I was full time at Dig Inn. I left in 2017? So, since February 2017 to now I’ve now just been totally freelancing, nearly two years. I got the confidence to do that by going from Dig Inn. I had a three-month full time contract in-house with Bon Appetit, so I was writing, and doing production work there with their creative team, and I think that was the first step into the unknown world of supporting yourself.
It’s funny, I was having brunch with my friend’s mum and I was explaining what I was doing, and she said, “Fascinating. You have a job that’s really.” I was like, “nothing”. She’s like, “You made something out of nothing”.
Another reason I went freelance, was because I started my own company with my brother. It was baking kits that you could infuse at home with cannabis. It was gluten and refined sugar free. Edibles at the end of the day, are plants and medicine, and the way the industry was going, everything was a confection. If you’re actually dealing with cancer symptoms with weed, why are you eating candy? You shouldn’t be eating gluten or sugar or any of those acidic foods. We’re trying to sell that business now, although we still have the brand. I felt in order to be successful in that line of work, you need to be in LA to successfully pre-dose your stuff.
JT: Or it could just be setting up for when the market needs it here, once it’s legalized, because it could be a huge opportunity.
AF: For sure.
JT: Working long hours with full-time freelancing and doing Olio on the side is a lot. How do you get that energy?
AF: That’s a good question. I don’t even really know if for me it’s a choice, I know I’m not going to feel good unless I’m doing something that’s a reflection of myself. When you’re doing something for money, it’s going to change what the end result is. I always feel the need; I paint all the time, it’s relaxing to me. Olio is communal, so it’s not like I’m sitting alone at night tapping away at a computer. I’m meeting people around the city and trying new foods and cooking for ten of my friends at once. It’s not an isolated project, it gives me energy. More of a reason to socialize.
JT: It’s funny you say that, because this morning as I was contemplating coming here, there was a part of me that didn’t want to have to deal with shooting today because I was lazy. But then I realized, half the reason this is fun for me is because I do get to meet such cool people all the time. It’s more hanging out than a ‘work’ task.
AF: I was thinking about this the other night when Elie, my partner, came over. We made this amazing prosciutto and peach salad. I called it a ‘meeting’. I would say, “I got to go, I got a meeting with my partner”. Really I’m like, “lol, no, you’re just eating prosciutto with your friends.” The other thing is that while I was growing up, my parents have always run their own businesses. They have a big farm in Australia, and I was very involved in their lives. Work and life weren’t always separate things. I don’t feel right if my work is not a reflection of who I am. By doing things on the side, you’re manifesting what you do want to do with money, even if it’s not what you’re doing at exactly this moment.
JT: Do you think that you should monetize the thing you love?
AF: I think I’ve been a dilettante creatively my whole life; photography, writing, painting. I like them all but not one single one keeps me nourished enough to make me want to do that for the rest of my life. I think if I was to find the thing that genuinely made me so happy, and it was the only thing and clearly leading the pack, then I think I would try to monetize it. If I’m going to do something every day, I know it has to make me money otherwise it’s going to forever be competing for my time.
I consider myself an anti-capitalist, I will not be bought by things. I think once you make a certain amount of money that covers your actual literal needs, it doesn’t make you happy. For me, I’m never doing anything with the intent of being rich. With Olio, Elie and I love it so much and the reason it feels so natural is because it was genuinely born out of love.
I think with a lot of side hustles you go out with the intention to make money, and the editorial business is really tough. I don’t think either of us expect to make money. Already, we have hundreds of people coming to our launch event, people just feel it when something is done out of love. It’s just love, we love doing it.
Beyond that, it’s just nice to hold this thing in your hand that you made. The studio that I’m starting is called Playdate, and it is designed to make money, but I also want it to be this social experiment where everyone who I eventually hire is an owner of the business. It’ll be a community of artists, designers and makers who are trying to work together to do things that we love for money. It’s going to be experiential, I don’t believe in the way that businesses are run, which is why I’ve always rejected a corporate experience.
JT: How would you describe Playdate in one sentence?
AF: Playdate, on the backend is definitely a social experiment. How can you bring your whole self to work, how can what you do for money be different than other people? You can drink beer at your desk, you don’t have to wear shoes. You can be literally be whoever you want in your job, and that’s the back end experience. To support, nourish and encourage each other to grow. On the client facing end, it's definitely designed to fill a hole that I see in the creative industries.
A lot of businesses have a majority of their revenue operating online, and many businesses contract two agencies. One is creative, branding, qualitative and the other is metrics driven, actually driving traffic to product. Playdate is designed to be a ROI-generating creative studio. Everything we do is designed to grow a business using creative. It’ll be content marketing, digital marketing, but also the production of those assets. I don’t believe they should exist in isolation; data should inform creative and creative should support data.
JT: It shouldn’t be so demarcated.
AF: It just seems antiquated to me that they’re done in isolation so often. I saw a need to be able to have a business come to me and say, “Make somebody fall in love with my ethical cocoa.” And I’ll be like okay, cool, I’ll do that on every sense but I’ll also make that person buy your product and support your business. At this point it’s a very choosy model, I’m fortunate enough to be able to build this on the side where I have the freedom to grow it sustainably, and I don’t plan to work with anyone that I don’t personally like, and I don’t plan to work with anyone that I don’t believe their product shouldn’t exist in the world. I get to do things on my own terms.