Customers buy more than food at the Staghead Gastropub. They’ve also developed an appetite for restaurant owner Danielle Flicek’s food paintings, which decorate the walls.
The paintings are so popular – especially her lobsters and morels ‑ that Flicek had some of their favorites reproduced as quality prints people can purchase and take home. Many of her originals also have gone home with customers.
Right now Flicek is trying to balance work, family and art in order to prepare some new oil paintings for “Sustenance,” an exhibition that opens Aug. 27 at the Anderson Center.
The exhibit is all about food – a subject that is near and dear to Flicek’s heart.
Food even played a significant role in the romance that led to her marriage to John Flicek.
Danielle, who grew up in Harmony, Minn., was managing Jasper’s restaurant in Rochester. “We needed help” mastering an important visual element of the food service business: Plating.
She asked John, the chef at ZZest restaurant, for help.
“That was the first thing I liked about him,” Flicek said – his plating skills.
“I started thinking about food photography,” she said. She began taking photos of his plating and kitchen scenes then creating paintings of the images.
Fruits and vegetables are her favorites, Flicek said. “I like the organic shapes and patterns, the shading, the contrast, the colors.” Sometimes she ties her food paintings to menu items that are served at the Staghead.
Restaurant customers like them, she believes, because “They can connect.”
A painter since childhood, Flicek fell in love with oils and began doing painting commissions while she was still in high school. As an adult she worked in restaurant management and at a frame shop, where she learned additional skills that are helpful to an artist.
She and her husband bought and reopened Red Wing’s Staghead in 2014. They had two sons, now 9 and 5, and for a few years the combination of work and family didn’t allow for much else.
“For a while there was not enough time to paint,” she said.
That changed when the pandemic hit in spring of 2020. The restaurant closed for a while, and suddenly, “I had the time to paint.” In addition, her commission work became a source of revenue.
People began contacting her to do special paintings. Word spread that she was skilled at creating portraits from wedding or engagement photographs and family photos of loved ones who had passed away.
“I think there’s more soul in a painting” than a photograph, Flicek said. “It brings more emotion and depth. You get a more artistic touch. Paintings are one of a kind.”
Right now, she added, she has 15 commissions in the works – enough that it’ll probably take her until 2023 to finish, even though she is trying to paint for six hours each day when she’s not working.
“We’re so short-staffed,” she explained, especially since college students who worked at the restaurant over the summer are now returning to school.
Finishing new works for the Anderson Center show has been challenging, but she completed four food paintings and is working on more.
Given the chance, Flicek said, “Food painting is what I would do. It’s a personal preference – it’s one of my passions. I can zone out.”
She is working exclusively in oils, partly because she can paint for a while, leave to take care of some other responsibility, then come back and paint some more while it’s still wet.”
Painting at home has its own unique problems, Flicek said. Early on, “My youngest painted over a couple of wedding portraits. They learned never to touch mom’s paints. They’re really good about it now.”
Flicek’s goal is to become a full-time painter focusing on food art.
“I have endless ideas that I want to do.”
She’ll be happy to answer questions about her art during the opening reception from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, in the Main Gallery at the Anderson Center.