UD grad briefs Tech Forum on launching successful art firm

Flip-discs make up Breakfast’s latest installation at the wndr museum in Chicago.

By Roger Morris
Special to Delaware Business Times

After Andrew Zolty, 38, graduated from the University of Delaware in 2002 with a BFA degree in visual communication, he spent the next eight years working for 15 different agencies before he and two colleagues formed their own – simply called “Breakfast” – based on an unusual business plan:

  • “We decided we would not take any money [from investors],” he says, “and we wouldn’t chase clients;”
  • “We would not pay ourselves well for at least three years, remaining very small,” and
  • “We would always do side projects between whatever client work we would get.”

Things have worked out better than planned, Zolty reported at a recent breakfast meeting about Breakfast held by the Tech Forum of Delaware at the Marriott Courtyard in Newark. This was Zolty’s first visit back to his old stomping grounds.

Zolty boasts that he’s a product of his University of Delaware education, which he said created an “epic relationship’ among the 17 students who worked with their professors on creative projects. “It helped us evolve a mentality of how to work,” he said. “We weren’t allowed just to drag our feet through something. We were taught that the quality of presentation was always important.”

In its 10th year, Breakfast operates with only seven employees. Luster, its subsidiary, which acts as a cash generator by producing hashtag mosaics, flip-disc displays and hashtag printers, has serviced dozens of companies from Instagram to IBM, McDonald’s to Mercedes, Cadillac to Coca-Cola. Last year, it achieved 1.5 billion impressions for these clients.

Zolty and his colleagues can now concentrate on one or two big projects a year, which the Brooklyn-based firm describes as “bespoke functional art” created by “a studio of multidisciplinary designers and engineers that conceive, design, and fabricate high-tech contemporary art installations and sculptures.”

These one-of-a-kind pieces are customized for each client and installed in lobbies, airports and other large spaces.

The origin of the Breakfast name, Zolty said, has nothing to do with the morning meal but instead a mashup of the founders original mantra, “Break things quickly” or “break fast. He said the firm began shifting its direction  toward permanent architectural and museum art two years ago.

In 2015, Zolty got the idea for an installation involving color-changing, spinning spools of thread. The finished project, paid for by the Forever 21 fashion company, involves 6,400 mechanical spools of thread that rapidly rotate through 36 colors to display posted Instagram photos from around the world. It weighs 2,000 pounds and stands 13 feet tall.

Breakfast’s current project, introduced in late October, is Brixel™ and is awaiting a sponsor, most likely an architectural firm, as it combines art and construction. Brixel is essentially a wall-sized façade of individual, brick-shaped pieces – mirrors, wood panels – that rotate at high speeds in either direction with interactive pixels that mimic movements of anyone who approaches it. Zolty got the idea from watching late afternoon shadows of commuters projected on a fence railing at a commuter train station.

“When someone sees our works, we want them to say the word ‘mesmerizing,’” Zolty said. “We want our work to be smart, playful for people of all ages, and we don’t want to make them jump through hoops” to enjoy the experience.

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