Smugglers' Inn started as a theme restaurant in Blaine, Minnesota and has become, if not a legitimate advertising agency, then a viable agency alternative with two dedicated ad employees, Carol Henderson, art director and Jarl Olsen, copywriter. Read the whole saga in these posts or click the pirate to follow the entertaining tweets of our dishwasher, Pongo. Who may or may not be an orangutan.!/PongoTryHard

Monday, December 20, 2010

Smugglers’ Inn. As seen in THE TIMES.

Toby Barlow, CCO at Team Detroit, mentioned the two of us by name when he was interviewed by the New York Times about the 2011 Ford Explorer launch that was conducted on Facebook. No, he didn’t say, “Smugglers’ Inn rules!” and, to be honest, there were some other freelancers mentioned who had also worked on this project. Still, we think we left more than our share of shiny pennies in the Team Detroit fountain. Judge for yourself. While we’re thinking of it, Smugglers’ Inn likes Toby Barlow’s creepy-cool novel, “Sharp Teeth”, available everywhere in paperback. (There, Sir Toby, our bargain is CONCLUDED.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abbey Road, meet Madison Avenue.

“JWT New York is the Coldplay of ad agencies. No other advertising agency or media concern can make that statement, at least not until 2014.” This is according to counsel for the WPP Group, the holding company that owns JWT New York and several hundred other agencies who was celebrating the impending deal with his staff at McSorley’s Tavern in Greenwich Village.

Advertising agencies have long sought to connect their client’s products with consumers through music, but now they’re paying to align their own names with popular artists.

“How do you put a price on the Beatles?” asks Malachi Galpers of EMI, owners of the Beatles recordings, before answering his own question. The price for the Beatles endorsement, Mr. Galpers informs us, is 184 million dollars. A trifle, when compared to the price reportedly thrown out by the second-most famous band in Rock and Roll when they were approached about lending their name to an ad agency. That word begins with a “B”. As in “billion”. Any Beatles deal, if one is completed, will not include rights to any of the group’s songs, but the purchasing agency would be entitled to unlimited use of a “stinger” of up to eight notes, although this could not be from “Norwegian Wood”. Mr. Galpers maintains that interest among agencies has been “serious”, but at that price, the list of potential buyers would probably be quite short.

What kicked off this sudden rush for rock’n roll cred appears to have been one article in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune that referred to local ad professionals Jarl Olsen and Carol Henderson as “The White Stripes of Advertising”. Their two-person business, Smugglers’ Inn, bested every other shop in town by getting two campaigns in the Communication Arts Advertising Annual, prompting the comparison to alt-rock’s beloved brother-sister act.

“We had decided against entering any award shows,” says Henderson, “but we decided to make an exception for CA. They are the class act of awards shows.

“It doesn’t hurt that their entry fees are a fraction of those asked by other shows. I mean, $1,500 to enter a spot in Cannes? Get me in that business.”

Smugglers’ Inn has no intention of making their association with the White Stripes—or any other band official.

“We were sort of mystified by the White Stripes comparison, to be honest,” confesses Henderson. “I mean, it was flattering and everything, but look at us. We’re not hipsters. We aren’t even skinny. Everyone in town hates us now.”

Surely, I asked, it was a boon to be compared to rock stars for free when your competitors are paying big money for those same associations. Shouldn’t this be a windfall for Smugglers’ Inn?”

“No client that would pick two people who shop at Target over an agency with a couple hundred million in billings and a three-story office full of skinny people (*weight seems to be a theme today-jgt) would be impressed with a paid celebrity endorsement. The only reason we’ve been able to have fun with the work is because our clients haven’t insisted their customers aren’t dumber than they were. We aren’t snobs; we don’t turn down lots of business or anything, but we can’t work for fools.”

Olsen explains:

“Smugglers’ Inn refuses to do business with anyone who couldn’t name three state capitols if they had a banana pointed at their head. It’s our law."

Good to know if you’re a client shopping for an alternative to a free-spending agency. To keep up with the latest from the White Stripes of Advertising, visit

Albany, Pierre, Sacramento.

--Jordan Gossich-Taber, Media Pulse

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Smugglers’ Inn reaches out after embarrassing award show performance.

By Trinity Rosen-Scharff, staff writer, Minneapolis Small Business Journal.

“We knew we had to do something. The flowers are our way of saying, “Thanks for not hiring us,” says Jarl Olsen, chief creative officer and partner of Smugglers’ Inn. “I mean, if we would have been freelancing for these places, any one of them might have a couple of clever campaigns in CA instead of us.”
The CA Mr. Olsen was referring to was Communication Arts. For thirty-five years, this publication has hosted a juried competition to determine the most creative advertising done anywhere in the world in the past year. Selections are published in the CA Advertising Annual and enter the archive of great advertising stretching back several decades. The Minnesota ad agencies, many of which dominated CA in decades past, will be conspicuously under-represented this time—with the exception of tiny Smugglers’ Inn.

“There’s just the two of us here, see,” informs Carol Henderson, co-chief creative officer and partner. “All of these are going out to shops with a hundred or more employees.”
Henderson gestured to two rows of flower boxes lined up along one wall of the cramped Smugglers Inn headquarters in Saint Paul. Taped to each box was a note card adorned with a sticker of either a teddy bear or a glittering cartoon horse with long eyelashes. As the mother of a six-year-old girl, I recognized “Pretty Pony”.
“One for boys, one for girls?” I ventured.
“Kind of,” said Henderson. “The Pretty Ponies go to gatekeepers, mostly women, who will be more likely to hire us after our good showing in a major awards show. The teddy bears…”
“Go to the creative directors,” finished Olsen. “They'll be bitter and resentful, since we’ve outperformed the creative staffs that they’ve hired.”
“What Jarl means,” Henderson was quick to clarify, “is that we want to show our solidarity with all members of our Twin Cities advertising community. Smugglers’ Inn is about community. We are a people agency.”
“Yes! We are into people,” agreed Olsen, reacting to a swift jab to his ribs. “We don’t need our brothers and sisters to feel bad just because we beat them in one awards show. That’s why we plan on entering more awards shows—OUCH!”
Interview concluded, Smugglers’ Inn insisted I not leave without taking a flower arrangement. “Take a Pretty Pony,” Ms. Henderson said. “We have too many of them—and the others have bugs.”
Creative people! We’re all such scamps.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September is "Talk Like A Fancy Pirate© Month."

After 112 days, the nightly blame-fest that was the Deepwater oil disaster finally seems to be over, revealing what a slow season for news it really has been. Like all Americans, we were transfixed by the eerie online spectacle of thousand of barrels of crude oil escaping from a broken pipe a mile below the ocean’s surface.

For about two minutes. If you’re like us, you logged on long enough to get the general idea (worst ecological disaster of our time), then watched for another ninety seconds just to make sure that a great white wasn’t going to appear from that petroleum smokestack and attack the camera in typical “Shark Week” fashion.

As a theme restaurant of the nautical kind, Smugglers’ Inn is understandably concerned about the impact the spill will have on the industry that supplies us with half the ingredients in our Surf ‘n Turf.

As an ad agency AND theme restaurant, part of us feels compelled to crack jokes in the face of doom.

It must be the biggest part, because Smugglers’ Inn has declared September, “Talk-Like-A-Fancy-Pirate© Month”.

It’s kicky! It’s kewl! It beats “BP Apology Month” or “More Moaning about the Economy Month.”

Try these phrases in Fancy Pirate©, then make up your own.

”RRR you sure you can’t hear Freddy Mercury under this spot for Michelle Bachmann?”

“Keep the parrot? Lose the parrot?”

”Bugger the cost! And the horse he rode in on!”

“Well, blow me down if ‘taint so! Or, if it’s Thursday.”

“Avast! Hole opens in my heart me when I realize that another agency registered a unicorn app.”

Well, your pals at Smug’s just got word that we have a couple of campaigns in the upcoming CA annual. Who-hoo! Come November, these tables will be filled and we may even have another client who doesn’t pay in Confederate money. Until then, “Aye! Think we’re available…and that eye patch is you!”

The Beginning of The End.

June 11 is a day we will always remember. I don’t need to remind anyone what happened on that date in Belgrade in 1903. It’s the story of what went down 106 years and one week later that I’ve come to relate. June 12, 2009: The day when it all turned to lobster poop at Smugglers’ Inn.
To be fair, the whole buccaneer theme seafood restaurant concept may have been on the wane for some time. Possibly 21 or 22 years. We got a big bump in 2001 with Pirates of the
Carribean, and when Pirates 2 came out in 2008. Pirates 3 (did anyone see pirates 3?) didn’t do anything for us, though. But you should have seen the place in the day. When Smug’s opened in ’72, business was gangbusters and we were printing money for most of the 70’s and early 80’s. In '76 we stumbled a bit when we redesigned our menu to take advantage of the bicentennial.Renaming the surf ‘n turf to the “One if by land, two by sea” just confused everybody; I was forever having to answer some wise-ass who wanted to know where his second lobster tail was. Customers! Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t hock lugies on their oysters. All right, so our gross was nothing like it had been. Our food costs were a respectable 32%. We were viable. Then, we got a visit from “The ‘Stache.”

If you think that you can operate a kitchen in this day and age hiring only graduates from your junior college food sciences program, you’re sadly, pathetically mistaken. Our old health inspector understood that.Our old health inspector would never have asked our prep cook what table he used to determine safe cooking times for pork. At least, he would have known enough not to ask in English.
That the new health inspector sported some of the most unsettling facial hair since Frida Kahlo is not the only reason he was hateful, but it did look like one of those fuzzy caterpillars had started crawling across his lip and died there. Not content to merely site us for 24 separate code violations ranging from an unplugged refrigerator to dirty fingernails, Captain Mold Spore thought it would be merry fun to invite his friends from ICE over. So, on Saturday night, our busiest time, we were visited by two SUV-loads of people whose civil service test score wasn’t high enough to let them be cops or firemen.
Can I say that I consider myself a people person? I believe in people. When someone tells me that their name is Dick Cheney, I assume that they just happen to have the same name as the then vice president. I do not say, “Gee, how come it says “Paco” on your neck?” Who could have known that my head cook was a member of the MS 13 street gang? Or that the broiler chef had wounded a U.S. Customs agent in Calexico, California? It just goes to show how little you really know people.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Reviews

P. Lundquist

Archive Magazine

First, let’s just say that the Anoka County Shopper is not the New York Times and their “Mystery Diner” is no mystery at all. His name is Peter Lundquist and he’s the editor of said paper and writes all the content of that paper, such that it is. He is Lindsay Cheltenham-Pierce, the social editor. He is “The Movie Hound” (FYI, Pete, it’s “Sundance” not “Sun Dance”). For a fat person, Peter is spread pretty thin.
Which still doesn’t completely excuse said editor re-publishing a years-old review of our restaurant days before Valentine’s Day.
Pete loved our justifiably famous clam chowder, but thought our blackened redfish a bit “over-blackened”. He found our wine list “small, but with all the must-haves” meaning we had Blue Nun, his personal go-with-everything favorite. This review matched almost word-for-word one that appeared in the Shopper in 1999. The main difference was that, in review, we were given three water towers, but this time around Mr. Lundquist—sorry,“The Mystery Diner”--thought we merited only two water towers.

We’re not bitter. We would, however, like to point out a few things to our distinguished reviewer. First, Blue Nun barely qualifies as wine. The only reason it was ever carried was because our supplier used to throw in a free case with our liquor order. That, and people from Blaine order it.

Secondly, we haven’t had blackened redfish on our menu since 1999. It’s a protected fish. We kept it on the menu for a year or so afterwards, but it was blackened cod. True confession. Other than the fact that we have sold our restaurant to make an ad agency, you’re review was spot-on, and one which your readers can glean much valuable information from, should they find themselves sucked into a wormhole and come out at the end of the last century. Pete, where have you been? We’re a new concept now. When people show up, we’ll still feed them, but we’re primarily serving up ad campaigns these days.

The other review? Archive magazine chose our “Crosses” campaign for Children, Youth and Family Services of New Mexico to be published in their review of the best creative in the world. It’s the third time they’ve featured a Smugglers' Inn campaign this year. It’s not four water towers in the Anoka County Shopper, but we’ll take it.