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Meet Oliver English of Common Table Creative in Venice

Today we’d like to introduce you to Oliver English.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Oliver. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Growing up in the restaurant business, I have been immersed in the world of food since before I could even walk. My parents met at culinary school and when they went on to open their first restaurant, my mom ran the front of the house and my dad ran the kitchen. With little money for a nanny, I spent many of my early years in the restaurant – sleeping on banquets, interacting with guests, helping prepare food and watching the power of hospitality bring people together over a shared meal. Throughout the years, I went on to work nearly every job in the business, from dishwasher to line cook to manager; and eventually grew into a role designing, developing and opening restaurants in the US, Asia, Middle East, and the Caribbean.

Working in the global hospitality business showed me the great power of food around the world; the power to unify, connect and inspire people – to allow us to see our common humanity in one another. These experiences gave me a first-hand look at our global food system and how it interacts with all aspects of our lives, from our health to our environment, to social justice and matters of national security of migration. They also showed me the challenges our food system faces, and we, as a society, face as a result.

I began to meet with local farmers around the world to learn how climate change was impacting their crops and livelihoods. Through the lens of those meetings and the restaurant business overall, I began to see the negative impacts of our globalized food system – the ugly truths of worldwide goods shipping, the massive amounts of food waste, and the ever decreasing visibility of our farmers around the world. These experiences opened my eyes to the interconnected impacts of our food choices on our environment, health, and our communities.

Through my work in both the global food communities and my own, it became clear that many people in society, including many in my generation – the millennials – had not been accustomed to asking about nor knowing to ask about where their food came from, or how it was grown. If I, someone who grew up in the restaurant business and theoretically should be hyper-connected to food didn’t know to start asking questions until my mid 20’s, perhaps there were others who hadn’t thought about it either. We have grown up at a time in human history where ‘seasonal’ produce is available year-round at grocery stores. We eat out of boxes and bags full of ingredients we cannot pronounce. Most of us don’t see or interact or even associate our food with the farmers who grew it. Simply, we have become increasingly disconnected from our food.

After returning home from opening a restaurant abroad, my brother, Simon, a filmmaker, and I, got together and realized that a new kind of story needed to be told about our food system – a holistic story about food, farmers, our planet and one that spoke to the interconnected impact of agriculture and our food choices. In November of 2016, we began our documentary film, Feeding Tomorrow, with the goal of growing a more just and regenerative food system through education and inspiration. We interviewed innovators of positive food systems change, including farmers, entrepreneurs, and various organizations. (Feeding Tomorrow is set to be released at the end of 2019).

After meeting our team and seeing our work, these same innovators felt a deep sense of alignment with our values and vision and started asking us for help telling their stories to the world. They asked us for everything from 15-30 second videos for Instagram to 1-5 minute videos for their website or facebook. They were looking to control their narrative, generate awareness, raise funds, to showcase the positive impact they were making and to drive action. We recognized that there was a broader opportunity to help our friends and partners, to work together and collectively tell stories about the power of food, farming, and a new way of looking at the world.

In 2018, Common Table Creative was born. Our three co-founders, Jamer & Simon and I had been living together in NYC for several years. In the Fall of 2017, we quit our jobs, packed up our apartment in the East Village and headed west. I left the restaurant business but brought with me a deep passion for food and a drive to learn more about our food system and to educate people around the world.

Jamer Bellis is a passionate and talented storyteller, poet and former plant biology major. Before we came together to launch CTC, he was running sales operations for Zoc Doc and then WeWork. Jamer had been looking for ways to build community and help small impact based businesses succeed and flourish. Simon English studied film at the New York Film Academy and helped launch two fashion startups in NYC. Simon is a talented cinematographer, editor, colorist, and drone operator. A passionate environmentalist, Simon recognizes the need to work with small businesses and innovators in the food world to advance a positive, holistic narrative around food and environmental justice. As a team with diverse professional backgrounds and experiences, we each bring our unique passions and dynamic skill sets to our company.

After leaving New York, we spent a month driving across the country, filming and speaking with people from all different states. We learned intimately about their challenges and excitement for the future. Throughout our journey, we stocked a “food box” with everything we needed to stop off and cook a meal to avoid any fast or processed food options. Our food box consisted of rice, beans, baguettes, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, olive oil, cutting boards, knives, coffee, and tea. In each town we stopped in, we bought fresh fruits and vegetables to cook every few days. These frequent stops allowed us to see first hand what the food options looked like throughout the country.

When we finally settled into our home office in Venice Beach, CA, we began to grow our community in the best way we knew how, through food. Our dinner series bring young, passionate and creative professionals together around a table to discuss the power of our food choices. These shared meals are the physical manifestation of the messages and values we speak about in our films.

We are now growing our own plants, like kale and fresh herbs, in our ‘Common Table Front Yard Farm’, the official name of the little patch of land in the front of our Venice beach house- a reminder to all and to ourselves that a little land goes a long way. So we must take care of it, cherish it and water it with the knowledge and passion we share for food, social justice, our planet and each other.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Definitely not! Now a year and a half in we are starting to hit our groove. Having uprooted our lives on the east coast, it took time to get settled and to build our business. We hit many walls in the beginning – trying to help small companies and entrepreneurs that couldn’t afford to pay us. We tried for over a year to raise money for our documentary from foundations – only to be told no over and over. There were many months when we just barely – barely – made rent. In those months we ate a lot of rice & beans. A lot.

However we never gave up, never stopped believing. We kept pushing, kept working hard and eventually started to get hired. We raised money for our documentary from two leading plant-based food companies. We started to host more dinners, which helped us build an inspiring community of food, environmental and social justice partners. We began to find our allies in this great food movement, began to take root in our community. The entrepreneurs, food companies, and nonprofits, we started working with got incredible feedback about the films we created for them and began to hire us again. We are now proud of the breadth and quality of our friends and partners.

Please tell us about Common Table Creative.
We are on a mission to grow a more just and regenerative world through storytelling. We create films and hospitality experiences that drive grassroots change. We believe that Films – both short and long form – and Hospitality Experiences are two of the most impactful and effective means of soft power. Soft Power is the ability to attract rather than coerce and has the capacity to shape the preferences and actions of others.

We work with our partners to leverage the art of soft power to generate awareness and drive people to action – at the ballot box and the register. We only work with organizations and people who share our vision for creating a more just and regenerative world. From innovative food companies to NGOs, our partners share our passion for social impact and environmental justice.

Short form Films – We create short form films that hi-light the power of food. Our films are used for generating awareness, educate and inspire people. We generally create films between 1-5 minutes and also create social media focused films (ranging from 15 & 30 seconds to 1 minute) and are about to release our first 10-minute short film hi-lighting a German Citizen and Farmer Demonstration. Some hi-lights include Kimbal Musk’s nonprofit The Big Green, Summit Series LA, Erewhon Market Organic Grocers, & IFOAM Organics International.

Impact Documentaries – We are currently in post-production of our first feature documentary, Feeding Tomorrow. We are exploring how to grow a more just and regenerative world, and educating people about the power of their food choices. We are excited to have the support of two of the most innovative plant-based food companies in the US. You can see a short teaser on our website and we look forward to the release later in 2019.

Hospitality Experiences – We run a plant-based pup on dinner series out of our home in Venice and also collaborate with larger food and beverage brands to produce and film dinners and experiences around conscious eating and community. We have recently worked with Sweetgreen, The Big Quiet, Imperfect Produce and Goldthreads Tonics.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Hands down, going up to visit my grandmother, Noma, in Camden, Maine! Every year, we would make the journey from Boston as a family. Our entire experience was centered around food. We would go to the market, cook and eat together. Every time we sat down to eat, we would talk about the food and then start planning the next meal. There is something so simple and special about Nomas pasta, her salads, and her, well, everything.

My grandmother always had a plentiful stash of cookies and milk at the ready. She would even head up two (ok, sometimes 3) batches of fresh warm chocolate chip cookies per day. Can’t beat that. When we weren’t eating, I would spend hours upon hours on the rock beach building forts, fires and throwing rocks with my brother Simon. Once or twice a summer we would do an old-school clam bake on the rock beah – big fire pits, lobster caught right in the harbor that day. Above all, we took the time to slow down and spend time together as a family.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Oliver English (@Oliver_English), Simon English (@Simon__English), Jamer Bellis (@Jamerbellis), Patrick German

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