“After my wife died a year and a half ago, my son Oliver got me to visit Autograph Brasserie one night—they became my family,” says artist Justin Snow about the upscale American restaurant in Wayne. Snow is one of dozens memorialized as a Carter silhouette on the walls of Autograph’s private dining room. In a comfy blue sport coat and khakis, he is among friends at the casual party. “I’m here four or five nights a week now.”
Carter silhouettes are hand-painted, colorful silhouettes and text portraits of favorite celebrities by Carter Kustera, a Canadian who now lives and works in New York City. The custom portraits are both reminiscent of traditional black silhouettes and wildly modern in creative combinations, patterns and tessellations, as well as his addition of “chyrons”—cheeky hand-written captions.
“The people on these walls built this business. They’re the reason we’re successful—they’re Fearless celebrities,” says Sydney Grims, daughter of Fearless Restaurants founder Marty Grims and creative director of the year-long silhouette project that came to fruition in November.
Fearless Restaurants, the family-owned and -operated restaurant group, was created when Sydney returned to the roost in 2016, by way of a Cornell hospitality degree and cutting her teeth on the Big Apple’s restaurant scene. She collected her father’s disparate restaurants under the single brand to give it a personality.
In 2021, Sydney decided to redo Autograph’s private upstairs dining room. The décor was so vanilla compared to the massive impact of the gilded and framed images of pop icons covering the main floor walls. “Art is one of the first things that I consider in décor,” she says. “When I thought of the Carter silhouettes, I knew I wanted to put our Fearless celebrities on these walls.”
What’s a year for a labor of love to celebrate 40 years of success, anyway? “Some people on the walls have been with us for 30 years—and we included team members of more than 10 years,” she says. “We’ve had over 25 restaurants on the Main Line since the ’80s. Fearless isn’t a chain or franchise—each one is unique.”
Yet when her project got started last spring, a lot of people didn’t want their profiles taken, never mind hung on a public wall. And most wanted to be left anonymous. “I don’t want my head on the wall,” some told Sydney. “Then Carter started a little nip and tuck on some—and one woman was really ticked. She didn’t want to be changed. So, he stopped doing it!”
People chose their own chyrons, the descriptive caption that speaks to who they are. Written in the artist’s hand, they feel fun and relatable, fitting in with Autograph’s iconic design.
Michael Tierney, a lawyer at Dillworth Paxson LLP admitted that he “doesn’t love” some aspects of his silhouette, but he was thrilled to be “on the wall.” His respect for the work of Marty and Sydney was obvious as he shared what he knew of their noteworthy success.
Jennifer and Robert Saionz of Wayne own Main Line Pizza. Their shop has been “feeding your family for three decades,” and they’ve been family friends with the Grims for just as long. Jennifer says, “We met Sydney’s father on the soccer field. We had just opened the pizza shop and, being in the same industry, we became friends.” The year was 1998, and Sydney’s brother and sister were three years old.
Jennifer and Robert remember Sydney wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps. “She has a whole young, fresh approach and Marty had the experience and contacts. But it’s always family first,” Jennifer says. Marty wanted Sydney to go out on her own instead of jumping into the family business. “They encouraged her to leave, to go to Cornell, get her own experience,” Jennifer says. “They’re all brilliant. Smart, think out of the box, generous… It’s cool to watch what Marty built become this great business with Sydney.”
In the days that have tried the best of us, it’s good to celebrate when a restaurant is more than a restaurant. “I never take our regulars for granted,” says Sydney. “My goal is to make everybody a regular.”
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