Indulge & Bloom's quirky owners survive strange lawsuit, brighten Laurel Village
It's not often you hear a pair of Downtown business proprietors describing themselves as "down-homey mom and pop with an urban hard edge," but that's the sort of twisted adjectival concoction you need to capture the spirit of Indulge & Bloom's Ed Piechowski and Raed Kakish.
Imagine that "The Odd Couple's" Felix Unger had teamed not with a sloppy, slovenly sportswriter, but with his own finicky twin, and you get some conception of what it's like to be Ed and Raed (pronounced "Rod"), partners in Indulge & Bloom, a floral shop at 1320 Hennepin Ave.
"We've been seen bickering in public over the petty things," Piechowski said, grinning as Kakish finished the sentence, "... while hanging flowers from chandeliers."
It's a facet customers have seen "too often," both agree.
Not that they're apologizing, perhaps sensing that such talk-show bitchiness is part of their allure -- along with the fancy Danish abracadabra roses, Hawaiian proteas, orange kangaroo paws, orchids and other exotic flowers. Piechowski in particular is unabashedly gossipy, offering a visitor a detailed description of closet contents at a Newport (R.I.) mansion where they once did an expensive wedding's floral arrangements.
Here's a typical Piechowski-Kakish exchange, offered while recounting how their business came to be:
Kakish: "So we actually produced the store and people just starting coming in and falling in love with it, and it was amazing."
Piechowski: "Oh, you make it sound romantic. It wasn't!"
But that's jumping ahead of the story.
Of flowers and follicles
Of the two, Kakish is the flower man. His partner calls him "a floral genius," an expert in "the mechanics of flowers."
In the mid-1990s, Kakish had a big job, coordinating holiday floral arrangements for grocery stores, gift shops and flower shops over a five-state area for the Koehler & Dramm wholesaler.
"On a given holiday," Kakish said, "we would do anywhere from 6,000 arrangements to 10,000 arrangements. And I would oversee this entire production and make sure it went to where it needed to go. I would create all the prototypes and essentially sell everything."
And then, he said, "Edward and I got together."
It was an unlikely pairing. Piechowski was a hair stylist at the time ("My background is kind of creative inspiration," he offered), and the pairing likely never would have happened save for his gabbiness.
Because he is so chatty, Piechowski often would dish with his hair clients, sometimes discussing their plans for parties and events. With his obvious creative flair, customers would sometimes recruit him to help out with decorating and setting up tables at banquets and weddings.
One such assignment led Piechowski to wander into Kakish's workplace. Piechowski needed holiday greens and Kakish helped find them.
"It was about my third day there," Kakish said, "and this guy looked lost. I said, 'Can I help you?'"
Afterward, the men started chatting. That conversation led to their partnership.
With Kakish's floral expertise and Piechowski's society contacts from his hair clients and his friends at the Woman's Club (he says he is the last active male member there), the recipe for a successful business was already written. In 1997, they took the leap.
After stops in an Uptown basement and a seedy northeast Minneapolis warehouse, the pair moved their business, then known as Art in Bloom, to the current space at the Laurel Village complex.
They were there about 18 happy months when the hammer dropped.
A blooming lawsuit
One day in 1999, Kakish and Piechowski were preparing to participate in a Minneapolis Institute of Arts fundraiser -- known, like their business, as "Art in Bloom" -- when Kakish spied an envelope amid a pile of mail. The return address was Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand.
"I thought, 'Oh it's an accountant,' and I already have an accountant," Kakish said. "So I just sort of brushed all this aside thinking it's junk."
The duo attended the weekend Art in Bloom event, at which they donated flowers and gift items for a silent auction. On Monday, Kakish returned to work and opened that letter.
"It's like, 'Oh my God! We're being sued by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts!'" Kakish said, Piechowski cackling behind him.
"There we were [at the MIA's "Art in Bloom"], saying hi to everyone who was suing us," Piechowski said.
They detected nothing unusual at all about their MIA weekend, the men said. "That was the surprising thing about it," Piechowski said, adding conspiratorially, "It was all very civilized."
It's funny now, because the business survived, but at the time it was no laughing matter. The art institute sued the store and Kakish and Piechowski individually, claiming that use of the name Art in Bloom was creating public confusion. The institute defended itself by telling StarTribune columnist Doug Grow that it was a nonprofit relying on public fund-raising, and the men's business was tapping into a shallow well.
For their part, Piechowski and Kakish insist the name did not create confusion, and initially tried to have the suit dismissed. That failed; more than $80,000 in legal expenses nearly put an end to their business and their partnership. They were committed to renting the Laurel Village space for six years, and they were nearly drained of funds to pay rent.
"After a year and a half we were just, 'We're not changing our name,'" Kakish said. "We couldn't afford to. We were too invested," said Piechowski.
In the end, they were forced to relent, altering their business name to Indulge & Bloom. The settlement was amicable in the end, and they have continued to participate in the subsequent MIA "Art in Bloom" events.
They've also continued to thrive as a place to buy exotic flowers or stroll through the airy lime-green-and-fuchsia gift area to stock up on skin scents, fancy Waterford crystal, potted bamboo plants, or little belly-button strobe lights.
While the loss of several neighborhood businesses has cost the store some of its foot traffic, word-of-mouth has created a client base of Downtown corporate clients, people living near the lakes in Southwest Minneapolis, and residents of Loring Green, St. Louis Park, Wayzata and Minnetonka.
In particular, Kakish said, the word is out that the guys are great at arranging wedding flowers.
"It's a great client base," Kakish said. "A lot of phone clients have never seen the store but have seen the arrangements and want them. It's amazing to know how many clients have never been here."
Piechowski has a theory on that. Their little public spats aside, he thinks he and Kakish exude a sense of the enthusiasm they bring to their work, their sense of adventure and willingness to depart from the norms of floral arrangement. He thinks what people are picking up on is their love for their labors.
"We're fortunate because we love what we do and somehow other people enjoy it also," said Piechowski. "Most of our connections are based on the fact that people realize we're doing what we enjoy doing."