Every Friday afternoon, the staff at Helsinki-based creative studio Agency Leroy sit down together at lunchtime with steaming, home-cooked dishes, chilled glasses of wine, and cold, frosty beer. As the Finnish agency deals so regularly in restaurant branding and food styling—having worked with Nordic bakeries, local street food pop-ups, luxury kitchen utensil companies, and on numerous cookbooks—it’s only natural that the team develops a gastronomic craving by the end of the working week.
While Friday’s culinary interludes are a time for Agency Leroy to relax and unwind, cooking studio lunches together at the office is also a design exercise of sorts. They work together on everything from duck and sausage cassoulet to mixed meze with grilled eggplant, tahini, and spiced yogurt dip—plating food carefully and lining the dishes theatrically on the studio’s sturdy wooden tables.
“In cooking, as in design, it’s good to have a solid base of knowledge and references,” says Kenneth Nars, who works as food writer, stylist, and publisher at the company. Studio founder (and head chef) Janne Hänninen agrees. “I find Japanese food and design extremely interesting, as both are based on strict traditions, rules, and careful study, yet also seems almost invisible, only noticeable to the trained eye or connoisseur.”
This form of connoisseurship is also the predominant flavor of the company, which aims to “reduce clutter to emphasize core values.” Hänninen even calls the approach the “Royal Treatment,” an idea reflected in the studio’s name, “Leroy,” which comes from French “Le Roi,” meaning “The King.” At this point Agency Leroy has given the treatment numerous restaurants, for which it often works on both the branding and interior design.
“Restaurants are 90% about atmosphere and 10% about identity,” says Hänninen.
The best example of this balance in action might be Broda, a high-end bistro with a classic yet modern interior and a sharp logo with playful illustrations that act as the cherry on top.
Curating and crafting atmospheres has a lot to do with tapping into what’s authentic about the brand, something that Agency Leroy also considers when working on food still lifes. “It’s important not to plan everything to the tiniest detail, as things will change,” says Nars. “Something that looks great in real life might look gross through the lens, and visa versa. And having fun is important; a stiff set up will kill the dish in a second.”
A year ago, the studio established its own culinary magazine, Leon, so that it could experiment with the food genre in even more enticing and theatrical ways, without commercial constraints. Yet producing the publication has had positive commercial effects. “It’s opened the way to curious clients that want to build less stiff storytelling around their brands, who have realized the power of interesting stories instead of marketing taglines and other nonsense,” says Hänninen.
“Food touches everyone,” he continues. “It’s a fascinating red thread that bring all kinds of people to the table. Gastronomy can mean geeky laboratory experiments or nostalgic memories of times spent in the kitchen with loved ones. There’s endless, personal, rich stories to be told—through great design and in the magazine.”