Work of Missoula artist adorns HuHot franchises around the country

2005-04-17T00:00:00Z Work of Missoula artist adorns HuHot franchises around the countryBy JAMIE KELLY of the Missoulian missoulian.com
April 17, 2005 12:00 am  • 

Sit down at any HuHot Mongolian Grill restaurant in the United States, and you've got a special guest: Laura Blaker's dragon.

Savor your meal also with a contortionist. A juggler. A two-bodied beast.

Whatever you choose, you can be sure you'll get a complimentary side dish of probing eyes - the eyes of a warrior, the eyes of a horse. Snake eyes, even.

And always there is a dragon. In fact, if there's one thing that's consistent about Blaker's creations, it's the omnipresence of the big, fire-breathing brute.

"I put a dragon in every restaurant," said Blaker, a Missoula graphic artist and painter who has worked on multiple sets for the Missoula Children's Theatre.

In each of HuHot's 11 franchise restaurants is an original, hand-painted mural filled with Blaker's imagination. The restaurant chain opened its first store in Missoula in 1999 (then called Mongos Mongolian Grill) and will add five more franchises this summer alone, from Michigan to Iowa to Texas.

Part of the contract with franchisees is the inclusion of Blaker's exquisite murals, which average about 600 square feet in size. HuHot didn't want to discuss Blaker's fee specifically, but it's in the multiple thousands of dollars.

Not that the fee is a concern with entrepreneurs, said Molly Vap, HuHot's director of franchise development. Blaker's art is central to HuHot's look and brand identity.

"It is such an essential part of the image," said Vap. "It's like a McDonald's and its arches. When you think of the franchise, it sticks with it. They know the dragon is in every HuHot."

Blaker approaches each new restaurant as a fresh exercise in art. She does stick to a basic color scheme - oranges, reds, greens, purples - strong, bold colors that bring to mind ancient Asia and Mongolian mythology.

That color scheme is no accident, said Vap.

"If you use bad colors, that can create a bad appetite even," she said. "This is more like trying to create a hip atmosphere. We wanted it to be an Asian atmosphere, but not too overwhelming. We wanted a little more originality with it."

But color considerations aside, the creations are limited only to Blaker's imagination and what she's studied of Mongolian culture and traditions.

"The characters are all very graphic," said Blaker, a 1979 graduate of the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver. "It's worked out well because every restaurant I go to, each has different shapes. I have all these characters I've come up with."

Blaker typically does a lot of work ahead of time before she begins the actual job of painting her murals. She studies floor plans of the future restaurant and then sketches out her ideas. By the time she shows up, she already knows what she'll transfer to the walls of the restaurant.

"I have all my drawings with me," she said. "It's becoming an art just knowing what I'm doing. I get them to send me a floor plan and all the measurements. I'd do my drawings ahead of time and take them with me."

Transforming the drawing into a completed wall mural takes about six hours, depending on the size of the project, said Blaker. And these days, it seems like each new mural is getting bigger.

"Some of the restaurants are massive," she said. "Each time I go in, it's more space. The last one I did was 750 square feet."

Massive too is the workload ahead for Blaker. HuHot plans to nearly triple the number of franchises in the next 18 months - including the possibility of the first overseas HuHot.

It's quite the job for somebody who was approached six years ago to do a sole painting for one restaurant.

"Nobody knew it would be like this," said Blaker. "Nobody knew it would be so crazy."

Entertainer editor Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on Missoulian.com

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian (Missoulian.com) may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in Missoulian.com's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on missoulian.com.

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Search our events calendar