Morning Person: Nick Sambrato
Header photo by Bryan Soderlind.
Nick Sambrato never set out to be a printer, but he promises he’ll never stop doing it. A speaker at our Orlando chapter, Nick is a bit of a Jack of all trades, and is passionate about the work that he does. He owns Mama’s Sauce, works at Fiction, and lives in Winter Park, Florida.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Nick a little while back about how he got into the printmaking business and what’s keeping him there.
CreativeMornings: I want to start off by asking you a bit about how you started Mama’s Sauce, something you spoke a bit in your CreativeMornings talk.
Nick: I never set out to be a printer or own a print studio or be an artisan. I set out to be a entrepreneur. It’s where I came from. Both my parents were children of immigrants, making them the hustling type. I watched them make it on their terms. I was always destined, not necessarily for printing or creative arts, but for doing things on my own.
I tried a lot of stuff. I’ve had more jobs than girls I’ve kissed. I worked at a pet shop on a beach, spent some summers roofing, did property management, a million things, but I was always doing my own thing on the side. The start of Mama’s Sauce was a byproduct of a record label I started with a good friend. On the side, I acquired a small digital print shop that serviced independent touring bands.
Photo by Bryan Soderlind.
We ended up selling the label, but I kept the printshop. I took an interest in the it and ended up merging it with a screen-printing business, which exposed me to what printing really was. I fell in love with mixing inks. We tried to run everything at once, but quickly realized that the digital shop wasn’t good for our brand, so we shut it down. Next thing we knew, we went full forward with what Mama’s Sauce became—spot-color, letterpress, and screen print. All artisan. All hand-made.
CM: Do you remember what was the first thing to come out of Mama’s Sauce?
Nick: Absolutely! I can remember all the early people who trusted us with their brand and I remember the people that we let down and the people who were gracious with us and the successes.
It just so happened that my first paid letterpress job on the Kluge was for my friend Chris Heavener. His brother, Chase, who owns Fiction, wanted to film us making his cards. The pressure was on.
So here I am, printing my first job, for a guy who knows what he’s doing and a guy filming it—and the cards actually came out really well, but the video came out even better. I remember the excitement when it went online. It was the birth of a friendship and so much more. The next day the video was a Vimeo Staff Pick! What the heck, the doors were immediately opened to so many things.
Not a testament necessarily to my skill set, but to relationships, the power of viral videos, and people’s interests at the time. We were very fortuitous. It was the DSLR boom, the craft movement. All these things just lined up and I was honestly just really lucky. It propelled us forward.
We ran into a lot of problems early on. We had no system. We had relatively low skill. We spent years trying to catch up to what that video gave us.
CM: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned pretty quickly in those early months?
Nick: Have a plan. Have a growth plan. Work within your limitations, but take opportunities when they come. Be willing to respond to opportunity with extraordinary effort. I went from having a normal work-life balance to working seventy hours plus, there were a lot of nights of two to three hours of sleep. It was just me and the shop manager, Joey, at the time, and we had to respond with extraordinary effort to keep up.
All the while, we were responding to a need while trying to learn our craft, and falling in love with it at the same time, flying everywhere to learn from masters, bringing people in.. it was crazy.
If you are given an opportunity and you want to take it, you need to live up to whatever expectations are on the other side. Fortunately for us, the expectation was that we were a really cool letterpress shop that does great work.
Another very simple lesson we learned was that brands are alive. We just had a landing page online. My friend Danny Jones brought us to the next level. Danny said, ‘Hey, man, take your landing page and put a blog up there.’ It wasn’t a suggestion. He just told me. ‘People want to see what you’re doing.’ Brands are alive. Our brand started with seeing what we were doing. We had to keep showing them.
Photo by Bryan Soderlind.
CM: How does living in Orlando impact the work that you do?
Nick: I am profoundly inspired by where I live. You put me anywhere and I’m going to find a way to love what I do and who I’m with. That’s just my outlook, but Orlando has a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons.
I was very lucky with relationships. I met so many amazing people that are all trying to build something here. They want to promote the town. Maybe we have a chip on our shoulder, maybe that’s what drives us, but I think we all feel that nationally Orlando gets the short end of the stick nationally.
I don’t think people really know everything that is going on here, but when you add up the brands: Rifle Paper Co., Mama’s Sauce, Hog Eat Hog, Fiction, Makr Carry Goods, and so many more… There are practical reasons, too—monetarily. The square foot price in a warehouse is practical. When I go to New York, I get a lot of value out of it in a day or two and you can get a lot more connecting done, faster, but the world is small enough now that we are all equally yoked in our ability to create a platform that transcends physical location.
The people in Orlando, the cost benefits, the lifestyle—all these things profoundly effect me. I can walk everywhere. It is beautiful. Never freezing cold. I have a three minute walk to work or a one minute skateboard ride. I could go on.
CM: Speaking about that Orlando community, you mentioned a few folks. Is there a particular person that stood out to you as really helping you along the way?
Nick: It is hard to narrow it down to one person. I’ve gotten critical advice from so many people. Austin Petito taught me what spot-color was, he taught me about branding. He really introduced me to design. Danny Jones really evolved that for me. Chase Heavener from Fiction. Without that video, honestly, I don’t know how much harder our uphill journey would have been.
We would have still made it up the hill, but it would have been different. We were flooded in those first few months, and some people were negatively effected by our inexperience at the time. Those ones still haunt me today. I do wish that if anyone out there was, please just call me. We were in over our heads there for a while.
CM: What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Nick: You have to set your sights on a goal. Make a plan. Visualize the path to victory. Have a plan, but be flexible to adapt because things don’t always go according to plans. You have to meet every challenge with an extraordinary effort. You have a choice to live a passionate life and sacrifice for what you deems worthy. One of the critical definitions of love is sacrifice. So be advised that loving what you do may mean sacrificing for it.
It’s better to have some of something than all of nothing. If you need to get a partner, do it.
And you’re going to get into it, manufacturing eats up capital. I learned that the hard way. When I started Mama’s Sauce, I had five thousand dollars and that does not make for an easy path. Have a plan, a goal - be flexible. If you can’t fund it, get someone to fund it. If you don’t make those decisions early on, you can expect to sacrifice even more.
CM: What are three things you believe in right now?
Nick: Give people a chance to surprise you. Sometimes you put expectations on a client or an employee and it is a prejudice. I say this because my second one is that human beings are capable of amazing things. Humans are adaptable. Three, you have to party as hard as you work. In my mind, you have to take care of yourself. I try to put a focus on that. You need to think about what is going to take care of you. Especially if you’re a leader, you have to make sure you are healthy. Do what you can to take care of yourself.
Photo by Bryan Soderlind.
CM: What was the last thing you made for work?
Nick: I have two different roles I play. At Fiction, I am a more of a schemer of plans. I get to make dreams here. Then I design paths of victory for them, which is exciting. For Mama’s Sauce, the last thing I printed was Austin Petito’s wedding invites, two years ago. It was a nice way to go out. The last thing I made for Mama’s Sauce that’s not printed though - I’m about 220 hours into writing our new quoting software. That is what I am making right now. It’s my current Everest.
CM: Last question, but the most important. What did you have for breakfast?
Nick: I have the same thing I have on weekdays when I am not traveling, which is plain Greek yogurt with honey. I grind nuts into it—this morning, pecans. I also had a Cortado, a hand-full of grapes and water, of course. Hydration, y’all. It’s clutch.
Photo by Bryan Soderlind.