Natalie Akins sits back, looking over her work, pulls hard on her cigarette and smiles through watery eyes.
In the past three weeks, Akins and close friend, Sandra Keeney have worked on a mural on the 9-by-20 foot side wall of The Sub Shop on Green Meadows Road. The piece will include nearly 20 musicians, singers and dancers floating across a multicolored stage, under a yet to be painted sun.
The Sub Shop employee hopes the mural will connect the store to the local community, something she says many newer restaurants lack.
“When you go somewhere, you want to see something you can’t see anywhere else. You lose something about Columbia when you go into a restaurant that’s not personal,” she says.
To capture the personal, Akins asked herself what she liked about Columbia.
“I don’t come here for school, so the only thing that connects me with Columbia is the art and music scene,” she said.
Her passion for the scene developed because of her exposure to many different types of music acts when she worked at Mojo’s, a downtown bar and concert venue, over the summer.
Akins’ eclectic music taste is evident in scenes including a jazz pianist with a cigarette, smoke billowing in the air; an older banjo player chewing on a stalk of hay; a blues singer reminiscent of Billie Holiday; and a mohawked guitarist.
Akins and Keeney often pause and admire the night’s work, but this was the first time she stopped to think about what the bright colors and lines can’t show. “It’s weird to talk about this stuff after I’ve started working on it, because I think about it all over again,” Akins says. She says the two dancers in the mural represent two friends who died last year.
“The dedication is an important part of it,” she says. “It’s like a tribute.”
This is not the first time the Sub Shop chain has encouraged its employees to bring their art to work. A mural depicting scenes from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy decorates the walls of the Sub Shop on Eighth Street. Though originally painted for the first Columbia Sub Shop on Walnut Street, it was later moved when that store closed.
Sub Shop founders Dave Eagle and Kirk Whacker started the Sub Shop chain of restaurants in Ashland, Ohio, in 1972, making and delivering sandwiches out of Eagle’s childhood home under the name Sub Barn.
Even with the store’s expansion into Columbia, the founders have attempted to maintain the community spirit that initially spurred their business.
“It’s so easy to fall into being a ‘normal’ restaurant,” says Bryan Ramsey, an employee at the Eighth Street location. He says the mural and paintings give the store a unique atmosphere that struck him before he even started working there in 1997.