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Fine. Don’t give me a bite of that chicken finger and see how you like having a dead arm.

Dan and Doug, in rare form after their lost hockey game, bicker in the back seat like only pre-teen twin brothers can. Their mother grits her teeth, watching the tension escalate in the rearview mirror. It would be this week’s third blow-out brawl. She turns the car up the long hill towards home, coiling what’s left of her wits about her. She’s about to interrupt when sirens do it first.

Waxy red firetrucks wail toward the woods. All is filled with sound, but Dan and Doug are...quiet? Her eyes flicker to the mirror again and to their open mouths, to their wide eyes, to their shoulders drooping low as if trying to disappear their bodies altogether. There’s only one thing to say. “What did you boys do?”

My parents dealt with some shit.

Growing up in a St. Louis neighborhood overrun by kids, Dan was neither a particularly good nor bad child. Both parents worked, Dan did his homework, and his mom served homemade family-of-four lasagnas. But there was a Sandlot element to things where Dan learned it was better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. And that’s where you get 12-year old boys cooking hot dogs on a grill in their treehouse and carelessly dumping the smoldering embers.

Dan’s was a constant dance of toeing the line: playing hide and seek only to “hide” in someone’s older brother’s basement party. Working hard, long dishwasher shifts at Bambino’s to buy profanity-studded Rage Against the Machine albums. This very rebellious streak, bookended with “please” and “thank-you,” makes Dan the innovative Creative Director he is today. 

If you ask him the process on his greatest successes, he’d redirect your question. He simply becomes enamored with smart, shiny things and gets them made—trusting that somewhere in the back of his mind, there’s a good reason for it. And low and behold, it works because no brand ever grew by playing it safe.

He has concocted responsive, digital art pieces. He had an idea for an interactive kiosk and made a prototype without any meeting, any estimate, any of the usual channels. Then he successfully pitched it to the client the next day. And the secret to pulling it off, Dan knows from his days of stickball and hockey in the streets, is surrounding yourself with the right crew. “If I want to do something, I won’t, no, I actually can’t stop until it’s done. You get the idea, and you work with whoever you need to make it happen.” And at Paradowski, there is no lack of eager folks ready to throw down.

If Dan Rayfield weren’t leading a team dubbed Ray’s Anatomy because we’re basic like that, he’d hope to be running a restaurant. Cooking is a low-stakes game of intuition, and it’s one that he’s played his whole life.

Growing up, Dan and Doug had to work for their money. They were, however, given a 94’ Chevy Cavalier to share. Side note: they were also given a Nokia phone to share. Dan is way too excited when he tells me the phone number was 420-2869. The shared car, surprisingly enough, did not spur the majority of their tussles.

See, the boys both worked at Bambino’s. First as dishwashers, later as cooks and finally opening and closing the place on their own. They had alternating shifts which meant they would hand off the keys and trade working and playing. In his adult life, Dan has mentioned how many pairs of cook’s clogs he wore right through from Shoes For Crews. Which is, by the way, a nickname you can call him.

Today, he’s obsessed with making everything delicious. Bread is a recent focus, I’ve eaten four varieties of mozzarella with him in a single sitting, and I’m pretty sure he knows the Alinea Chef’s Table episode by dish. He’s also failed miserably at smoking brisket and is downright squeamish around mushrooms so, I don’t know, Dan. I think you’re going to have to bring more food into the office so we can sort this whole thing out.

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DAN AND KATIE: The key to a happy marriage (8 years and counting!) may be dressing up in costume together.

Here’s what it’s like to work with Dan.

He does something beyond what our client asks and they love it. Since you’re on his team, you and Carrie want to congratulate him but need to do it in a way that’s so ridiculous he can’t really enjoy his victory. You print out hundreds of pictures of his face while he’s out of the office and put them everywhere. The dart board. The refrigerator. Every individual pool ball. He comes back laughing. You expect him to remove the faces, but a week later you realize he secretly loves it so you have to rip them down yourselves.

You’re on a TV shoot in Arkansas. You’re lucky: it’s not winter. Dan drives you to that day’s location on a farm. The road is rock and slag, so metal bits ping the car’s underbelly no matter how slow you go. You make fun of Dan’s darkly tinted windows because this is a Honda Accord, and if you tell his wife your team ironically calls this car The Limousine she will die laughing. While shooting, you see a pair of farm dogs skitter up to the Honda. The male pisses on the back wheel. Not to be outdone, the female lifts her leg and does it, too. "With just the right combination of slag and urine," the car never drives the same again.

ABBEY’S ROAD: Dan’s Boston Terrier has as much energy as she did the day she was born. 

You’re driving back from another shoot and ask Dan what he’d like to listen to. You learn one of his favorite bands is Pink Floyd. You learn that Shine On You Crazy Diamond was written for Syd Barrett. You also discover that when he studied Graphic Design at Meramec, he stubbornly only took drawing classes until one class where he finally used an Adobe program to design a series of Pink Floyd DVD covers. In fact, he tells you that he picked the major Graphic Design off a piece of paper in high school because he liked drawing NHL logos as a kid and wasn’t into fashion design. 

SWEET BABY RAY: This is Dan’s son, Cameron. There aren’t any toddler pics because he was literally just born. He came on his due date, which is very Rayfield.

Dan claims falling into design was luck; that he’s surprised he went to college in the first place. That he wasn’t sure why, but his gut told him to continue his education and finish his degree later on at Maryville. That getting an internship after college changed everything, and that he’s not quite sure how they knew to hire him and give him mentors that helped develop real skills.

Well, Dan, they took a smart gamble on a smart gambler. Looks like it takes one to know one.