Bedford Heights, OH –
When Danny Callam went off to college a few years ago, like many of us, what came after was still a mystery to him. “I just needed a degree,” he said to Cleveland.com. “I was flip-flopping. I had no idea what I wanted to do.”
After graduating with a degree in accounting from the University of Dayton and working in the field, he found his heart just wasn’t in it. Looking around the office one day while on an internship, he realized something about his co-workers: “They all did not look happy – ever,” he said to Cleveland.com. “I don’t want to be that person, looking on 20 years from now. Why don’t I try something new? … Why am I doing this?”
He then took a job in operations with a local furniture store, Borrow Curated Furniture and Design, and soaked up as much as he could learn about woodworking and upholstery. For four years he learned everything he could about furniture and how to build quality. “While I was there we started getting into in-house projects, whether it was carpentry or upholstery. I actually took two upholstery classes, and I made seven or eight pieces – reupholstered chairs, couches, several cushions.” From time to time, he’d take small side projects, just for a few extra dollars. But, he says “…it wasn’t about the money. It was about getting exposed to it.”
Growing up the son of a restaurant owner, Danny had seen how hustle and determination could open doors to success. His father, Jim Callam, founded and has run a successful Cleveland restaurant chain called Winking Lizard Tavern since 1983. The business has grown to 17 locations through their efforts over the years, and is still owned and operated by the Callam family. The pandemic gave them and their friends in the restaurant industry a chance to refresh their spaces while capacity was limited, and it just so happened that Danny knew how to build tables.
Things really got started when their friends at Barrio Tacos told him, “‘Hey give me a prototype. I want a table that won’t have to be repainted every year. I mean, they just get beaten up,'” he said to Cleveland.com. “I’m blessed with Winking Lizard and Barrio,” he said. “They’re willing to spend money rather than buying cheap. This is my jumping-off point where I was kind of deciding ‘Do I make this leap?’ and once I got these orders I was full steam ahead.”
Those two orders allowed Danny to found Zazu Woodworks and start building a future. With thousands of restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries in Ohio there is a large pool of potential clients that might just want something a little more high-end to set themselves apart from the competition. Danny uses as much reclaimed wood as he can, preferring to recycle unused timber rather than cutting down growing trees. “If I am building tables locally (I can say) ‘Hey, I am building tables from a building downtown.’ ”
Zazu Woodworks is proof positive that there is no timeline to success, and whatever your degree is in doesn’t lock in your future. A little bit of curiosity and determination can take you a long way in this world, and Danny Callam is proving that not everyone needs to follow the traditional path.
“It’s funny how things work,” he said.