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Improvising His Way to the Top

Photo by Arnaud Mercier

George Eid ’94, along with his brothers, Sam and Bob, sat waiting for the first customer to arrive at their newly remodeled restaurant, One World, located across the street from Bradley’s campus. Sam was reading a book about philosophy, Bob was noodling around the cash register, and George, a junior at Bradley, was working on an assignment for his make-up class as a major in theatre.

“We had not advertised the restaurant’s opening and were on the edge of our seats with no customers during the first hour of business,” Eid said. “Finally, a lady walked through the door and ordered the first cappuccino. By 1 a.m., the restaurant was packed, and we ran out of both coffee and food.” 

The original coffee shop had been struggling to remain open. Eid and his friends often frequented the shop, and the owner knew of Eid’s interest in maintaining a dining venue close to campus for students and the neighborhood. He was fascinated by the original décor — round windows, a stainless steel door and a cool black-and-white checkerboard tile floor of what had once been Kane’s Drugs with a soda fountain and a dentist office upstairs. When the owner was ready to sell, Eid contacted his brothers immediately, and they purchased the shop together with the help of a friend.

Eid found a way to incorporate his love of the theatre into the life of One World. Two apartments above the restaurant were transformed into a theatrical performance space, and along with other theatre students from Bradley, Eid staged six plays per year including one original script and an ongoing late-night improvisational show every Friday and Saturday. 

“Someone creates a new open-source product, and the next continues to build upon that product with a new idea. You become an active participant in moving the industry forward.”

— George Eid ’94

At first disappointed he was unable to attend Carnegie Mellon University with the offer of a partial scholarship, he chose Bradley where he received a full scholarship from the forensics program and theatre department. “I would not give up my experience at Bradley for anything — the theatre department was a close-knit family, and the faculty created a special environment.” Among the special people who made Bradley a special place to Eid are Dr. Jeff Huberman, dean of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts and former professor of theatre; Molly Sloter, MM ’81, staff accompanist in the music department; Jim Langley, former professor of stage craft; and Dr. James Ludwig, associate dean emeritus of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, associate professor emeritus of theatre arts and former head of the theatre department.

On the Move

In 1997, Eid closed the theatre, handed over ownership of One World to his brothers and moved to New York City to pursue his career in acting, writing and directing for the stage. Disenchanted with the state of theatre in New York, he quickly turned to film, establishing Wildfist Motion Pictures that produced feature-length films including the award-winning Area K: A Political Fishing Documentary set in the Gaza Strip. 

In the late ’90s — as a way to fund his passion for films — he worked as a creative director for interactive agencies such as MarchFirst and Agency.com. Realizing his passion was shifting to a new “stage,” he said goodbye to Wildfist and, in 2003, started AREA 17, an interactive agency with offices in New York City and Paris. He noted the name AREA 17 refers to the visual cortex of the mind.

AREA 17 builds modern interactive systems and creates platforms for its clients, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Pinterest, ESPN, Billboard, SPIN and Style.com. In 2008, Eid started an incubator within the company to launch its own products such as Krrb.com, a hyperlocal classifieds website. The staff of AREA 17 is evenly split between design, engineering and strategic planning. 

George Eid ’94 (left), and his brothers, Bob (pictured) and Sam, created a vibrant eatery on Main Street, across from the Bradley campus, in 1993. George, at left in inset photo with David N. Young ’96, appears as the Duke of Buckingham in Bradley’s 1994 production of Richard III.

One World Cafe: photo courtesy George Eid ’94; Richard III: photo courtesy Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts.

Eid likens interactive work to improvisation, calling it “the biggest improv game in the world.” This is the world Eid continues to inhabit at the helm of AREA 17. “Someone creates a new open-source product, and the next continues to build upon that product with a new idea,” he said. “You become an active participant in moving the industry forward.”

Eid and his team did just that when creating the digital platform Quartz for The Atlantic. Built primarily for handheld devices and for business people in the new global economy, the user experience changed how editorial content is consumed online and has influenced the redesign of many major websites. 

In metaphorical terms, Eid explained that digital space is a marketplace while traditional space is a cathedral. “A cathedral takes hundreds of years to build, and society spends the rest of eternity maintaining it,” he said, “whereas a marketplace adapts to the changes in the market.” He draws an analysis between society and digital products, as both are organic and most often fickle, adding, “Today, if you try to build a cathedral in a digital space, by the time it is finished, it is no longer relevant. Moreover, its solid foundation will crack in this ever-shifting landscape.”

If he were giving advice to Bradley students interested in his field, Eid would suggest building a unique product and launching early and often. “Don’t put all your eggs in a basket; iterate it, drop it and move on — interactive space is about action, and in an interactive space, it is the sum of all actions that creates great brands,” he said.

Eid splits his time between his New York and Paris offices but calls the latter his home with his wife, Dominique, and their daughter, Sibylle.

—Susan Andrews