The Frame Game
Naive. Unrealistic. Gullible.
When people discover I Heart Costa Mesa is an online magazine dedicated to celebrating our city and only focusing on the good – they think we are blinded to all the difficulties and injustices in the world. But the truth is, we are painfully aware of it all – the brutal as well as the beautiful.
It’s just that our team has made a very deliberate, conscious decision to feed the stories that highlight the everyday good, the positive, the productive. Because we want this project to embody what so many of you already know… that the secret to leading a happy life is all in how you frame it.
Don’t let the unassuming name fool you. Stop by Best Framing anytime (they’re smack-dab in the heart of the Westside at 1671 Placentia Avenue,) and you’ll soon see that life really can be all fun and frames, every Costa Mesa day.
It’s All Fun and Frames with the Bendannas at Best Framing, Westside Costa Mesa
photographer: brandy young
“Best Framing was started by George Arena twenty-or-so years ago,” began Medi Bendanna, who now co-owns the shop with his wife, Kristen. “He started off across the street, and then moved here about 12 years ago.
“Back then, I was his customer and he was always framing things for me and always talked about retiring. He was ready for a break but felt a deep responsibility to his employees – ‘a commitment to his guys,’ he called it – and said if he ever sold he wanted to make sure this legacy continued after he left.
“One day he approached me and asked if I wanted to buy his business. Once I agreed, he said the only catch was that I had to make sure his guys stayed on working for me. So we bought the business, his guys stayed on and George retired… for, like, five minutes! He lasted all of two days and then came back into the shop saying, ‘American TV is so boring, I got to come back to work.’
“So I hired him and now he runs the shop for us. He’s happy doing all the production. Everybody in the industry knows and respects him. You see his picture when you walk into our shop and he’s like the patriarch of our company.”
Over the years, Arena grew Best Framing on the philosophy that custom work did not have to be exorbitantly expensive. He made a name for himself as the local, affordable, custom framer – a legacy built on a “volume discount” kind of model – one that Bendanna carries forward today.
“Our whole concept is very different from a regular frame shop,” said Bendanna. “While most framers do 2-3 per day, Best Framing will make about 50-60 frames. So because we make our own frames and do such high volume, we can afford to charge less per job to the customers’ benefit. We don’t have a single client that comprises more than 2% of our total business at any given time, so we are open to everyone.
“Anyone can come in off the street and buy a totally custom frame that’s handmade specifically for them – with glass, matte and the whole thing – and that would only start in the $45 range. You really can’t get a lot of custom products at that price anymore.
“We do bigger jobs for artists, art galleries, interior designers, hospitality and hotel projects – but love doing one-off framing, too. Because of the affordability of our frames, customers are able to buy art without worrying about the added cost of framing it. A lot of what we preserve actually isn’t expensive, but is meaningful to our customers in some way. So it might be something they bought on their honeymoon for $10, or a napkin, a Polaroid, or a drawing by their toddler – they’re able to bring in those everyday things and elevate them to real pieces of art.”
Reframing Retirement: Founder and Former Owner, George Arena, Came Back to Work with Bendanna After a Short Stint Off the Job
photographer: brandy young
Most of the framing projects Bendanna and the team encounter are just what you’d expect: photos, paintings, diplomas and the like. Because of their coastal location, jobs with a beachy feel are usually the order of the day. Even found objects like sea fans and seashells get the perpendicular treatment at Best Framing.
“My personal favorite is when we get a 3D job, I love the challenge of it,” said Bendanna. “They always turn out really cool; and we really do get some interesting objects coming in here. We’ve framed a 150-million-year-old fossil. We’ve framed raccoon skulls. We just recently framed a silver clarinet and a vintage life preserver.
“We had a customer come in with a piece of the plane crash that killed his father and he wanted it framed – that one really stuck with me. His dad died a long time ago in a crash involving a small airplane. Well, he got the part of the plane with the number on it and we framed that for him.”
“Yeah, people think, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s a frame shop,'” said Kristen, Bendanna’s wife and business partner. “But there is sometimes a sadness and a joy to this work. You see people coming in here holding a snapshot of their lives in their hands. They are trusting us to commemorate this thing, to preserve it for them. We feel honored to do this work.”
“Remember the lady from Germany? That was a great story,” added Bendanna. “She had survived World War II because of an artist friend who managed to get them out of Germany. He left her with a painting and on the back of the canvas was a little note saying, ‘Good luck on your future.’ So when we framed it up, we added a piece of Plexiglass to the back so she could always take it off her wall and read the note.”
Going Down In Frames: The ‘Best Framing’ Team Loves A Good Challenge, Mounting and Framing Unexpected Treasures Regardless of Size and Scale
photographer: brandy young
Even though “framing” is right there in the name, that’s not all the Bendannas are about. It’s clear Medi is moved by an entrepreneurial spirit – that heady blend of “highly conceptual” and “easily bored” that fuels many a late-night epiphany.
“Medi always has ideas bouncing around in his head,” laughed Kristen. “He’s so creative, he constantly comes to me with new ideas. And then I sometimes have to play the ‘bad guy’ and say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s slow down. Let’s think this through.'”
“We’re big opposites, that way,” said Medi. “I’m the creative idea guy who would likely bankrupt the company making all my wacky creations come to life. Kristen’s the number cruncher who keeps me in line and keeps the business in the black.”
“Usually once we slow things down and the details have some time to sink in, I end up coming around on his ideas,” said Kristen. “Working with Medi has turned me into more of a ‘yes person’ to be sure.”
“And by slowing down and thinking things through, the good ideas have a chance to rise to the top so I can take the bad ideas out back and bury them,” added Medi.
Ideas that have made “the cut” include cork boards, dry-erase boards, magnetized photo-collage boards and a large-format printer that can turn photos and graphics into canvas-mounted artwork. They are also open to work with you creating your own artwork vision – and invite you to swing by with your own big ideas.
They’ve Been Framed! Thank You, Best Framing, For Sharing Your Story With Us
photographer: brandy young
Both Bendannas agree that working 12-15 hour days – growing a business alongside a spouse – definitely has its challenges. But overall, the endeavor has strengthened their marriage and deepened their understanding of each other.
“The shop has so many moving parts, that we are each able to tackle different roles that don’t just benefit the business but play to our personal strengths,” said Kristen. “We’re able to solve problems together and get our arms around the issues without stepping on each others’ toes. Plus I get to see him all day long which is really nice.”
Their relationship isn’t the only one to benefit, they both love how it’s further connected them to their own community.
“This is a relationship business,” said Medi. “Our customers are mostly word-of-mouth, so we invest a lot of time and effort into our community. I know every customer. We’ve seen people grow up. George talks about how he’s framing diplomas now for the same kid that he framed a Little League jersey when he was six.”
Among the things Bendanna likes best about Costa Mesa, diversity definitely tops the list.
“Costa Mesa today reminds me of Brooklyn back in ’99,” said Bendanna. “I lived in New York back then, so I know the vibe. The Westside especially has that energy building around it. You have really high-end homes coming in, but still the cool artists and creative people and mom-and-pops have stayed. You’ve got industrial mixed in with coffee shops, little businesses, studios and other hidden gems.
“There’s a lot of family-owned businesses in Costa Mesa. We are like our own little culture and we support each other. There’s a pizzeria down the street and we do their framing. Well, when I bought the business a year ago, I come in on my first Wednesday and the staff tells me, ‘Oh, Wednesday is pizza day.’ And sure enough, every Wednesday like clockwork, this guy drops off a stack of pizzas and I never get a bill. When my wife was pregnant, he’d bring along a salad for her. Just such nice people in the small-business community.”
But with the neighborhood changing so fast, Bendanna is not without his concerns:
“I’m a little worried about getting priced out of our neighborhood. I love the fact that there’s young people moving into the new homes right across the street. But at the same time, if my landlord decides that he can make more money if our building is a chain restaurant or whatever, I might get pushed out.
“As it moves towards more residential, I think we have to make sure not to push out all the light-industrial properties. Let’s keep the good mix, because the mix is what makes Costa Mesa interesting and unique. The fact that you’re near the beach and can have a residential place, next to a light-industrial place, next to a commercial place, next to a restaurant… and keep it all walkable? Well, that’s the secret to what makes Westside Costa Mesa so great.” ♥
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to support I Heart Costa Mesa, here is our Patreon.
Get Free Updates:
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from I Heart Costa Mesa!