Mobile Magic

As a child, Joe Munson was fascinated by magic. The mechanical exactness required to sell a trick. The symbiotic relationship between magician and audience. “I like an element of surprise in my work,” he explains. “At first glance, you may see one thing, but alter your position and the perspective changes.” According to the novel The Prestige, by Christopher Priest, all great magic unfolds in three acts: The Pledge (the promise of something extraordinary), The Turn (the revelation) and The Prestige (the final reveal). Ask Joe – Owner and CEO of Joe Munson Studios and inventor of the BarMobile bar cart –and he’d say that his path in life has played out in similar fashion.

The Pledge

A native of Kansas City, Joe was restless in his youth, eager to unleash a well of creative expression but unsure of the proper canvas. A self-taught blend of artist and engineer with a passion for precision and innovation, Joe didn’t fit neatly into any one box. So, at age twenty, he moved to the biggest canvas he could find, New York City. The goal? To become an inventor. At first, however, the only thing Joe was inventing was a way to pay the bills. “I was working at a BMW dealership, miserable,” he recalls. Soon after, he broke up with his girlfriend, moved out of their cramped apartment, and crystalized a plan. “I knew how to build things, it always came naturally,” he tells me. “So, I put out classified ads promoting my building services, and overnight I was getting calls. In no time, I had a successful business, making cool stuff every day.” 

From there, Joe delved deeper into the creative world, eventually joining an art collective. For his first group show, he built an interactive light sculpture. Three columns, loosely inspired by the World Trade Center, were affixed with motion sensors and motorized. Based on the movement of spectators, the pillars of light rotated, spraying beams in various directions throughout the darkened room. The audience, delighted in being part of the artistic equation, ate it up. 

The Turn

On the subway home, Joe had a moment of clarity. “I knew I had to pick a direction: be a traditional artist or focus on design and craftsmanship,” Joe notes. “Given I had such a mathematical, engineering-based brain, my instinct told me that building functional objects was the better way to go.” 

He never looked back, and in 2009, Joe returned to Kansas City, where he founded Joe Munson Studios. Wielding a rare mix of imagination, aesthetics, and functional perfection, the studio has delivered a reliable stream of breathtaking, one-of-a-kind designs. From doors to signs to furniture and sculptures. But the stress of client-based work eventually took its toll. Following a particularly trying project, things came to a head and Joe took a moment to catch his breath and re-evaluate the path forward. 

The Prestige

In 2019, after the smoke cleared, a contact at local restaurant Gram & Dun reached out. “They asked, ‘Joe, can you build us a mobile bar cart?’ I had been asked to build bar carts a bunch over the years, but the timing was never right. This time, I saw it as an opportunity. I’d always wanted to make a product of my own, so I dubbed it BarMobile, and built two extras,” he says. The first went to Gram & Dun. Joe and his wife packed the other two in their SUV and headed down to Miami to test the market. After a week of demonstrations, Joe finally broke through, making a sale to a small bistro on South beach. “At that point, I’m like, this is going work,” he remembers. 

While most industry bar carts are essentially souped-up cabinets on wheels, BarMobile bar carts are fine works of engineering - light, lean, and luxurious. Hand-built over the course of 40 hours, each cart is comprised of a lightweight aluminum body of which clients can customize the look and feel. All are equipped with a twelve-gallon insulated cooler, speed rails, ice chest, trash bin, and storage drawers. Add in the 6-inch heavy duty wheels and you’ve got yourself a literal mobile bar that restaurants, hotels, and venues can unleash at a moment’s notice. And BarMobile is sleek and stunning in person. It’s a moving work of art and engineering sure to draw attention during a crowded dinner rush. 

Founded just a few short years ago, business is now booming for BarMobile and Joe. “As an inventor and a person, I’m finally content. I’m having so much fun right now and believe the market for BarMobile products is virtually endless,” he beams. I’ve got big goals the next few years. In addition to BarMobile, my wife owns the most exclusive makeup studio in KC, Caro Benitez Makeup Studio, where I do all the custom interior work.  It’s a concert of custom lighting, sculptures, and fine finishes.”

Joe Munson’s life has certainly featured its share of unexpected turns. But like any great magician, he saved his best flourish for last, capping an already exceptional career with a triumph of creative and commercial ingenuity. I can’t wait to see the next trick he has up his sleeve.

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