Asrai Garden's Elizabeth Cronin and Varyer's Mike Renaud & Chris Kaskie Talk Their New Collab

By Heidi Mitchell, photography by Evan Sheehan | January 22, 2019 | People

Chicago’s fiercest florist teams up with two former Pitchfork leads in a totally unexpected (and hotly anticipated) new collaboration in the Fulton Market District.

Three’s company: Asrai Garden owner Elizabeth Cronin (seated) has partnered with Varyer agency founders Mike Renaud and Chris Kaskie in a new hybrid retail store and creative studio.

Business gurus will warn you that friends should never partner together, but maverick entrepreneurs Elizabeth Cronin, the tattooed founder of goth-chic florist/jeweler Asrai Garden, and Chris Kaskie and Mike Renaud—the duo who built the phenomenally successful Pitchfork Music Festival—aren’t exactly followers.

The three longtime friends are diving headfirst into a multifaceted new venture that not only breaks nearly every rule of biz dev, it reinvents what a partnership can be. The concept: Cronin’s 19-year-old “magical garden apothecary,” where tarot cards, taxidermy specimens and assorted fine jewelry share space with flowers of every color found in nature, has debuted a 3,000-square-foot sister space inside Fulton Market’s Ace Hotel. Carved within is 1,000 square feet dedicated to the gentlemen’s newly launched creative shop, Varyer, which already counts the Blackhawks among its clientele. It’s an unlikely match—a garden store and a branding agency—but it’s in full bloom. “We are all creative, aesthetically driven people who can weave our talents together to make a stronger, more beautiful offering for others,” says Cronin, who hopes hotel guests and Google employees across the street alike will wander in to, literally, stop and smell the flowers.

Her co-conspirators believe the trio’s goals—to find beautiful, interesting ways to inspire—are completely aligned. “This partnership is meant to enhance what has always been Elizabeth’s objective: to create a retail experience unlike anything else, for everyone,” says Renaud. “On the Varyer side, we’re able to draw from our knowledge and resources in the retail and experiential realm in ways almost no other agency can.” Of course, Varyer reaps some extra-fragrant benefits that no other creative agency can claim. “Yeah,” agrees Renaud, “we get to be surrounded by fresh beautiful flowers all day.” 309 N. Morgan St.

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