For most people, the word “lawyer” doesn’t bring to mind images of arts and crafts or creativity, but for people who know Judith Tortora, an accomplished lawyer and mother of two, that preconception doesn’t hold true.
“Two years ago my family and my business partner’s family sat around a Shabbat dinner table discussing a new business we wanted to start,” said Tortora. “Soon thereafter, Yankee Doodle Art Studio was brought to life.”
The unique venture, co-founded by Tortora’s friend and business partner Heather Ralston, who has eight years of teaching experience, provides a clean and organized space for both parents and children to embrace their creative side.
The partners and their families spend a lot of time together, and both women agreed that Baltimore was missing a piece of family entertainment, where parents and kids could go to have a meaningful and educational experience without breaking the bank.
“Yankee Doodle provides several craft options that use multiple mediums which provide children different sensory experiences that enrich their development and creativity,” said Tortora.
The name came about because Tortora has a lot of family in the military and also because when she was discussing the idea of a studio, the city was preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner.
“We wanted to connect to something in Baltimore and with a name that has to do with arts and crafts, so we chose a play on words to be patriotic,” said Tortora.
Tortora compares the Yankee Doodle Art Studio experience to that of a restaurant. When customers sit at a table, a staff member approaches and asks, ‘What do you want to create today?’ Yankee Doodle Art Studio provides all of the materials, and customers can take home their projects the same day.
The layout of the studio was designed with the help of educational consultants, and activities such as making soaps, lanterns and placemats are offered.
“We have an educational thread throughout our store; everything is arranged in a specific way,” said Ralston. “Everything is at eye level [for the kids]. I would walk around the store on my knees so I could see it on their level.”
Aside from the craft activities, there is space for kids and parents to take a break from their projects when needed. Tortora noted that at other art studios, customers are charged a sitting fee and then pay for the projects they create separately. At Yankee Doodle Art, customers are only charged for the projects they create.
Parents are encouraged to join in the creativity too, but they can be as involved as much or as little as they choose.
“We have what we call “doodlers” on staff, and they take your child around and show them what to do and help them each step of the way,” said Tortora, adding that staff is trained to work with kids of all ages as well as adults. Staff personalities and their enthusiasm are often what keep people coming back too.
Everything is at eye level [for the kids]. I would walk around the store on my knees so I could see it on their level.
Cleanliness, in particular, also plays a major part in attracting families to the venue.
“It’s very clean, which is important to me, because a lot of these places aren’t,” said Mindy Saler, who has a 3-year-old daughter. “They put everything in these containers so it’s organized, and when you walk in it’s really engaging for the kids because it looks like a candy store.”
Aside from catering to kids, Yankee Doodle Art Studio also holds special events for adults and those with special needs.
“We had a woman who was 68 who made soap and candles with 10 of her friends,” she said. “Mommy and Me groups come to have a night together and hang out, and we’ve also held events for children with special needs who aren’t comfortable in public crowds. We have after-hours events for them.”
Tortora is proud that Yankee Doodle Art started out as a family venture and hopes to see it continue to grow.
It combines “the talents of a lawyer, a teacher, a counterintelligence agent (her husband), a construction manager (her partner’s husband) and two supportive, creative and silly children who love to doodle,” said Tortora.
“We would love to see the Yankee Doodle community expand and hope one day to be able to share the joy that Yankee Doodle brings with other communities.”