Dan Brandt’s billiard designs elevate pool tables to playable art
With his glasses, bald head and bristly walrus moustache, Dan Brandt has often been likened to Santa Claus. He doesn’t mind the analogy, because it extends, he says, beyond his Dickensian appearance.
“The Santa [comparison] is probably a very good thing, because there is magic in what I do,” he says. “Santa’s coming, and this is the ultimate toy.”
He’s referring to his career as the founder and CEO of Billiards by Brandt, a fixture in bespoke pool-table design for the past 30 years. With a staff of four “elves” in his nondescript Fort Lauderdale workshop, and a few dozen specialty designers he keeps on retainer, Brandt maintains a prolific and international business anchored by a lofty philosophy: “I’m not going to sell you a pool table. I happen to build something that is functional as a pool table, but I build art.”
Every Billiards by Brandt table is one-of-a-kind—a playable status symbol designed to each customer’s specifications, whether it be a veiled marble table for a patron in Venice, or a 1920s-style Narragansett table for a home in the Florida Keys. He has designed ultra-modern tables, restored classic 1950s tables with polished aluminum and walnut, and designed a table for Paramount Pictures with the studio’s logo embedded into the felt. He has even created seaworthy tables for private yachts.
Brandt’s client list includes Al Gore and Pat Riley, luxury hotels around the world, and HBO, where he created a table for the series “Ballers.” Because he possesses rare tables dating back centuries, he was tapped by the Rolling Stones’ management to install a vintage snooker table backstage so the rockers could enjoy their favorite tabletop game before their concerts (“Don’t speak to them unless they speak to you,” Brandt was explicitly warned; the Stones did chat with Brandt, who found them “wonderful people.”)
All of this, Brandt says, with little to no investment in advertising or marketing. “I don’t have to worry about sales coming in,” he says. “I love sales. But the sales find me. The best way is word of mouth. The 1 percent’s going to brag to somebody else: ‘You know what I’ve got, and you don’t have?’”
Brandt gleaned knowledge of the business at an early age. His father, Wes, was a national service manager for Brunswick in the 1960s, and he traveled around the country repairing bowling alleys and pool halls. Young Dan would often tag along, watching dad shoot pool with Jackie Gleason and learning how to attach cue tips to wooden sticks.
But Brandt’s own entry into the billiards business was not so direct. He pursued a career in law instead, becoming a legal aid attorney and environmental lawyer. He worked for the Ralph Nader-inspired Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, and represented solar providers in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
He eventually left the profession, citing the cumbersome nature of the court system to effect change, but he sees a link between his work as a “green” attorney and his career as a billiards artisan.
“As you can tell, I’m not shy,” he says. “I install every single table that we produce, except overseas. I’m talking to [my clients]: ‘What is your hobby? What charitable giving do you do? What do you do for the environment?’ And when these people, who are uber-wealthy, are trapped in their own home with me, they have to listen to me. … Then I can get them to think in terms of, what are you doing in relationship to why you’re here?
“It’s non-confrontational,” he adds. “People want to be able to do the right thing, if they’re given the vehicle to do it, and they trust the person giving them the information.”
As for the game of billiards itself? “I have a love for the game, but I have more of a love for the wood,” he admits. At 69, he shows no signs of capping that love for the raw materials that beautify man-caves and make memories. “I’m going to continue this until the day I die,” he says, adding, “art is immortal. After I’m dead and gone, the art is going to be here.”