Art Director, Designer, and Food Stylist at Houlihan's Restaurant Inc.
My transition from student to professional was a little different. I was changing careers when I went back to school so I felt a little out of place at JCCC and more in my realm of comfort when I found my internship here. Because I felt like I was going back to the professional world that I had left. So it was a little strange to transition from student to profession, to back to student again, to professional. I did it in a very round-a-bout way. I was determined to finish the courses in the minimum two years. And I did. It was very stressful. My very first semester there I took five studios. At the time, the head of the department made me go around and sign permission slips from every professor to take that many studios because it was my first semester in the program. I was trying to do it all at once. Lucky for me, it worked out.
As a JCCC Alumni, who was your favorite teacher?
I think I had two great teachers that I got to take a couple of times. Terri Erickson, she taught me a lot and I was lucky enough to take an honors class with her. And then Ryan Jones was so wonderful. I think why I gravitated towards him so much was that he was working as a freelancer the entire time he was teaching as an adjunct. I just felt like everything he was teaching us was very relevant. I really enjoyed both of them in multiple classes. It’s easy to love somebody when you take so many classes with them.
What are some skills that help you be a successful designer?
I was an architect which gave me a good idea of spatial reasoning and that’s helped in a lot of ways that you wouldn’t think; From 3-D space dimensions to designing ads.
Does it ever get overwhelming working with a small team?
It can, you just have to remember, you know, we’re not curing cancer. You just have to do your best to meet deadlines and I can’t be afraid to speak up and go and tell my boss like, “hey this is just a little much, can something give?” And usually they will do everything they can to help us out because they realize they’re asking a lot of two designers and an intern. I mean, Meredith can probably attest to you that we keep her very busy. It can be a lot at times but we go through slow periods like anybody else.
How did you end up with your job at Houlihan’s?
I was so drawn here when I graduated. I was lucky enough that this was my first internship out of the program and things were a little chaotic around here so they actually asked me to stay on pretty much through the time I graduated. And right when I graduated they offered me a postion and I looked around and I took a couple of interviews with some other places but in the end decided to stay here because being in-house I get to do so much. I get to create awesome social content and do pretty much anything I think of and I can think of a reason that it can be applicable, my bosses are like “Ok, do it!”. So I get to do food styling and an art director on photoshoots. I taught myself how to do stop animation. And once they found out that I was a lettering artists, they starting allowing me to incorporate that into both our brands.
What is your favorite project you’ve done for Houlihan’s?
One of our franchisees owns several Houlihan’s in New Jersey, of all places, and they are very dated and we have a hard time getting them to get along with our brand guidelines. They’re like, “Nope, this works for us and we’re gonna stick with it. We don’t want to update. Or change.” But last year they came to us and said that they wanted to update their bar-books. They didn’t wanna quite get with our very simplistic design, because they have like 50-million-trillion drinks, but it was fun because we got to go through several explorations. And we never thought it was going to happen with them. We threw out to them doing a food-type photoshoot. So each section of the bar would have a drink shot with food type and cocktails laid out in this giant scene. And of all things, they decided that they wanted to do that. So I got to spend, with my team, about 3-4 days at the studio building these giant 10 foot by 5 foot scenes of food type. And it ended up still being a nightmare in the end because working with them was very difficult, but the fact that I got to build that was really, really fun. And then, last winter our specials menu was centered around Spiralized. So we actually got to work with Ali McGucci from InSpiralized. And I got to do the food type stuff again. We we did a big, digital media campaign and we got to create these top-motion videos for the media campaign that was spelled out with spiralized noodles and cubed butternut zucchini squash and it was a lot of fun. So things where I get to really think outside of the box and do stuff like that, I enjoy.
Is there anything you miss about being a student?
I loved the camaraderie. I had a great group of people that I graduated with and we were all very involved together. We learned quickly that the more we stuck together and tried to motivate one another, the better we all did. And for some goofy reason, my apartment senior year ended up being the hub for everybody. So everybody would be at my house until either 2 in the morning or there until as late as they could stand. Some of us would be there until we had to go to class the next morning, working together. And I miss that. It’s not to say that I don’t have that with my team, but because it’s so small, sometimes I miss getting to take something to someone and be like, “hey, tell me your opinion on this and be candid.”
What was your favorite thing about the Houlihan's Fall Special menu project this year? Any obstacles on this project?
That was the very first time that they let me do food type here, and so that was a year ago now. And it was like involved in an entire two-day photoshoot. So we had to really try and figure out how much time it was going to take because we had to get through everything in two days. So I tried to think through it and sketching it out was very easy and then thinking logistically like- “Okay, how many beets do I need? How much quinuoa am I gonna need to build the salad?” So it was a lot of getting our props and stuff out and trying to get a mockup done first. And it was taking forever because I was sitting there pouring it out and putting stuff in place with a brush. So I decided to just take my sketch and I blew it up and hand-cut it out of foamcore to make a stencil.
How do you feel when you see something you've worked on actually being used in the restaurant?
When I first started, it weirded me out a lot. Now I just, since I see it every day and it’s in my face all the time, I’ve kind of become numb to it. I don’t notice it so much anymore. But it’s really funny because I take my friends and my family to our restaurants all the time and they’re constantly looking, like, “Did you do that? Did you do that? Did you do that?” And I just say, “Let’s say there’s a 50% chance that I did.”