Lettuce Life takes you behind the scenes into the culture of Lettuce Entertain You, spotlighting the incredible people who make our restaurants run day in and day out.

In a restaurant, there’s the art that you eat, created by our chefs in the kitchen, and then there’s the art that you see before you even take your first bite, from our websites to our menus.

Meet Alex Payne, Lettuce Entertain You’s resident illustrator who, along with the graphic design team, creates the branding behind our most visible restaurants including Sushi-san, Ramen-san, Ozzie’s Pops & Pretzels and Three Dots and a Dash.

Alex Payne Headshot

Alex is building on a rich history of artists at Lettuce that started at the beginning with the R.J. Grunts menu that was hand drawn by Rick Rogers.

“I think that illustration has become a natural extension of brands, especially restaurants as they start to have their own visual language. This is why we’ve created illustrations vs. using images that aren’t super original or don’t match up with the restaurant concept so we can personalize the restaurants’ brand. At Lettuce, we are definitely doing more illustrations to create original content for social media, pop up events, menus and branding.” 

Ramen san Budlong Menu

His story:
Alex joined our team just three years ago as a bartender at R.J. Grunts. While drawing the monthly burger specials on the chalkboards, Lettuce Entertain You’s founder, Rich Melman spotted his work.

“Rich asked to see me and I had no idea why the founder of the company would want to talk to me! That’s when he said he loved the chalkboard and asked if I could come up to corporate the next day to work with the graphic design team on a few projects.”

Alex now works with Lettuce Entertain You’s Creative Director, Jason Hollembeak, chefs, partners and other graphic designers to brainstorm and sketch some of our ideas on paper.

Summer House kids menu

You also may have eaten his work at Sushi-san if you’ve ever tried the hand-drawn Emochi!

mochi ice cream with emojis drawn on them from sushi-san

How do you translate a restaurant’s identity to pen and paper?
“I work alongside the Lettuce creative director, chefs, partners and graphic designers to start brainstorming and sketching some rough ideas on paper. Sometimes I’ll look at photos or social media posts for inspiration, but often it’s me actually going to the restaurant and experiencing the food and environment firsthand. I’ll talk to the chefs and managers to better understand the overall restaurant culture including its food, music, vibe and overall guest experience. I then try to introduce my own style into the visuals we are creating but I always make sure to balance this with the restaurant’s aesthetic.

When the partners came to us to sketch the dessert menus at Ramen-san, I met with their team, and they walked me through their vision for the menus. They put out a few dishes and gave me a full tour of the restaurant: what the music was about, their style, etc. We looked at some Japanese illustration styles, talked hip-hop and video game culture, and all of these different elements helped make up what the dessert menu at Ramen-san is today.”

Sushi-san dessert menu

Can you describe your personal artistic style?
“I did a bit of everything at art school, learning how to paint, sculpt, and sketch. Every Lettuce restaurant is so different so my different styles work in favor of that. Back when I was in art school, my professors would often criticize my work by telling me it was too comic book-y or too illustrative. But with some of the restaurants, that’s exactly what they’re looking for.”

Three Dots mug

How it’s made:
Here is a time-lapse of Alex drawing a Three Dots cocktail for the menu, oh and for more of his creative sketches, follow him @payne.ink.

Three Dots Halloween Menu

We’re proud to have such talented people on our team working behind the scenes to bring our concepts life in a fun, creative way!

Read more about Alex in Chicago Magazine!

Want more behind the scenes of life at Lettuce? Follow us @LettuceLife on Instagram for exclusive job postings, behind-the-scenes of restaurant openings, events and more.

Click here to learn more about Managing Partner, Kiran Pinto!

Click here to learn more about Sushi-San’s master sushi chef, Kaze Chan.