Welcome to Lettuce Life, a behind the scenes look at what makes Lettuce Entertain You special: our people.  We are excited to tell the stories of the talent behind our restaurants, from partners and chefs to our corporate employees, managers and more.

Meet Avril Zayas, Senior Designer and creative visionary, who along with the architecture and interior design team (John Cinelli, Kelly Harrold, Sarah Noncek and Meghan McLaren), are behind some of Lettuce’s most beautiful spaces.

avril zayas headshot

When thinking about where you’re going to eat, typically there are a few things you take into consideration: the food, the location, the cost and the vibe. Let’s focus on the vibe because it certainly takes a village to create beautiful interior aesthetics.

“We think of restaurants almost like a theater. You are creating an experience: a place to not only entertain your guests, but also a space that they are comfortable in,” says Avril. “It’s the guests’ first (IRL: in real life) impression. From the moment they walk in to the moment they finish their meal, we need to make them want to be in the space and, of course, want to come back.

sushi-san interior

Avril was born and raised in Mexico City and has always prided herself on seeing things from a different perspective thanks to her parents.

“You could say interior design runs in my family. My mom is an interior designer and my dad was an engineer. She was the creative, and he was the executor, and growing up it amazed me to see how their minds worked together to build things in our house.”

And how Avril got into designing restaurants? Well, that was a happy accident when John Cinelli connected with her shortly after her graduation from the Illinois Institute of Art.

Beatrix Fulton Market
Beatrix Fulton Market

In September 2012, Lettuce’s in-house architecture and design department was born.

During her time at Lettuce, Avril (with the help of the team) has designed Beatrix and Beatrix Market, Summer House Santa Monica, Ema, RPM Steak, Sushi-san and most recently, Aba – perhaps her proudest achievement, and if you’ve seen this restaurant, then you certainly get why!

Design materials

“As a restaurant interior designer, I wear a lot of hats. We handle drawing up floor plans, space planning, selecting furniture and lighting, managing construction alongside the partners, working with Lettuce Founder Rich Melman to select finishes and create vision boards for the concepts as well as sourcing décor elements. You name it, we do it.”

When designing for a restaurant vs. a home, you need to think about the proportions of the kitchen to dining room, the durability of chairs and furniture, the cohesive color palette and lots more. These are all things Avril learned from working with Rich and other Lettuce partners.

Summer House Santa Monica
Summer House Santa Monica in Lincoln Park

“He has taught me to first think big. You must define your big picture vision, and then you can think small and add unique, personal touches. I’ve also learned that just because it’s pretty, doesn’t mean it’s right. You have to think about the sheer volume of guests that will walk through the doors of the restaurant, and make sure everything we select not only matches the concept but will wear well in the space.”

RPM Steak interior
RPM Steak

Whether it’s maintenance on existing concepts to new restaurant openings, her favorite part of the job (other than the day a restaurant opens), is the collaboration she has with her team and with Rich.

The Dalcy before and after construction
The Dalcy before and after construction

“We are constantly coming up with new, fun ideas and encouraging each other to go bold or to go in a different route than we had maybe expected. Together, we work to find the vision and style of what each concept will be and it makes me proud to see what we’ve been able to create.”

Interior dining room shot at Ema
Ema’s dining room

Next time you’re in one of the restaurants, we encourage you to see things a little different. Take a look around at the décor, the lighting, the greenery, and more….

…but of course, food ‘grams are still always welcome.

Now here are a few quick fire questions with the interior design maven herself, Avril:

A few of your favorite finds: the light fixtures at Aba, from the Parisian Light Fixtures that hang above the dining room to the Moroccan lanterns that greet guests before getting on the elevators.

Aba lanterns

You hear that folks? Next time you are at Aba, be sure to look up.

Aba skylight

Your favorite trend in interior design right now? Greenery in spaces is big and while I have always been keen on that, I think it’s because more and more guests want to be in more natural places vs. super modern glam. It’s more relatable and comfortable.

Greenery at Ema

A learning experience: When designing Beatrix Market, the function is the priority vs. the way it looks. Of course, it needs to look nice and inviting, but the materials have to be durable and the space needs to be designed to fit people coming in and out – efficiencies are a big thing.

Interior shot of Beatrix Market salad bar
Beatrix Market

What gets you most excited?: Seeing guests post pictures of themselves in the spaces our team has created.

If you could give one  design tip, what would it be?: Define what the space is going to be used for first and go from there.

Follow us @LettuceLife for more employee spotlights, exclusive job openings, new projects, in-restaurant events and much more.

For more behind the scenes, follow Avril @avrilzayas and her hashtag #LEYESneakPeek to see upcoming projects, her favorite design pieces and more.

Click here to learn more about Chef Partners, Raul Gutierrez & Osvaldo Ocegueda!

Click here to learn about Executive Chef/Partner Janet Kirker.