In the mid-1990s, Jennifer Kelly was a designer working in Los Angeles when she was called upon to help celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck launch his new line of cafes.
“At that time Wolfgang Puck was known as a high-end chef, but he wanted to do this different, more casual café concept,” she says. “For three years solid I helped launch cafes in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Las Vegas … all over. It was then that I really fell in love with restaurant design.”
A native of Destin, Florida, Kelly incorporated her own firm, Design Lab, in New Orleans nine years ago. She says her first big break was landing the job of designing Tableau for restaurateur Dickie Brennan. The restaurant opened on Jackson Square in 2013.
“I wanted that job so bad. I needed it, she says. “I was dedicated to doing whatever it took to get it – to going above and beyond expectations. The night before it was due, I hand-delivered my proposal. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.”
Kelly won the project, along with many more notable clients. Her work can be seen at the corporate offices of The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, Crescent City Brewhouse, Bayou Burgers on Bourbon Street, The Maritime (New Orleans’ first skyscraper) and the Rice Mill Lofts.
“I have a very high attention to detail,” she says. “I love to create thorough design concepts from the front to back end.”
Mentor: Definitely my mother, who taught me persistence and tenacity. I’d also say Barbara Lazaroff, wife of Wolfgang Puck. She could get anything done. She has such business savvy and really showed me that if you can think it, it can be done. Defining moment: I’d say there’s been at least two: when Wolfgang [Puck] hired me, and getting the job at Tableau. That really helped build my reputation here. Advice for young women: Don’t be afraid to pick up the telephone and go for it. Don’t be intimidated by anyone. Like my mom always told me, they put their jeans on one leg at a time just like we do. Goals: I’d really love to design a boutique hotel. I’d also love to have my own furniture and fabric line one day. I don’t want to be the biggest design company or designer out there, just the best! Favorite thing about what I do: The best thing is having happy and appreciative clients. I love that I can go in and change an environment for someone in a way that surpasses their expectations. It’s hard work, but it’s so worthwhile when it all comes together.