Name: Justin Alpert, A.I.A.
Title: Restaurant Architect, Associate at Phase Zero Design
Many people use many different paths to get into this industry. Tell us about how you arrived at this point in your career?
About 8 years into my architecture career I started doing work with Burger King; all of their New England franchisees and Corporate. Over the next 5 years, I had worked on over 100 Burger Kings from remodels to ground-ups, pad sites to mall courtyards. I worked closely with their kitchen equipment vendors, their décor vendors, signage vendor, and with corporate down in Miami on making sure the remodels were within the Branding Guidelines. I learned a lot about how restaurants function from the repetition of this work and how I could take that knowledge into working with other restaurant concepts.
What trends have you noticed over the past 18 months? What’s getting hotter and what’s declining? How do you think this profession will change over the next 5 years?
Some restaurant designers may point out trends in use of materials like certain types and patterns of woods and tile, etc. I see a different type of trend across the urban landscape that is making its way into restaurants. Across the country, we’ve been seeing graffiti art on exterior walls growing in popularity. More importantly, it has become not just socially acceptable, but a respected form of art. I’ve seen it in Miami’s Wynnwood Walls, KC’s Art District, NYC and up here at Boston’s South end Ink Block Underground, Cambridge’s Graffiti Alley, Salem’s Artist Row and in Lynn. And now we’ve seen over the past couple of years this trend of murals growing WITHIN restaurants. A few examples are artists like Mark Grundig (Fatbaby, Buttermilk + Bourbon, Superfine, Bootleg Special, and the upcoming Crack’d) Laura DeDonato (Whole Heart Provision, A4Cade), Alec Strickland (Shojo) and large format mixed-media artist Markus Sebastiano (Committee, Gallows, Tavern Road and frequent collaborator with Create Boston) just to name a few, and my favorite restaurant, Tao Hospitality’s Vandal in NYC (whose concept revolves around Murals and Art). This is a trend I’d like to see continue and I’d love the opportunity to collaborate with more artists.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about your job?
That I have the education, training, and experience to help guide chefs and restaurateurs with a vision turn that vision into a brick & mortar reality. Through my work, I also create places for people to work, places for people to relax and enjoy a meal, and places that become part of the fabric of the community. That’s lot of responsibility that I appreciate and don’t take for granted.
“Listen and learn… never stop learning. And don’t learn only from teachers, bosses, Executive Chefs, Project managers and Google … but listen to the customers, the clients, coworkers and others in your industry. Learn from all around how to not only do the best job you can do, but learn what you can do to constantly improve and help everyone around you improve.”
What are the top two things people should know about you?
1. For me to be the best designer/architect, my goal is to experience every restaurant in Boston/Cambridge. A lot of times I will post on Instagram about the experience. What you don’t see is that it usually takes me about 8 HOURS to create ONE INSTAGRAM POST. At the restaurant I take lots of pictures of the space, from overall shots to architectural detail shots. Then I research the restaurant’s concept and read a bunch of articles to see what I can find out about the concept, the design and décor. I research on IG to find the IG handles of the employees of the restaurant. Then look back through the photos and connect the dots and really try to full understand what the designer was doing. Understanding that, I write out in Word about the restaurant design from my perspective. I create collages, typically a few pages that highlight the details and overall aesthetic. Then I post the collage, with the write up, and tag as many employees as I can find on IG.
2. Some architects just produce drawings and some designers just come up with a concept. As the Restaurant Architect, I want restaurateurs to understand that I would like to be part of their team from the beginning and forever; looking at spaces and leases, developing the concepts, help to pull together a team of the right consultants, vendors and contractors, work closely with each of those vendors to ensure the Concept is cohesive through all aspects, working closely with General Contractor to make sure they understand the design intent… but my dedication to the Industry goes beyond that. I try to support the restaurants and chefs by attending a lot of their restaurant events and fundraisers they are a part of.
Last time you dined out, what was your favorite dish? OR…Last time you dined out, what did you drink?
As a Restaurant Architect trying to experience and learn from every restaurant in Boston/Cambridge, I dine out often (expensive hobby/method of learning). But I don’t go back to the same place too frequently. But right now, I am loving Humaari at BNV’s Wink + Nod in the south end (recently named Best Pop-up by The Improper Bostonian). The depth of flavor, cultural seasoning, and texture in Chef Louis DiBiccari’s food is like none other I’ve experienced. I first fell in love with his cooking at Tavern Road (RIP) and his signature dish that he’s carried with him is his hummus. I always get different dishes at his restaurants, but that is a MUST!
Tell me about your proudest professional moment. Feel free to talk about a challenge you overcame.
Absolutely there have been challenges. But I have been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunities that I have. Some opportunities have been handed to me, some were right-place-right-time, and some have come because I worked my ass off and proved myself. BUT when I got those opportunities, I’ve continued to grind. There have been challenges including unforeseen building circumstances and clients who don’t understand the scope and effort required to do what we do. My proudest professional moments are when I go to the restaurants I designed and I hear both customers, as well as employees, say how much they love coming to that restaurant.
Do you know an amazing individual that should be featured?
Contact us here and we will get in touch!