Becky Holler has everyone’s dream career. As a seasoned design and development executive working at top restaurant companies like True Food Kitchen, Holler not only pursues her passion for architecture and design but also travels all around the globe—all while eating some of the most delicious food imaginable.
After graduating from North Dakota State University in 1996, Holler decided to move to Colorado to work at the Lawrence Group as a senior architecture associate. And even that early on in her career, Holler notes, the bulk of her work centered on restaurants and restaurant chains.
“We did a lot of concept work for companies like PF Chang’s and Irish Pub,” Holler recalls, “although we also did a couple of projects for John Hickenlooper.” And in 2003, based on the relationship that they had developed with her during her tenure at the Lawrence Group, PF Chang’s invited Holler to work for them directly as regional director of development for their fast-casual restaurant chain, Pei Wei Asian Diner.
“They were just rolling out the concept for the Diner at the time,” Holler explains. “From there, PF Chang’s started working on the international expansion for the business, and I was promoted to director of development.
“What a great experience that was,” Holler reflects. “I got to travel to so many places because of the expansion—cities across the Middle East, North America, South America—just as a part of my job.”
Holler stayed with PF Chang’s China Bistro (PFCB) for more than eight years before accepting a role as vice president of development at Aurify Brands, the New York-based parent company for popular restaurants such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the Little Beet Table, MAKE Sandwich, and the Melt Shop.
“That was an incredible learning experience—working with multiple high-level brands as well as an opportunity to really understand the Manhattan space,” Holler says. “But in March 2019, I got an opportunity to come to True Food Kitchen, and it’s just been the best way to build on all of my previous experiences.”
Founded in 2008 in Phoenix, AZ, True Food Kitchen is a health-driven, seasonal restaurant and bar with 33 locations across the United States. Its array of gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and customized dishes have attracted interest not only from guests passionate about healthy living but also from high-profile investors such as Oprah Winfrey. “When I first dined at True Food Kitchen, I was so impressed with the team’s passion for healthy eating and, of course, the delicious food, that I knew I wanted to be part of the company’s future,” Winfrey said in a 2018 statement.
As senior director of design and development for True Food, Holler is responsible for leading the completion of about ten projects per year, she says. She and her teams oversee projects in the earliest stages of design development, projects close to finishing up construction, “and projects in every phase in between,” she says with a laugh. “And whether we’re just getting the design team set up or coordinating with the landlord or initiating construction, there’s always something going on.”
According to Holler, some of the main challenges that she and her team face are the result of a recent trend within the industry as a whole—more and more, companies are electing to secure and utilize existing spaces rather than creating entirely new spaces, she says, True Food included.
“And when you’re not creating the space from scratch, there are just a lot more mysteries involved,” Holler says. “You may have no idea what exactly is in that space until the demo—something might be hidden, or something won’t quite work because there’s no storm drain where there should be.”
To navigate those mysteries, Holler makes sure to remain in constant communication with everyone involved in a project—she holds regular meetings with landlords, has a phone call with the design team every Monday, and checks in with her construction team every Friday to ensure that everything is going smoothly and on schedule.
“There are always things that need to be resolved, and I want to make sure that everyone has input throughout the process,” Holler says. “But one of the best things about working here is the atmosphere—even when things do go wrong, we never point fingers. We just say, ‘OK, that didn’t work. How do we solve it as quickly as possible, and how do we avoid doing that again in the future?’
“The entire team has bought into that mentality,” she continues, “so there’s a very positive work atmosphere that, at the end of the day, makes it easier to get things done.”
But to Holler and her teams, building a new True Food location is about far more than just “getting things done”—there is a broader purpose behind everything that they do, she emphasizes.
“We are really looking at the spaces we’re working in now and trying to see them as part of the larger cities that we’re bringing True Food to,” Holler says. “In Kansas City, we included a skyline of the city. The New Orleans location had a lot of different vibrant, upbeat pieces of artwork.
“Including those kinds of personal, more local touches in our restaurants helps show people in those cities that we are really trying to understand what their city is all about,” the senior director adds. “So many other chain restaurants look exactly the same as all the others, but we’re trying to do something that makes our locations unique.”
“I grew up in North Dakota,” Becky Holler says, “and never even flew on a plane until I was in college. My first flight was to London for a college architecture program—and ever since then, I’ve just loved to travel.”
Over the years, Holler has taken trips to Panama, South Africa, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Jordan, Russia, Singapore, Qatar, and Germany. She’s walked along the Bosporus river in Istanbul and “flown around the world in seven days.”
And all of that travel goes hand-in-hand with her work, Holler points out: “You have to see the space in order to truly design for it.”