For Jessica Gidari, the best designs aren’t merely a reflection of a well-crafted interior. They’re different elements that work together to tell the same story.
“It’s looking at all touchpoints of when someone enters your space,” explains Gidari, the senior director of design and concept development at Hospitality Lab by Union Square Events. “It’s not only the physical interior design of the space but it’s also the branding. What does the logo look like? What does the signage look like? For the menu, what paper are we using, how does it feel? How are we interacting with guests? It all goes back to the central narrative of the brand and the pillars of the experience, so that at every point of interaction, it feels true to the brand’s DNA.”
That holistic approach is more than a guiding principle for the projects she spearheads; it also mirrors how Gidari leads her team. In her role, she’s a firm believer in drawing from other perspectives—whether it be from other departments or team members—to create one-of-a-kind events and dining experiences.
“I know what I do very well and I know you know what you do very well, so when we come to a project, my voice doesn’t need to be the loudest,” she explains. “I provide the overall goal, but I need to be challenged with other viewpoints so we can come to a better end result. I want everyone to speak up and ensure we all grow from it.”
Her mind for collaboration makes her the perfect fit for Union Square Events, a culinary operations leader in the hospitality industry that works with a diverse portfolio of clients. One of those clients is the newly reopened Yellow Magnolia Café at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. There, Gidari and her team serve as a culinary partner with Restaurant Associates, bringing quality cuisine and Enlightened Hospitality, Union Square Hospitality Group’s unique approach to hospitality.
Additionally, her consulting team, the soon-to-launch Hospitality Lab by Union Square Events, has been tasked with developing and accessing hospitality programs for various organizations, developers, and restaurant clients.
Through that division, Gidari and her team are helping to drive the hospitality experience at a new JPMorgan Chase headquarters in New York, which could be completed by 2025. It will feature two floors of a dining destination for their employees full of a diverse offering of food concepts and healthy menu choices.
For Gidari, the success of heavy-hitting projects like those are driven by an ability to align with key project stakeholders.
“Something I love about where I am is, depending on the project, I can say I need my executive chef or the vice president of operations to lean in on this, drawing from how they like to conduct their teams, their goals, and their challenges,” she says. “It’s a balance of figuring out if what we’re doing for design fits with operations and fits with other department’s perspective. That’s why I’ll tap on marketing, culinary, operations, and others to make sure all the experts are having a seat at the table for my projects.”
Gidari’s collaborative and holistic design philosophy stems from an early career experience when she designed her first restaurant in Phoenix. On opening night, she recognized some missed opportunities.
“Everyone was interacting with the space, sitting on the chairs, getting comfortable—it was fantastic,” she recalls. “However, the waiter comes and drops [off] the menu. And I remember saying, ‘They didn’t hit the mark.’ It felt like regular printer paper, the font wasn’t right, and you just go, ‘It could’ve been so good.’
“That drove me to ask whether I could come at design more holistically to create something stronger and more impactful,” she continues.
While that remained at the top of her mind as she worked for other organizations, she found that some companies weren’t ready to integrate every element of the guest-facing experience into their design-focused approach.
“It was trying to find avenues, leaders, and organizations that understood the benefit and need of having those different pieces speak to each other,” she says. “But it was an opportunity for me to bring that practice to a company that understood the value of making those connections.”
She got a chance to do that at LDV Hospitality, where she served as senior brand designer and then director of brand design. Gidari helped build out brand narratives and design world-class concepts all over the world. She continued that work when she joined Union Square in 2022.
To succeed, Gidari says leaders should “step out of their traditional viewpoint.”
“Be able to spend time with other departments,” she advises. “Understand their challenges, what makes what they do work well, and learn how you can use those skills to work together.”