Laureen Moyal and Devi Rhodes are the design duo behind some of New York’s hottest food spots like Jack’s Wife Freda, by CHLOE. and the soon to open, Dez. Although the two met at the same design school (RISD), they are quite different which may be the secret to their success. With a focus on food and hospitality on one side and tech and corporate communications on the other, these ladies master branding from any angle across the US and Europe with their agency, Paperwhite Studio.
The agency’s claim to fame came after the launch of Jack’s Wife Freda in 2014, which can be spotted on almost any Instagram feed for their customized sugar packets, playfully illustrated table menus and of course, the food. And believe it or not, the design behind one of the most Instagrammable restaurants didn’t even consider social media when conceptualizing – Laureen hardly knew how to use the app. Four years later, Paperwhite Studio is now responsible for filling your feed with some of New York’s most sought-after spots and this is just the beginning. We catch up with Laureen on how to make a splash in the F&B world in New York.
How did you get started in design? Did you see an opportunity in the F&B industry specifically or did it just happen organically?
We started Paperwhite because we both knew we wanted to be designers. Branding is the kind of thing that brings all kinds of people to our table. From a restaurant to a children’s play space, it started with branding and that’s the piece of communication we love working on. And when it comes to food, my family is Moroccan and Devi’s is Indian, so food has naturally always been a very central part of our lives.
I knew we just had to get that one project and one person to give us a shot, and that was Jack’s Wife Freda. It took a long time but it was worth it. Nobody starts a business thinking they’ll be that successful, but I also don’t think anybody can plan for it either.
What do most people come to you asking for help with?
One thing we hear often is, “I want to be the next Jack’s Wife Freda or by CHLOE.,” and immediately that’s a sign that they just want to cut corners or skip steps. I think the success that’s behind Jack’s Wife Freda is that they didn’t want to come out being anything. They were passionate about their food and product and wanted to create a place where they wanted to hang out at. You really can’t fabricate the honesty of that intention.
I think that’s what people don’t understand: the honesty and realness of it is really what attracts people. They aren’t trying to be the next best thing. They are just being who they are and I think that’s why people have such a difficult time recreating it.
Similarly with by CHLOE., there was nothing like it in the market at the time. They took vegan food and made it available for anyone. It really breaks down those barriers of “I’m vegan.” They were serving up good food, regardless of dietary restrictions and that was it.
People come to us and think they can just throw a bunch of money at an idea, put up a neon sign and they’ll be the next by CHLOE., but we don’t believe in that.
NYMag referred to you as the "design expert who knows how to make NYC restaurants go viral" – what’s the secret to this?
There is no secret.
Is there pressure to constantly create something new to keep people interested?
People went from not caring about branding to caring about it a lot. You can’t really get into the game today if you aren’t branded. The customer’s expectations have completely changed and the competition has changed. There are hundreds of places that offer pancakes, so why will someone come to your place to eat pancakes? It starts with branding.
With that said, constant reinvention isn’t necessary. If you have a really solid brand to start, it’s just about keeping tabs on it. If there are cool and interesting things to do, it’s being aware of that and having offerings for that. It’s not just the food, it’s part of the experience.
Today, we see people curating their lives more than ever and sharing every moment on social media. How should brands be leveraging this?
This is the piece of advice I tell all of my clients: if you’re a takeaway business, you should have a custom printed bag, likewise if you’re a coffee business, you should have a custom coffee cup. Why not show off your brand outside of just four walls?
The whole Instagram thing is amusing to us, because it started getting popular as Jack’s Wife Freda opened. We just thought, “oh cool, it’s just another app that people are using,” and we decided to lean into it. A few years ago, if you searched #burger on Instagram, it was just burgers. Now, you’ll see by CHLOE. burgers – we gave it a frame and that’s pretty powerful.
What advice do you have for new food concepts and restaurants on standing out?
We promote a no bullshit approach. No one is trying to trick people into wanting to go into a restaurant. You can’t just paint your shop pink and think people will come in. I always say, “minimum investment and maximum contact.” That’s what we focus on. If you don’t have a huge budget, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck, you just need to figure out what makes most sense.
If you’re a bakery, you don’t need pens or straws but you should invest in a bakery box. Test out that one piece that makes the most sense for you and your business, then build it from there.
What trends are you seeing in the F&B world at the moment?
I really don't like to copy other brands that are succeeding. That’s the shortcut. When I see copycats, it just seems so cheap to me. For example, Cha Cha Matcha was doing something unique and now there are dozens of replicas that don’t share the same brand identity. Do your own thing and be who you are.
I’m really excited to see bakeries get into this game. I’ve always wanted to be a pastry chef and I think bakeries used to have a bit more of this corporate vibe. Now they’re making a bit more of a splash already, like Supermoon Bakehouse in the LES.
Favorite spot in New York right now?
I believe that New Yorkers really only have five spots that they hit up a ton at a time. I love Jack’s Wife Freda and the food and people behind it. I even got married there. I feel really happy whenever I’m there, even if I can’t even hear anyone.
Some of my other favorite spots are Breads Bakery for their great pastries - try the Babka, Cafe Colette for always transporting me to Paris and Birds of Feather for just doing Chinese well.