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Meet Alexis Readinger of Preen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alexis Readinger.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Before I got into design, I was on a law school track. I had just begun to explore post-mod French theorists and was drawing, painting and beginning to make inhabitable sculpture. I had a disenfranchised architect/sculpture professor who recommended I look at architecture school. I wanted more time to research, so I enrolled at UCLA in the graduate program.  I was super young and had just turned 21.  Architecture school was a bit of a shock….it’s rigorous and political.  I really loved theory and making and it took some time to adjust to the culture.

When I finished, I worked for a while in a proper firm before a colleague convinced me to jump ship and come work for her with the hottest f&b design firm in LA at the time.  Hospitality design wasn’t really a thing like it is now, or at least, it wasn’t on my radar. I was hesitant to leave the world of architecture but this new office was fun!  We were a bunch of kids running a business. I learned everything about the work end of a design business because someone had to figure it out.  I networked it, did the drawing sets, created libraries, took big board meetings, did collections, created construction bids… I did things I knew how to do and things I had no idea how to do. I loved my job. Eventually, despite my best efforts, the office tanked and I left for London.  I did manual labor, ran a nightclub, got deported, came back to LA where I worked for another hospitality design, and then peeled off to start Preen, Inc. in 2005.  When I started Preen, I gravitated to the chefs and the food world for a couple of reasons. One, they were artists, like me, so they understood what I was doing. Two, they created integrity in their craft and that made sense to me.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s not been a smooth road although it has been a fun one. Continuing to create my business has been the hardest thing I’ve ever willingly chosen to do. When I entered the business, I was really pretty shy.  I was a bit terrified of prospective clients.  There was one year that I lost twenty-seven projects in a row because I did not know how to explain the value I create, how to negotiate, how to close a deal. It’s important to know that great work does not always speak for itself.  Being able to language what is special about what we do is the biggest thing I’ve learned.

Preen, Inc. – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
At Preen, Inc., we do hospitality design and architecture.  We’re most known for creating chef-driven restaurants, primarily in LA, Texas, Hawaii, and Mexico. We’re known for soulful projects like Tesse, which got voted most beautiful in LA for 2018; Odys + Penelope, best design in the nation for 2015 by the AIALA and hot chicken phenomenon Howlin’ Ray’s.  We also do hotels, wineries, scared space and we are completing a ground up architectural home for the Guelaguetza crew in Oaxaca.  Our most remote project would be a surf lodge in the Marshall Islands. It requires three planes, one boat and two days to get to the site. Each one of our designs is wildly unique to each client.

Our clients put themselves on the line because they deeply believe in what they are creating for the world.  Our job is to understand their intention and then communicate what it is to stand inside of their commitment.  That’s what we design. In that space is generosity.  We design environments that express other people’s art, art that is being made to give to another person.  Our projects are narrative and magic.  It’s all about inviting people to join in on the journey.

Currently we are designing Balaio, the first international flagship for Michelin starred chef Rodrigo Oliviera of Brazil.  Rodrigo’s restaurant Mocoto is in a working-class neighborhood an hour from the center of Sao Paolo and people drive there to stand in line.  We are creating a vegan diner in the original Johnny Rocket’s space.  We are designing Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Millikin’s new Border Grill offshoot concept, a chef driven radical called Wildchild, and a 10,000 SF food hall for an Armenian family in LA.

We are currently working to create the business as even more fat and healthy, so that the second part of the business can emerge, and that is development.  There are projects that we just can’t wait for the world to know we need.  We’re not ready to announce our current passion project but I will say, we need to accelerate our growth so that we can further create spaces that allow for evolution in empathy, in wisdom and transformation in humanity.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
My idealism.  I believe that humans are capable of amazing things. We are a deeply compassionate, wildly adventurous circus of animals.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Augusta Quirk, Jake Ahles, Jakob Layman

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