Food News

Restaurant Designer Karen Hanlon Talks Sugarcane, YOLO, and More

Yesterday we met Karen Hanlon, a restaurant designer whose work can be viewed as dining art. Today she talks Sugarcane, Houston's and sphinxes.

New Times: What is the most extravagant design you have worked on?

Karen Hanlon: I designed the Hard Rock Cafe in Myrtle Beach, SC.  It was a pyramid complete with 2 sphinx fountains and an awesome entry.  The opening party came complete with "Hunky Egyptian slaves fanning the people walking in".  The entry is about 2.5 stories above the dining room and the stage and you feel so powerful looking down on the whole scene.  But I prefer creating the neighborhood joints - a place to hang your hat, where you want to keep going back because you feel at home but totally stoked to go every time. That is my joy.

Looking back, what have been some of your favorite projects and why?

I loved working on Houston's in New Orleans and The Atlanta Fish Market in Buckhead.  Early in my career I got to work with industry greats like George Biel - the owner and creator of Houston's, as well as Panos Karatassos from Atlanta.  Both of these men were heavy influences of my career.  I learned from the best.  I also truly enjoyed working  with Tim Petrillo on YOLO and VIBE in Fort  Lauderdale so much.  The team was amazing and the results have been a huge success.

Which is your favorite restaurant in Miami to dine in?

Honestly, I do not go out in Miami very often.  I am also a single mom

so my social time is limited.  But I have enjoyed Sugarcane a lot.  It

has great energy and a very down-to-earth appeal for me.  I am a very

low-key person.  I look for places that are real, that attract an interesting and diverse crowd. It is great people-watching.

Do you find that your career affects your dining experience?

I am not sure how to answer that.   I have always been in this business and have always been inspired by it.  I can thoroughly enjoy myself without being verbally critical.  My perception is constant no matter where I am.  I am probably more critical of every experience than most people - that is my nature.  however, I can be inspired just about anywhere.

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Christina Staalstrom