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Food Stylist Turned Restaurant Designer is Making a Houston Impact With a Top Chef Onboard — Amanda Medsger Creates Whole Vibes

Falling Into the World of Design

BY // 08.23.21
photography Denny Culbert

When the curtain goes up on chef Chris Shepherd’s yet-to-be-named Regent Square restaurant before year’s end (fingers crossed), it will mark merely the latest high point of the thriving restaurant/interior design business that Amanda Medsger inadvertently fell into. The live fire-focused Houston restaurant is among four that the talented designer is undertaking for Shepherd’s Underbelly Hospitality.

Medsger is currently working on a revamp of UB Preserv to better reflect the personality of executive chef Nick Wong and working on the Texas-themed design of Wild Oats and its neighbor Underbelly Burger, which both will be located in the Houston Farmers Market.

The native Texan has come a long way from career beginnings in retail installations, display design and visual merchandising. Medsger’s first pivot was to prop  styling thanks to an invitation from photographer Ralph Smith. Soon she met commercial photographer Julie Soefer. Quickly, Medsger developed an expertise in food styling.

To date, she has four cookbooks in her portfolio: multiple award-winning Cajun cookbook Mosquito Supper Club, Alba Huerta’s Julep, Justin Devillier’s The New Orleans Kitchen and Shepherd’s Cook Like a Local.

“Her understanding of food translates into restaurants,” says restaurant publicist Lindsey Brown, who is married to Shepherd. “She has a strong instinct and years of experience of how aesthetics and food complement one another.”

Proof of that innate talent is Vestal restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana, the design of which is winning rave reviews on Yelp. Merely one of numerous examples of praise for the restaurant’s design: “We were blown away by the remodel of the former Antler’s building. The ambience and decor are unlike anything else in Lafayette with a clean, modern aesthetic. It’s evident that every detail was considered and the result is a gorgeous restaurant.”

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VestalInteriorEdit43 (Photo by Denny Culbert)
Restaurant/interior designer Amanda Medsger has been tapped by Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly Hospitality to take on four of its properties. (Photo by Denny Culbert)

Photographer Denny Culbert, with whom Medsger had worked on cookbooks, introduced her to chef Ryan Trahan and a fast partnership was formed.

“I wanted to create a space that didn’t exist in Lafayette. It’s a great food town but with few options for fine dining,” Medsger says. “I wanted to create a space that when you walked in, you were not in Lafayette, but you were in New York or Los Angeles.”

Vestal is packed nightly and Medsger has a star in her design portfolio.

Chris Shepherd Signs On

A few years back, Medsger designed a backyard party for a local magazine that involved Shepherd. So enticing was the table scene that she created that Shepherd and Brown asked her to do the interiors of their new home.

“I did it and it all worked out,” Medsger recalls, adding that after seeing her work with Vestal, Shepherd approached her with, “You’ve done one restaurant, here are five more.”

With that task assigned in May, the talented Medsger hired two designers and an officer manger within two months and is moving ahead full speed.

While residential design remains on her plate, Medsger allows the restaurants are simply more fun.

Her work at UB Preserv centers around the personality of Chef Wong. “Nick is so playful and fun and he takes cooking seriously,” Medsger says. “But his kitchen is a fun atmosphere and we want to reflect that in the dining room. Chris wants him to really feel like it’s his restaurant.”

VestalInteriorEdit08 (Photo by Denny Culbert)
Vestal restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana, is an example of the work by Houston-based designer Amanda Medsger. (Photo by Denny Culbert)

The mantra of the redesign as explained by Wong is kaizen, meaning change for the better or continuous improvement. The transformation will take place incrementally on Sundays and Mondays when the restaurant is closed. Patrons can look for improved lighting with the addition of chandeliers, pendants and sconces; the addition of murals by local artists; and painting  the floor. The patio is undergoing a transformation also with more greenery, opening it up to be lighter and creating a warmer environment.

While there remains a lid on Shepherd’s exact plan for Regent Square, Medsger has a few points in mind.

“Chris’s food is so amazing and there are such amazing people in the kitchen, working with him and for him that I want the design to reflect what’s going on in the kitchen,” she says. “And I want people to be excited about it. And for them to be on the forefront of design in Houston because that is what they deserve and that’s what they should be doing.

Underbelly should be setting the bar for restaurants to come . . . I feel like he’s got the foodie crowd. He’s got his loyal, loyal people. I think we’re just going to bring in a whole new demographic with the work that we’ve been doing and a whole new level of respect within the design community and the restaurant community.”

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