From Industrial Design student to restaurateur
Jen Marlatt is the co-owner of a wildly popular restaurant in Columbus’ Short North arts district. And the flexibility of the vibrant and active arts district combined with the lessons she learned as a student at Columbus College of Art & Design were two keys to her success.
“When I arrived at CCAD, I was, like, I know nothing. I was trying to be a sponge and absorb as much as I could,” Marlatt recounted. “[Now] I can't not look at something and see a creative [solution] or purpose.”
In fact, it was the way the CCAD taught Marlatt how to think that would lead her and Sangeeta Lakhani — who also attended CCAD — to co-found The Table, a hip and welcoming eatery dedicated to the concept “fork responsibly.”
Born in the small town of Lima, Ohio, to two parents “that love to renovate and rebuild,” Marlatt was steered towards the arts in her small Catholic high school by “a fantastic art teacher that really inspired us.”
“Although a lot of other teachers and the principal were pushing me into science or something they thought was ’more viable,’ I just knew that wasn't the answer for me,” said Marlatt. “I knew that I was meant for some form of a creative life.”
Marlatt chose CCAD despite an opportunity to attend an arts program at a larger university for free. “I loved the intimacy of CCAD, the small classes,” Marlatt said. “I had talked to other friends where you're in school with a class with 400 people. You're not a name, you're not a person, let alone a student that they're going to mentor through the process.”
She enrolled in the Industrial Design program and took advantage of CCAD’s diverse programming, taking courses in welding, woodworking, exhibit design, and other areas that would later prove beneficial in her real world. “I loved that I could get my hands on so many different things and learn techniques that I still utilize today,” she said.
Marlatt would also form bonds and friendships as an undergrad that have shaped her life ever since. “I'm still friends with a lot of the people that I met that first year,” Marlatt said. “In fact, the very first person I met moving into the dorm, we're like family now.”
In fact, when she graduated, Marlatt would join that friend, Lars Johansson, at Viking Tattoo, the tattoo and piercing studio Johansson founded while still a student at CCAD. Marlatt worked for six years as a body piercer, also illustrating original tattoo concepts. “We did all custom work, so I was drawing every day and designing tattoos as well as piercing,” she said. “So very much hands-on with things that I learned at CCAD.”
Marlatt also worked to integrate herself into the burgeoning community centered around the Short North neighborhood, creating logos and event posters for friends to build her design portfolio. She eventually got her “foot in the door” with L Brands, the Columbus-based retail giant behind brands including Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, where she’s spent 10 years as an associate and contractor.
“Even out in the retail world, I've been on interviews where the only reason I got the interview was because I was a CCAD graduate,” Marlatt said. “Because [employers say] the creative problem-solving that they teach ... you don't get that anywhere.”
All the way back to her time as a student at CCAD, Marlatt had also spent time in side jobs in the restaurant industry, so when she and Lakhani came up with a dining concept they saw a need for, it was creative problem-solving that made The Table a reality, especially in its initial formation.
Marlatt drew the floor plans for the restaurant herself. Some of that old work with power tools obviously has come in handy. “Even just knowing what kind of polyurethane to use on the floor,” Marlatt laughed. “Simple, dorky things that most people don't know unless you come out of a strong design school and can apply it to what's really happening in a buildout.”
While the path from art school student to restaurateur may seem unusual, Marlatt knows the skills she learned help her every day, and she encourages prospective and current students to consider that as they look to their future.
“If you follow your heart, and you go to CCAD, and you listen to your instructors, and if you bust your butt, you're gonna be awesome,” she said. “And you're gonna succeed wherever you land. Because they don't build losers.”
Read more in our series CCAD & Columbus.
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