Don't you HATE those headlines?
Me too. But since you're here, Let me begin the story of a restaurant that opened in Pittsburgh late in 2015. Specifically how the process works going through branding, interior and exterior signage execution, menus and everything in between.
This project came from my client, the Gateway Clipper Fleet here in Pittsburgh. I work on site with them on the Monongahela River about once a week to meet about ongoing projects. I started to hear that they were developing a storefront in the restaurant/shopping area above their dock. They decided to take their years of experience in food service beyond the riverboat and onto dry land to open a RESTAURANT!
So, of course I wanted to be a part of this - but I didn't want to be pushy.
A little backstory:
At this point, let me explain that I have a long history with the Gateway Clipper Fleet. I was extremely fortunate to have worked as the Graphic Designer for the Clipper for the first 6 years of my career. I left there for an opportunity in Dick's Sporting Goods' marketing department, where I worked for the next 12 years before going out on my own with BetterBe Creative Services. I reconnected with the Gateway Clipper about 9 months after leaving corporate life.
So that quickly catches you up - I was in the position of knowing some of the people I was working with very well - and others not at all. I knew the business very well - yet it had evolved over 12 years. It was incredibly familiar and strange at the same time.
Popping the question...
Heading up the project was one of the people I didn't have a prior relationship with. They were all about the details of getting contractors and floor plans and getting everything OPERATIONAL... but weren't thinking about marketing just yet. I knew they had to start thinking of it sooner than later so I found the opportunity to pop the question...."So... do you have anyone in mind for working on the logo/branding?" (*big smile*). I was surprised to hear that they weren't going to need to do that.
So I fought my natural instinct to ask a million questions, and I let that information simmer in the back of my mind and went about my business. Until the day I got the call - "Can you change our logo from saying "Gateway Clipper Fleet" to "Gateway Clipper Café"? (They had to order shirts for future employees.)
So that explained why they weren't going to pursue new branding. But in the meantime my simmering had produced a fully cooked idea, and this was the opportunity to put it on the table. (simmering - cooked - table... see what I did there?)
You see - I knew it would be a mistake to alter the logo so slightly. When people looked at the Café logo - potential customers wouldn't actually READ it - their brain would just tell them it was the Gateway Clipper Fleet. A blessing and a curse, right? What they needed was a logo close enough to the existing one to speak to the 50 year legacy of the Clipper plus the distinct message of "restaurant".
So when I showed them what they asked for...
I also showed them this...
I generally wouldn't have designed a logo without first being officially ASKED to... but sometimes you have to gamble - and I generally gamble when I'm pretty sure the odds are in my favor. I knew it was a solid concept, and my gut told me they would realize the value once they saw it.
Let's get this party started
Well, OF COURSE they loved it (*whew*) and they were excited about the branding possibilities of their new venture... starting with branding the business plan, which was already underway! I had just boarded a moving roller coaster that was filled with floor layouts, menus, printers and negotiating with property managers. These all were things I could handle while the Gateway Clipper could concentrate on getting the operations right.