Special Report | June 2013 | By Laurel Nakkas

Birth of a Brand

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New fast food brands like Live Basil first start as innovative business ideas.
Employees at the first Live Basil unit work the line shortly after the restaurant opened.
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What’s in a logo

Though coming up with a name and logo doesn’t have to be the first step in developing a brand, some say it can be helpful to have a concrete visual early on for people to see.

For his part, Bailey believes the logo should be chosen right off the bat, and he says a freelance graphic designer can be just as good as a large firm in coming up with one.
“To me, the image, or the essence of the brand, is what it is all about and shows what story we are telling with the food,” he says. “It has to go hand in hand.”

Yohn says it is important to pick the logo early on for the sake of the shareholders who will need to support the brand before the customers. She says a designer should be given general ideas about the logo rather than specific ones.

“Tell the professional what the attributes are of the logo that you want and what you are trying to communicate about the brand, but let them decide the best way to express that in a logo,” Yohn says.

It’s all about location

Picking a location for the first restaurant involves multiple considerations. The first is the geographic market. Operators must first decide what city and state in which to launch the new quick serve. This includes researching which concepts have failed, which have succeeded, and what the market is like in different cities in order to find the right target audience, the experts say.

After deciding to open the new modern Italian fast-casual concept, Howard and his team researched five major cities as potential launching grounds. He says it’s important to have confidence in the market before breaking ground because financial support will trail off if a concept has already failed in one location.

The second factor playing into the location decision is figuring out whether or not to construct a new building or use an existing space. Vojnovic of Little Greek says retrofitting old restaurants is useful because it can cut an investment by half.

Operators must also be patient; a site search for a first restaurant should take time.

“You really want to learn your area and you really want to take the time to make sure it looks like what you want,” Schaden says. “And then, once you’re sure, you’ve got to make sure it fits your economic model.”

While site selection should be a carefully planned process, Bailey says, a failed restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean a bad location.

“I think good operators of the concept can succeed in almost any location,” he says.
“You have to make yourself a destination. But if it is a good concept, people will come to it.”

Give it some pizazz

Illinois-based Aria Group Architects has designed close to 2,000 restaurants worldwide, many of which were new startups. Though it is possible to come up with an in-store design without using a professional designer, president Jim Lencioni says, the creativity a designer or architect brings to a startup is well worth the cost because it gives a brand distinction and identity and ensures that a restaurant will have a clean, easy-flowing space. 

He says the in-store design should take into account every physical aspect of the space, from the floors to the lighting, ceilings, counters, and walls. The process, he adds, should be less about simple decorating and more about utilizing the architecture and branding.

“One thing about quick serve is you want it to be attractive, but you also want to move the people through it,” he says.

And while it is helpful for a designer to have a brand logo in hand to help influence the in-store design, Lencioni says, often the logo and in-store design process happen at the same time; such was the case for Aria Group’s recent client, Swirlcup.

Whatever you do, don’t slouch on the food

Creating menu offerings is usually a process of trial and error. There are consulting companies that develop recipes and menus using their own chefs. Howard and his team, for example, used the Culinary Edge in San Francisco to develop the menu for their modern Italian concept.

Any entrepreneur developing their menu in-house, meanwhile, should remember that testing the product with potential customers before the store even opens is a must, Bailey says. He suggests renting a table at a local festival or food contest to get the food into strangers’ hands.

“Your friends and your family are going to say nice things,” Bailey says. “But local events are going to tell you whether or not people are willing to pay for it, and strangers will give you feedback.”

Throw open the doors

Social media can help attract a lot of customers on the first day in business, Yohn says, but it must be used with the specific market in mind. Community outreach and hosting preview nights are also ways to build a local fan base before the restaurant even opens, she says.

“Depending on the location and the market, having really breakthrough signage that says ‘grand opening’ very visibly and all the awareness building things that people do with balloons and flags is really important so people know you exist,” Yohn says.

While the grand opening is important, a “soft launch” of the restaurant before the official opening can ensure things are running correctly for the first week or two. Live Basil Pizza, for example, opened the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, an infamously slow weekend for restaurants.

Schaden says the soft launch was for the best because the team could focus their attention on getting the restaurant’s baking schedules nailed down before they had to think about promoting the brand.

“When you open the doors, you have to make them say ‘mmmm’ when they eat, and if you can do that, that is the best advertising you can get,” he says.

Take it slow and steady

Though there are undoubtedly thousands of tips, tricks, and pieces of advice for successfully launching a startup, perhaps the most significant is making sure the process isn’t rushed.

“Make sure you take the time to get it right,” Schaden says. “If you are not sure you have the right product and that you can duplicate that product customer after customer, you’ll be short on your success. Ultimately, the food wins today. [Even if] you are ready for financing and you pick a great site, all of those great things are really ancillary to the food.”

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