When comparing fast casual from traditional fast food, the food is often the distinguishing factor. Nevertheless, the restaurant’s atmosphere still plays a major part in separating a quick bite from a meal that invites patrons to linger.
In 2011 Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill began updating its design. The Southern California concept recently unveiled its first freestanding store in Northridge, just across the street from California State University’s Northridge campus. The newest location epitomizes fast-casual cool and features architectural elements that are a subtle nod to the local area, including the modern Valley Performing Arts Center. This Sharky’s location is filled with light, thanks to a 20-foot ceiling and two stories of windows, as well as natural flourishes, such as sandblasted Douglas Fir beams, as well as an outdoor awning of the same material that resembles a skateboard ramp, blue-gray Carrara marble countertops, cushy booths, and a slick bar to boot.
Founder and CEO Steve Paperno says the goal was to elevate the décor to the level of its menu, which features an assortment of traditional and Mexican-American fusion dishes such as quinoa salads, wild-caught fish burritos, and “naked” fajita bowls, as well as craft beer and kombucha (fermented tea) on tap.
“We wanted to have an environment that matched the quality of our food,” Paperno says. “Environment plays a big role on people’s senses.”
While a number of brands have updated their store to showcase a more open layout, Sharky’s has engineered its design to accommodate customers on multiple occasions. In addition to the bar and dining booths, Sharky’s has a communal table inside and a patio replete with a fire pit and outdoor seating.
COO David Goldstein says that these seating options create a “real distinct arena,” which welcomes a couple having an intimate dinner, a large group of friends catching up, as well as sports fans ready to watch the big game.
By changing the atmosphere, Sharky’s leadership hoped to also capture more of the dinner vote rather than the just the lunch crowd. The tall ceilings and varied seating options make the already sizeable 2,800 square foot space feel like it’s more like 4,000 square feet, Goldstein says.
With 22 locations, all located in Southern California, Sharky’s is posed to begin growing outside of its home turf, first in Tualatin, Oregon, and possibly later in Arizona and Northern California.
By Nicole Duncan