The PNC Bank Building in Dupont Circle comfortably holds three fast casual restaurants. Photo by me.

1. Argument

Hume, Scott. “Why Fast Casual is Winning.” Restaurants and Institutions, vol. 117, no. 13, 1 Sept. 2007.

In this piece in former restaurant industry journal Restaurants and Institutions, Scott Hume addresses the rise of fast casual during its ascent in 2010. Hume begins his piece discussing what he sees as the factors for their market success: increased restaurant patronage, novelty, health-consciousness, design, and the increased wealth of older consumers (Hume). After this, he goes into more depth by asking various successful people in the industry why they see an appeal. For example, Seth Salzman, the VP of a company which owns Moe’s Southwest Grill among others, believes that the convenience compared to normal casual dining is a major factor, which is corroborated by others (Hume). After this, he turns his eyes to the future of fast casual dining. In this case, he believes that it will grow quite significantly in the catering market, as it’s brand recognition and affordability will make it more successful than similar competitors. However, he also believes that casual and quick-service restaurants will likely respond to this threat by changing their model to have more similarities to their competitors. Nevertheless, barriers to the later make casual dining’s future look bright.

As we approach the final essay, it’s important to analyze why exactly why fast casual businesses seem to succeed as much as they have in the past decade. While this is a very subjective question, businessmen are most likely to have working hypotheses about this matter, owing to the fact they have the most invested in understanding it. This piece, and it’s arguments about why such places are financially effective, will help me understand and analyze the nature of the places whose nature I am probing.

Chophouse, Chipotle’s south-east Asian themed spinoff, failed tremendously, universally closing early this year. Photo by author.

2. Argument

Maze, Janathan. “Why fast-casual chains are struggling.” Nation’s Restaurant News, vol. 51, no. 5, 3 Apr. 2017, pp. 80-81.

In this short article in restaurant trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News by Janathan Maze, he details how assumptions of continuing growth of fast casual chains appear to have been mistaken, with sales in the fourth quarter of 2016 dropping by 1.1% on average. He prefaces this with an anecdote about the fact that shareholders of the fast food chain Jack in the Box were once again urging the company to sell its fast casual chain Qdoba, seeing it as an unnecessary hanger-on: something unthinkable in a field that had once been the subject of a gold rush (Maze). He goes on to describe the fact that several major chains had problems as well, though this was not universal- with chains such as Fazoli’s growing quite significantly in revenue (Maze). Despite this, Maze goes on to detail what he thinks may be the causes of this slowed growth, suggesting everything from fickle consumers not consistently dining at the often hyperfocused restaurants to increased competition due to market saturation (Maze). He ends on a negative note, reminding readers that failing branches are going to be the source of major drains in leasing fees.

It either says a lot about the nature of hype or about the nature of business that only seven years after an article about why fast casual is “winning” that there’s one about why it is struggling. This article acknowledges several things I see evident in my property- absurd competition and the willingness to throw money at expensive real estate. We’ve already seen the problems Chipotle had with its subsidiary Chophouse, leaving a gaping hole in the storefront I’ve spent months investigating. Whatever may happen, this article will likely provide an interesting way to examine the future of these eateries.

Mayflower Chinese in Tenleytown would NOT pass most of Lin et al’s qualifications very easily (though this may be personal bias). Image by Odele Oyewole.

7. Lin, Yann-Jou, et al. “The Effect of Experiential Providers on Restaurant Patronage Decisions.” Social Behavior and Personality, vol. 40, no. 7, 2012, pp. 1065-1066.

In researchers Lin, Liu, and Chiang’s brief journal article “The Effect of Experiential Providers on Restaurant Patronage Decisions,” the three analyze the results of a survey to examine something often overlooked in regards to restaurant service- namely, the fact that service can be as much of a quality factor as food. They cite a theory of “experiential providers-” namely things that are experienced by consumers through intentional and unintentional acts of businesses, divided into several categories: “communication, verbal identity and signage, product presence, cobranding, spatial environment, electronic media, and people” (Lin et al. 1066). In particular, these researchers examine data collected by a survey asking individuals in Taiwan of either male or female gender how they rated these seven categories (Lin et al. 1065). In the end, their data revealed that the three most important of these factors were, for both genders, people, spatial environment, and product presence (Lin et al. 1065-1066). While these terms are not fully defined, they evidently relate to staff, design, and quality of the product respectively. The researchers note that men care more about the quality of the goods themselves rather than the environment of the restaurant, and vice versa (Lin et al. 1066). The article concludes with a call for further research to formalize the field of empirical food service.

As we approach the final paper, it becomes increasingly evident that I should examine how interiors are not only shaped from a perspective of rhetoric, but also from a perspective of business. While the two intertwine quite a bit, it’s quite necessary to remember that most intentions made with these places are intentional- chain restaurants are a fundamentally inorganic phenomena with lots of intentional attempts at cultivating brand loyalty or specific feelings. Having said that, it becomes apparent that having sources which describe not only methodology for analyzing marketing vis a vis restaurant design, but also useful data, is quite helpful. I plan to look further into the concepts of “experiential providers” as we approach this final paper.

8. Kotler, Phillip. “Atmospherics as a Marketing Tool.” Journal of Retailing, vol. 49, no. 4, 1974, pp. 48-64.

In Phillip Kotler’s academic paper “Atmospheric as a Marketing Tool,” he examines what he considers an underused tool by businesses throughout most fields: atmospherics, or, more plainly, cultivated atmospheres (Kotler 50). To begin, Kotler explains his historical understanding of his theories, stating that atmosphere in a building came as a byproduct of the evolution beyond functional buildings, which was followed by the evolution of atmosphere as an intentional tool (Kotler 49-50). To explain more fully, his argument rests on the idea that these cultivated atmospheres constitute an added value for a product, which helps sweeten the proposition to the consumer (Kotler 48). Furthermore, Kotler argues that the reason why this is worth discussing is the fact that a cultivated environment is increasingly relevant to businessmen if products are purchased on location, if competition is high without major price differences, and if social status is a factor- all of which make the psychological effect of the environment on the product that much more acute (52-53). He goes on to cite numerous examples of how atmosphere can be cultivated in everything from shoe stores (Kotler 55) to airlines (Kotler 59), before setting up a framework for formalizing the creation of a cultivated atmosphere (Kotler 63). Kotler notes that further research and reflection is needed, noting many instances where businesses failed to fully consider the ramifications of an atmosphere and damaged their business in the process (Kotler 63-64). In the end, he reiterates his point that it’s an important tool in the competitive businesses’ playbook.

Kotler’s work, as well as being an interesting read in its own right, is another framework for analysis of the interiors of the fast casual chains I will be examining. While I can also examine Lin’s framework for a breakdown of specific elements, Kotler provides a much better generalized look at how and why decisions are made in these contexts, which will hopefully benefit me in my research. Furthermore, my need for examination of interior design is particularly acute, as the businesses I’m examining share a building, which means that differentiating themselves must occur at the local level. In any case, Kotler’s work will be a major springboard for my future investigations.

5. Background

A proposed branding for stationary, menu design, and other ephemera, with the illustrations by Brosmind.

Merry+Valenzula. “Beefsteak,” Behance, 10 Oct. 2015, https://www.behance.net/gallery/30211853/Beefsteak. Portfolio.

In this brief portfolio work by the creative agency Merry+Valenzula, we see a brief description of the artistic spirit behind Beefsteak’s unique visual identity, both in its branding and its physical locations. For example, one sees dummy versions of apps, menus, and even stationary, as well as a look at assorted merchandise. As well as this, we are given the basic information of the illustrators of the vegetables who make the restaurant unique- a pair of illustrators from Barcelona known as Brosmind. On top of that, we also see concepts of the interior design, arranged by Capella Garcia Arquitectura, another Barceolan firm. Finally, the portfolio ends with an exterior shot of one of the locations.

While this is sparse for words, knowing who was responsible for the signature parts of the restaurant’s design can be a major boon. In the mapping of commonplaces, the main attraction of BGR and it’s neighbors is the way they all utilize space in the same building to vastly different effect- allowing us to see the way they shape similar canvases to create gestalts of a far different rhetorical nature. And above all, it’s quite evident that this restaurant had both time and money put towards making it unique.

6. Background

The interior of the Logan’s Circle branch of Sweetgreen, as mentioned below. This photograph is attributed to Chris Rief, who appears to have taken it purely for this article.

Sirzyk, Samantha. “Behind the Design: Sweetgreen.” We Love DC, 10 Mar. 2010,  http://www.welovedc.com/2010/03/10/behind-the-design-sweetgreen-at-logan-circle/.

In this analytical work by DC blogger Samantha Sirzyk, she examines the interior design of the Sweetgreen at Logan Circle. After mentioning how her interest was sparked a similar write up in the magazine Metropolis, she begins to examine the new decor of the restaurant in great depth, analyzing all the design elements that brings the restaurant together. She first mentions the people involved- Peter Hapstack III on behalf of Core+ Architecture and Design, and Olivia Wolf and the Unison Design Agency for work on the omnipresent logo. She then breaks down specific design notes: use of lighting, distinctive salvaged hickory paneling, subway tiling on the floor. One thing noted in particular is the use of a mural by a local artist, Tang, on the hallway approaching the restroom. She concludes with a positive acclimation of a unique idea for a QR code in the restaurant, used to deliver a unique message every day.

While not exactly a new article, this was written after the establishment of the Dupont Circle branch of Sweetgreen, which means that most of this information is at least a solid lead if not also applicable. Furthermore, this was the newest information I could find on the restaurant’s interior design- I had little other choice. However, I do believe that this information will ultimately prove its worth.

3. Exhibit

BGR’s concept art for their new style of kitchen. Notice the grill-mark motif. Picture by unknown people working for BGR.

BGR: Burgers Grilled Right, “BGR Concept.” BGR: Burgers Grilled Right, 26 Feb. 2017. Accessed 26 Mar. 2017.

In this corporate slideshow, designed specifically for potential BGR franchise owners, BGR details their rebranding from BGR: The Burger Joint to BGR: Burgers Done Right. BGR begins this powerpoint with some of the key messages of the restaurant’s branding and advertising meant to entice investors: “Award Winning Food,” “Chef Driven w/o the Chef and Cooked to Temperature,” and “Build Your Own Creation or Order a BGR Masterpiece” (2). After this summary, BGR then goes into greater depth explaining not only the bigger picture but the minutiae of branding. It’s quite apparent that one of their main prides is the quality of their food (including their “Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna”), not merely cooked but also incorporated into unique specialty burgers and milkshakes, which rotate monthly (5). On top of this line of rhetoric, BGR is also citing a move towards a more health conscious clientele, citing their veggie burger as well as tuna and turkey, as well as an expansion into fresh salads (7). This is combined with a sizable visual rebranding, which they define by three “concepts”: “Simple But Not Minimal,” “Passionate but Not Aggressive,” and “Modern But Not Trendy” (9-11). In the menus, their “passionate” angle holds the most sway, referring to specialty entrees as “Masterpieces” (13) and referring to combos as “Box Sets”, which, in the case of the latter, is “too high quality to be called a combo” (14). They then detail their new visual identity: a motif of diagonal grill marks to emphasis their flame grilled cooking, as well as the central placement of this burger chef to signal the quality and “freshness” of these items (22-23). After noting the selling point of being a locally owned and operated franchise, the Powerpoint concludes with franchisee targeted information (26).

This rebranding provides a unique glimpse at how BGR positions itself in the market, and helps prove several of the points I’ve presented previously as correct. This will also serve me quite well in examining their rhetoric of place much more accurately- how their intended rhetoric reflects into their building, and whether or not it wins as the dominant factor. In case of a remodeling in the Dupont Circle branch, this will also give me at least an idea towards the aspirational design of the “Burgers Grilled Right” era of BGR.

4. Background

I had to look up what a Fuddrucker’s even was. If I heard someone say that name before I would probably slap them. Picture by the David McKee Architecture firm.

Ferdman, Roberto. “The Chipotle Effect: Why America Is Obsessed with Fast Casual Food.” The Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2015. Accessed 26 Mar. 2017.

In this article, Roberto Ferdman discusses the newest trend in the restaurant industry: the rise of fast casual dining. Once restricted to more upscale urban neighborhoods, where it’s on foot accessibility would drive traffic, the style took the United States by storm on the success of restaurants like Chipotle (this article written before the E. Coli scandal), Panera Bread, and Shake Shack (Ferdman). Ferdman takes the time to address the question of what, exactly, is a “fast casual” restaurant? This is a surprisingly contentious question, though it’s narrowed down to a usual ticket of $9-13 and over 50% of their revenue coming from take out. Technomic gives other criteria, such as “fair pricing,” “a perception of freshness,” and “first-rate decor,” but these are not universally accepted- sources disagree about whether Buffalo Wild Wings qualifies (Ferdman). However, one thing is certain: at the time of writing, Chipotle led the charge with its value, not price, commitment, which companies like Panera Bread began to emulate, especially in regards to ecological commitments (Ferdman). Ferdman dates the earliest examples of this trend to the early 90s, with companies like Fuddruckers and Au Bon Pain, but the category took off with the “Great Recession,” rapidly growing among millennial demographics who found the increased health consciousness compared to fast food a worthwhile investment. It’s quite evident that this category, which currently controls 5% of American food sales, is quite potentially the way of the future- leading chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Subway to make moves towards emulating their competitors (Ferdman). Only time will see the final product of this evolution.

BGR: Burgers Grilled Right is an incredibly obscure chain, so analyzing subjects involving it requires generalizing outside information in its context. This article, communicating an amount of insight about the trend of fast casual restaurants, is fairly unique of a subject and may prove helpful for a wider analysis of the company. Furthermore, if I expand my analysis to the scale of the building it shares with other restaurants, it’s possible to examine wider trends in Dupont Circle’s food scene, as well as what is gained by placing competing restaurants side by side.

1. Background

The facade of BGR at Dupont Circle

Neibauer, Michael. “PNC Sells Dupont Branch for $60.75 Million.” Washington Business Journal, 4 May 2015, http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/breaking_ground/2015/03/pnc-sells-dupont-branch-for-60-75-million.html.

In this basic, mostly no nonsense article, Michael Neibauer deals with the most immediate history of the building in which BGR is a tenant: the PNC Bank branch on Dupont Circle. Originally, this building, built and formerly owned by Riggs Bank in 1923, was acquired by PNC to house a local branch of their own bank, with the bank’s leased properties staying put. However, it was sold to L&B Realty Advisors on behalf of an unnamed pension fund client. Nevertheless, PNC themselves have obtained a lease on the property to continue their business there, appearing to have offloaded the bank purely for the immediate financial gain.

This sort of information forms the backbone of any research into the underlying ideas of a place. A property’s history of ownership can tell stories of local history and help to support other narratives surrounding a place. This will likely be used to complete a more immediate understanding of a place’s history as well as provide the leads for more in depth research on this building’s history.

2. Background

The former headquarters of Riggs National Bank.

O’Brien, Timothy L. “At Riggs Bank, A Tangled Path Led to Scandal.” The New York Times, 19 July

2004. NYTimes.com, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/19/us/at-riggs-bank-a-tangled-path-led-to-scandal.html.

In this article, O’Brien details a massive scandal that implicated Riggs National Bank and ultimately lead one of the capital’s foremost financial institution into PR ruin. After the infamous events of 9/11, banks were subject to vastly increased scrutiny in a quest to find anything that could stop another major terrorist attack- and Riggs found out the hard way. For instance, a Congressional inquiry stemmed from the discovery that the bank had unquestioningly harbored a bank account for Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and gone to lengths to hide it, including changing the name on the account when sent to regulators and sending him his money rather than freezing the account during a Congressional investigation- all for a man accused of human rights abuses. In addition, a similar issue occurred once again with another dictator- this time that of Equatorial Guinea, one Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasago. Specifically, the bank blindly helped Teodoro shuttle money away from government treasuries to foreign shell companies after pursuing him as a customer, going so far as to allow a deposit of $3 million dollars in cash without question. Furthermore, similar issues of non-reporting occurred with the accounts of numerous Saudi officials, a sticking point in the post-9/11 era that likely escalated this more more than it would have been otherwise. Consequently, all this together was enough to put the final nail in the company- selling out to PNC in 2004.

This article provides a great introductory point for digging deep into the history of this building, and what it means for it to house a simple burger joint today. This kind of deep, hidden scandal is far too common in the US business world but only rarely uncovered- and when it is, all hell tends to break loose. The behavior of the bank cost them their respect and wealth, all for the pursuit of questionably sourced dollars- a fascinating case of rise and fall. Contrasting this with the simplicity of BGR may prove to be an interesting viewpoint.

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