The photo that started this crazy journey. Picture by the author.

I approach this essay with the slightest of trepidation. This, after all, is the culmination of nearly four months of work, toil, and sweat. I feel I should be forgiven for a feeling of inadequacy to the task. Nevertheless, time waits for no man, and as the due date surges closer I must finally explain my work to the world. This all started with a whim of mine- why not research a restaurant for my project? This would prove to be not only a large mistake, but also a window into something I knew nothing about. In any case, I hope you do not mind a bit of a chronological story- let’s start at the beginning.

I remember the combination of confusion and interest I felt when first presented with the concept for this project: “analyzing the rhetoric” of a specific location mentioned in S Street Rising, with a small list of choice selections presented to us. To be honest, my gut reaction was to pick some place that was convenient- while I didn’t know at the time how long I would be spending there, I would be happy with any place close to a Metro stop on the Red line. Seeing a burger place on the map and being a hungry college student, I naturally gravitated towards BGR, a restaurant I had seen but never entered. Thus, I made the fateful spreadsheet entry, flinging me face first into the world of fast casual dining.

While this is a misnomer, their advertising was very real. Picture by author.

Let us skip forward a bit to after our first essay. By this point, I had realized that there was only so much one could say about BGR: The Burger Joint, an incredibly boring restaurant whose food I refused to eat a second time. I was left with a conundrum- how do I spend the rest of a semester beating what seemed to be a dead horse? I realized this when I thought about the building for a moment- there were THREE fast casual restaurants sharing tenant space in a single building on one block! This seemed beyond odd to me for several reasons, the biggest of which is how they could stay in business without succumbing to competition, even if they weren’t all directly fighting for the same customers. I was forced to look deep into a sort of business that I had never patronized before moving to DC- I had never even been to a Chipotle branch when I began my research. To begin with, my first real question was where this fast casual trend had even come from? The research into that brought something far more interesting to my attention: the intense similarity in fast casual chains. As well as a set of ten rubrics which tended to define these chains, sourced from Technomic by the Washington Post’s Roberto Ferdman, it also came to my attention how many built off the idea of “customizing” a menu item within a limited subset of ingredients. This made me realize a more relevant truth- all three of these restaurants, despite vastly different self perceptions, all shared the same storefronts and likely much of the same style of space. This meant, quite simply, I could compare their rhetoric on an apples-to-apples basis, rather than resorting to abstraction.

My research was then focused on examining the fundamentals of how these chains cultivated an intentional atmosphere, which I examined through several articles about more scientific views of how restaurant design and service worked. These were helpful, but only to a degree- the format of this project did not allow for as much in depth analysis as I would have liked, though they did help me interpret much of what I saw. Similarly, I focused my Digital Archives research on getting photos of the restaurants I had yet to patronize, though I chose to focus on exploring the architecture rather than an in-depth look at Sweetgreen from the perspective of my pocketbook. This gave me a decent basis for my project, giving me professional insight and a photo library I didn’t already have access to. However, I still had not yet decided on a focus for the multi-modal portion of the project.

I had hoped to have more interactivity in this project, but American University’s insistence that I didn’t know what I was doing meant a lot of time staring at this for no real benefit. Screenshot by author.

My gut feeling was that at least half of it would be a presentation. In all honest, I would have preferred an essay- I am much better at composing my thoughts into sentences rather than condensing it down into a sensible presentation, but nevertheless I wanted to keep to the multi-modal formula. I went with Prezi, recently the subject of a revamping, for its dynamism, easy embed-ability, and unique way of presenting slideshows compared to similar products. While I have several complaints about it, it’s nevertheless an elegant way of making decent looking presentations. The second half was more tricky- I had originally considering a video art piece intending to bring like to the consumerist consumption inherent in the restaurant, but I lacked the AV equipment and software necessary to bring such a lofty idea to life. However, inspiration came to me from another one of my classes- my AU Scholars seminar, which involved a historical research project. In particular, we made heavy use of mapping tools to present our data and visualize our conclusions, which inspired me to do something similar, though in a somewhat less fancy manner. While I may have had a grander project with more time or a better understanding of the Google Maps API, nevertheless I took on the goal of mapping out every restaurant within a rough half mile of Dupont Circle, and determining the hot spots for fast casual dining. This eventually panned out well, with a handful of interesting data points relating to this which I attempted to give meaning to in my presentation. After writing this essay, I concluded with a simple bit of web design utilizing WordPress- a useful if beyond irritating tool when control over HTML is limited.

I will say that, in the end, I am mostly satisfied with what I have wrought- though I admit not quite. Certain technical limitations, both of my own inadequacies in dealing with APIs and of simple time constraints, meant I had to focus my research on a single block rather than the entire city. Such a thing would have been sufficient in scale to deal with an topic on a national scale, but alas, we find ourselves bound by the neighborhood. While I admit I would have preferred another location if I could go back and change time, I would have likely not learned half as much. Ultimately, it’s what we make of it.

This is what finalizing this project looked like. Photo by author.

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.