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Architecture + Branding: IHOP mines heritage as it recasts its signature A-frame roof design

1-A family restaurant

In the Hangover 2, Phil (Bradley Cooper) simultaneously and succinctly summarizes the good and the not-so-good about the International House of Pancakes restaurant chain.

Nonetheless, Phil’s sentiment could hardly be inferred as representative, as hordes of loyal patrons favour the brand’s more traditional family friendly slant. As such, IHOP’s ranking as “#1 in Family Dining” by Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual Top 100 issue would come as little surprise (source: ihop.com). Serving a full menu stocked with lunch and dinner items, IHOP’s main offering overwhelmingly remains breakfast foods, such as pancakes, waffles, French toast, and omelets. However, unlike casual dining chains, family dining restaurants by and large eschew bars and alcohol/liquor.

Nearing the 1,600-unit mark in system-wide restaurants, IHOP (International House of Pancakes) has definitely carved itself an enviable place in the restaurant/dining marketplace over the last 50+ years (source: ihop.com). Having grown almost entirely through franchising, the US-based restaurant chain now spans far beyond its original California roots.

2-Brand building blueprint

In 1958, brothers Jerry and Al Lapin Jr., along with early investors, opened a restaurant that would specialize in breakfast foods, particularly pancakes. Located in the Los Angeles suburb of Toluca Lake, the first International House of Pancakes would set the stage for the explosive expansion to come.

The initial restaurant opened to marked success and public acceptance. Largely influenced by the orange roofs of Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain, Al Lapin Jr. replicated the design approach with a blue roof motif that would become an IHOP fixture (source: latimes.com).


Subsequently, concluding that the architectural style was reflective of a “homey” vibe, Al Jr. incorporated an A-frame roof design when building the Woodland Hills IHOP on Ventura Boulevard in 1960 (source: latimes.com).

IHOP - A-frame building Route 281 (North West Street) at Clinton Street Homer NY 4 https___maps.google.ca

A-frame building, (3/4 Front view), Route 281 (North West Street) at Clinton Street, Homer, New York (source: maps.google.com)

In the same year, operating a fledging restaurant empire now consisting of three locations, the Lapin brothers concluded that franchising was the best approach to achieve rapid expansion and true “international” status (source: ihop.com, latimes.com, franchisehelp.com). By 1961, the company became publicly traded under the name International House of Pancakes (source: ihop.com). Armed with a stock with growth potential that gained favour with investors, a business plan that appealed to franchisees/operators, a restaurant concept and menu that quickly took off with the American public, IHOP proved there was a definite appetite for a restaurant concept based on pancakes.

Furthermore, introducing the instantly recognizable A-frame design into the IHOP design lexicon was a remarkable stroke of marketing genius.

IHOP 1586 Northern Boulevard Manhasset NY 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (Right side 3/4 view), 1586 Northern Boulevard, Manhasset, New York (source: maps.google.com)

A slender yet long layout resulted in a floorplan that was rigid, rectangular, and very serviceable. Capped with a steeply inclined roof on the narrowest facade, the A-frame design became instantly identifiable.

IHOP 1215 North Woodland Boulevard Deland FL 4 2007 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 1215 North Woodland Boulevard, Deland, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Predominantly oriented so as to have the narrow facade facing the street, the ingress/egress would typically point inwards onto the site provided vehicle parking lot.

IHOP 1215 North Woodland Boulevard Deland FL 1 Aerial https___maps.google

IHOP (Aerial view), 1215 North Woodland Boulevard, Deland, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Narrow and tall, the smaller end gable facade conventionally featured equally sized windows on either side of an unassuming exit door.

IHOP 1201 East Edwardsville Road Wood River IL 5 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 1201 East Edwardsville Road, Wood River, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

The opposite end gable, typically non-public, is not surprisingly less adorned, serving more functional and operational needs such as deliveries.

Jutting out from the longer facade, the main customer entrance is housed within an oversize dormer, located somewhat off-centre to mid-point, visually and functionally dividing the customer ends and the kitchen/service end of the restaurant.

IHOP 1201 East Edwardsville Road Wood River IL 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 1201 East Edwardsville Road, Wood River, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Exterior wall materials tend to consist of a mix of highly durable, impact-resistant materials such as brick, stone, or painted CMU (concrete masonry units). The upper portion of the exterior walls also introduces lighter materials such as wood, especially between the window openings.

IHOP 50 Parsonage Road Edison NJ 6 2007 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front view), 50 Parsonage Road, Edison, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 15635 Ventura Boulevard at Haskell Avenue Encino (LA) CA 5 2014 https___maps.google

IHOP  (Side 3/4 view), 15635 Ventura Boulevard at Haskell Avenue, Encino (Los Angeles) California (source: maps.google.com)

A system of columns establishes rhythm and articulation into the longer facades. Compartmentalizing the longer elevations into smaller sub-units affords opportunities to introduce windows into the elevations in a predetermined, regular, and consistent daylight opening (DLO) size.

IHOP 785 Parkway Avenue Trenton NJ 1 2011 https___maps.google.ca

IHOP (side 3/4 view), 785 Parkway Avenue, Trenton, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

The resulting interrupted ribbon type windows, along with the cladding materials, heighten the public customer end and kitchen/service demarcation.

IHOP 2454 North University Drive Sunrise FL 2 https___maps.google.ca

IHOP (Front view), 2454 North University Drive, Sunrise, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

The elevation directly opposite the main entrance is mostly devoid of any ornamentation. However, the brick chimney protruding through the roof injects one of the few points of visual interest to this facade.

IHOP 15635 Ventura Boulevard at Haskell Avenue Encino (LA) CA 7 2014 https___maps.google

IHOP (side 3/4 view), 15635 Ventura Boulevard at Haskell Avenue, Encino (Los Angeles), California (source: maps.google.com)

A decorative motif of white battens is often housed within the gables. The lithe trim purposefully breaks up the area within the gable while adding a sense of delicateness, intricacy and nostalgia.

IHOP 6780 No 3 Road at Park Road Richmond BC 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side view), 6780 No 3 Road, Richmond, British Columbia (source: maps.google.com)

Readily identifiable, International House of Pancakes (IHOP) traded upon and popularized the A-frame restaurant design, becoming attributed to and emblematic of the brand most associated with breakfast.

3-A kick in the A-frame

At the tail end of the 1970s, IHOP would finally abandon its now famous A-frame building design.

Furloughed to the brand’s archives, the last of the iconic A-frame IHOPs was built in 1979 (source: ihop.com).

IHOP 1313 Hillsborough Street Raleigh NC 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (side 3/4 view), 1313 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 1313 Hillsborough Street Raleigh NC 7 https___maps.google

IHOP (side 3/4 view), 1313 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, IHOP’s popularity continued to surge mostly unabated. Breaching one billion dollars is system-wide sales for the first time in 1998, IHOP proved to be one of the most popular family restaurant chains (source: ihop.com). A scant three years later (2001), IHOP opened store number 1,000 in Layton, UT (source: ihop.com). On one hand, the torrid pace translated into fanatical growth for the brand. Yet, on the other hand, devoid of any distinct brand-reinforcing building design, IHOP was steadily becoming indistinguishable from competitors, Perkins, Denny’s, and others, also plying in the all-day breakfast family restaurant/diner segment.

IHOP 2680 Beach Boulevard Biloxi MS 1 https___maps.google.ca

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 2680 Beach Boulevard, Biloxi, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 810 US 46 Kenvil NJ 4 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 810 US 46, Kenvil, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 19100 Ventura Boulevard Tarzana (LA) CA 3 https___maps.google.ca

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 19100 Ventura Boulevard, Tarzana (Los Angeles), California (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 110 Lincoln Highway Suite 1 Fairless Hills PA 4 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 110 Lincoln Highway, Suite 1, Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 260 US-206 Hillsborough Township NJ 2 https___maps.google.ca

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 260 US-206, Hillsborough Township, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 775 Rockville Pike Rockville MD 2 https___maps.google

IHOP (Rear 3/4 view), 775 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 200 Mountain Avenue Hackettstown NJ 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 200 Mountain Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 170 Front Royal Pike Winchester VA 2 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 170 Front Royal Pike, Winchester, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 1935 Skibo Road Fayetteville NC 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 1935 Skibo Road, Fayetteville, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

DSC09485 IHOP - Denny's Route 11 near Interstate 81 Cicero NY

Denny’s (Front 3/4 view), Route 11 near Interstate 81, Cicero, New York

Increasingly, consumer sentiment towards the IHOP brand and sales volume seemed to diverge from the previous parallel paths.

IHOP 2700 Greenway Drive Jackson MS 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 2700 Greenway Drive, Jackson, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

Consumer feedback such as “dull,” “stark” and “institutional” served as a swift kick in the rear that the brand was perhaps beginning to lose some of its previous lustre (source: vmsd.com). Whereas IHOP brand awareness exceeded 80 percent in the 1990s, it had eroded into “not top of mind” status around the early part of the new millennium (source: ihop.com, vmsd.com). Clearly, a radical change was required.

IHOP 106 State Road 36 Keyport NJ 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front view), 106 State Road 36, Keyport, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Bath, Ohio-based Louis & Partners Design were hired to craft an environment that transcended “friendly,” “genuine” and “the family’s first choice” qualities (source: vmsd.com). Fresh and contemporary without adhering to trends and fads, palatable for a nationwide audience, cost-effective with a high incidence of franchisee buy-in/adoption for a massive rollout, the redesign would maintain some of the familiar and inject some of the brand’s nostalgia and heritage (source: vmsd.com).

In late 2004, the results could be seen in the three company-owned prototype restaurants opened in Cincinnati (source: vmsd.com). The prototype design unabashedly mined the brand history by re-interpreting the iconic A-frame roof for a new generation.

IHOP Cincy 4826 Marburg Avenue Cincinnati OH 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 4826 Marburg Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Mounting the A-frame inspired roof element high above provided an opportunity to bring in additional daylighting through staggered clerestory windows between the roof planes (source: vmsd.com). Opening up the space vertically helped to capitalize on the added sense of drama and opulence/luxury within the entrance/vestibule area.

IHOP Cincy 4826 Marburg Avenue Cincinnati OH 2 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 4826 Marburg Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Re-mixing IHOP’s patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme, red window mullions beset the traditional blue coloured roof.

IHOP Cincy 7862 Montgomery Road Cincinnati OH 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 7862 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Decorative stone wall cladding recalls the actual chimney that once existed in the early IHOP locations, also adding visual and material variety to the exterior facades.

IHOP Cincy 9540 Colerain Avenue Cincinnati OH 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 9540 Colerain Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Likewise, on the inside, interest and visual variety was stressed whilst attempts were made to reduce clutter and increase authenticity (source: vmsd.com). Furniture, fixture, and equipment (FF&E) changes included proposing soft seating options, a variety of lighting fixtures, several floor finish materials, as well as unique wallpapers, graphics and flair (source: vmsd.com).

Additionally, a melding of lower zoned ceilings and high-back seating, along with changes in the customer payment/transactional service model, furthers the perceived customer privacy and intimacy, thus encouraging lingering (source: vmsd.com).

The results and customer reaction from the new prototype restaurant design would surely provide data to tweak, refine and proceed with the eventual rollout of a fresh and contemporary re-interpretation of the IHOP brand.

4-Life after ICON

In 2006, IHOP unveiled the “ICON” building prototype, billing it as the “look for IHOP in the new millennium” (source: ihop.com).

Culled from the feedback and fallout from the 2004 Cincinnati-area prototype test-lab restaurants, the ICON design marks the official return of the signature, although re-imagined, A-frame roof, into the IHOP design language.

IHOP 165 Tom Hill Sr Boulevard Macon GA 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 165 Tom Hill Sr Boulevard, Macon, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

A linear, bulky, square-ish, 4500 sq – 6000 sq ft box, clad in an EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System) facade, the design has an any time, any place aura that allows it to blend in to many climates and locales.

Proposing more articulation, the added material variety helps to accentuate the surface/plane changes.

IHOP 7821 Good Middling Drive Fayetteville NC 2 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 7821 Good Middling Drive, Fayetteville, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Adding vertically to the elevation, the false “chimney” element, clad in a single material, is intersected methodically with horizontal banding. Furthermore, the tall and wide element provides a convenient space to install brand signage.

IHOP 7821 Good Middling Drive Fayetteville NC 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 7821 Good Middling Drive, Fayetteville, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, the functional wainscoting of brick or stone serves as an effective belt-line to divide the upper and lower portions of the exterior walls.

The large window fields are divided up with smaller columns reflects a design feature inherent in the classic A-frame design. Ganged into groupings, the red coloured mullions add transparency and openness to the wall surface, and draw attention within the beige wall field.

IHOP 3077 New Jersey 27 Franklin Park NJ 4 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 3077 New Jersey 27, Franklin Park, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Topping the principal/main entrance with a small A-frame roof, the framed entrance, with columns on either side, results in a grander approach/entrance design.

IHOP 474 Briarwood Drive Jackson MS 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 474 Briarwood Drive, Jackson, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

Moreover, the use of clerestory windows, tucked within the pitched roof, or the re-imagining of the heritage intricate batten, adds further items of visual interest to the entrance facade.

IHOP 180 Crock Wells Mill Drive Winchester VA 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front view), 180 Crock Wells Mill Drive, Winchester, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Banding, within the window headwall area, and along with the parapet cap flashing line, makes full use of the IHOP red, white and blue colour scheme, attempting to wrap the perimeter into one cohesive unit.

Serving up a condensed and distilled design history class/lesson, the ICON repackages several IHOP design cues into a cohesive and repeatable form for mass consumption.

5-IHOP everywhere

Seemingly not content to slow down its ascent, in the year following the unveiling of the ICON building prototype, IHOP would reveal its intention and successfully follow through with the acquisition of the Applebee’s chain of casual dining restaurants, thus forming parent brand, DineEquity, Inc. (source: ihop.com).

DSC13934 IHOP - IHOP Applebees Gift card

Applebee’s and IHOP gift cards

Seeking to make the brand more accessible and increase consumer contact/touch points, IHOP has moved into non-traditional locations, as well as testing on-the-go concept, dubbed IHOP Express. The first IHOP Express opened in the Gaslamp District of San Diego in 2011, and the first airport location, a 3,000 sq ft IHOP Express opened in 2013 at the Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (source: ihop.com).

IHOP 235 East 14th Street NYC NY 1 https___maps.google.ca

IHOP (Front view), 235 East 14th Street, New York City, New York (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 6455 Fallsview Boulevard Niagara Falls ON 1 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front view), 6455 Fallsview Boulevard, Niagara Falls, Ontario (source: maps.google.com)

IHOP 400 East California Avenue Oklahoma City OK 2 https___maps.google

IHOP (Front 3/4 view), 400 East California Avenue, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, a line of premium breakfast products, marketed under the licensed name, IHOP at HOME®, have been made available at leading retailers (source: ihop.com, ihopathome.com).

And as recently as the fall of 2014, IHOP has acknowledged exploring the idea of a fast-casual concept, typically characterized by more premium food options and fast-food-like service, that would launch within existing traditional IHOP locations (source: cnbc.com).

In a bid for consumers to fully immerse themselves in everything IHOP, the obviously malleable and expandable brand will no doubt continue to morph.

IHOP 29202 Woodward Avenue Royal Oak MI 4 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 29202 Woodward Avenue, Royal Oak, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

DSC07466 IHOP - IHOP 790 North Federal Highway Pompano Beach FL

IHOP (Side view), 790 North Federal Highway, Pompano Beach, Florida

IHOP 159 West Main Road Middleton RI 2 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 159 West Main Road, Middleton, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

DSC07498 IHOP - IHOP 1241 South Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale FL

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 1241 South Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

IHOP 6120 Roswell Road Sandy Springs GA 3 https___maps.google

IHOP (Side 3/4 view), 6120 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

Case in point, IHOP has already managed to evolve dramatically throughout its history. Expanding the menu into non-breakfast day-parts, altering the physical premises and iconic building design, venturing into non-traditional locations, or taking American favourites successfully far beyond the US shores, the IHOP brand has remained diligent in looking to its past successes and failures to help chart its future.

As such, barring any strategic missteps or poor execution, the brand apparently benefits from a wide berth from consumers, which should ensure that many would continue to “Come hungry. Leave happy”.



All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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