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Architecture + Branding: Popeyes latest restaurant re-image effort embraces the brand’s New Orleans heritage

1-Laissez les bons temps rouler

In a matter of days, hordes of revellers will crowd into New Orleans French Quarter to celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).

NWO Bourbon Street at Toulouse Street - looking towards St Peter Street https___maps.google

Bourbon Street at Toulouse Street (looking towards St Peter Street), New Orleans, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

Proudly displaying a location association with the cuisine and city of New Orleans, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc’s new re-image increases the symbiotic relationship with the brand’s native city. Where New Orleans scenes once adorned the interior walls and décor, the exterior now also flaunts the Big Easy.

Evocative and emblematic, Popeyes has been actively rolling out its latest prototype design to a consumer reception that suggests the good times could keep rolling for some time.

2-Betting on the Big Easy

Greek revival, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Renaissance Colonial, the French Quarter is a cacophony of contrasting architectural styles. Largely shaped by the French and Spanish colonial eras of the 18th century, the area is characterized by its high density, narrow streets, squat buildings, intricate facades, street/sidewalk abutting front entrances and ornamental wrought iron balconies. Successive waves of natural disasters such as hurricanes, as well as renovations, have progressively introduced Mid-century modern, Post-modern, and several other types of 20th-century architecture into the mix. The resulting melting pot of architectural styles has endowed the French Quarter with its distinct vernacular.

Popeyes newest prototype restaurant design embraces this vernacular and proposes an exterior design harmonious with the architecture found in the French Quarter.

The small building footprint, generally in the sub-3,000 square feet size, is sited to propose a narrow street facing façade combined with a lengthy side elevation.

Popeyes 2432 Pass Road Biloxi MS 5 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 2432 Pass Road, Biloxi, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

Long and linear, with a front to back organization, the prototype adheres to the notion of hierarchy of function, therefore progressing from the public spaces (dining/customer area) to the privitive spaces (back of house/prep area/kitchen).

Abundant glazing, spanning the front façade and stretching along the side elevations, affords ample two-way visibility, and further reinforces the front to back divide.

Moreover, articulation along the side elevations also delimits the front and back portions. Combining higher parapets with articulation points further reinforces the vertical edges and plane changes.

Popeyes 2432 Pass Road Biloxi MS 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 2432 Pass Road, Biloxi, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

This hierarchy of function design approach is akin to that of shotgun houses/railroad apartments that can still be found in parts of New Orleans.

Parapets of varying height, high middle section and squat front/rear portions, results in a building with a generally more humane scale abutting the street.

The roof assembly is flat, completely detached from the variability of the parapet profile, which serves to screen roof-mounted equipment.

Popeyes 4801 Clinton Highway Knoxville TN 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Rear 3/4 view-left side), 4801 Clinton Highway, Knoxville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

The drive-thru overhang has been transformed into a balcony, complete with wrought iron railing. Decorative door elements further reinforce the design trompe l’oeil.

Popeyes 3300 Pelham Parkway Pelham AL 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 3300 Pelham Parkway, Pelham, Alabama (source: maps.google.com)

Awnings on the whole punctuate the window openings, and visually reduce the height of the headwall above. Additionally, the exterior features gooseneck fixtures that offer functional accent lighting with a whimsical touch, and break up the large blank expanse of façade.

Soft beige/tan colours implicitly recall spice blends and rubs, while the bright reds and yellows that clad the exterior serve mostly as accent colours.

Exterior cladding consists of long-wearing, low maintenance materials like EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System) above and wainscots, made of more durable materials such as brick, stone and CMU (concrete masonry units).

Capitalizing on its southern roots, imagery of the south, such as New Orleans and Louisiana-themed murals are featured on the exterior side facades.

Popeyes 2832 Augusta Road West Columbia SC 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Right side), 2832 Augusta Road West, Columbia, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Shadowboxes, window/door frame surrounds and shutters adorn the long sides and serve to break up some of the monotony of blank wall expanses.

On the interior, New Orleans culture is on display though wall murals and décor items, including crab pot lighting, mosaic tiles and wrought iron “Louisiana Kitchen” ceiling features (source: qsrmagazine.com, ksl.com). Moreover, the sounds of New Orleans Jazz, rhythm and blues, Zydeco and Cajun-style music abound (source: qsrmagazine.com).

When viewed in totality, the new design hits squarely on multiple Big Easy architectural cues.

3-A dash of spice

Although the freestanding prototype restaurant represents the panacea in terms of ideal size, width, length, building geometry, interior and exterior details, lot siting and orientation, the design affords customization options to allow Popeyes to adapt to several constraints.

Indeed, the prototype restaurant has required dissection into its design elements and reassembly with modifications and alterations in multiple instances.

Artistic liberties have been taken with the balcony.

Popeyes 6233 Northwest Espressway Oklahoma City OK 2 htts___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 6233 Northwest Expressway, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

In other cases, the balcony was added in areas other than the drive-thru canopy.

Popeyes 3237 William Street Cape Girardeau MO 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 3237 William Street, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 3237 William Street Cape Girardeau MO 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 3237 William Street, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, the balcony element has also been located in non-prototypical locations along the building perimeter due in large part to the building geometry.

Popeyes 35 Whalley Ave New Haven CT 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Rear 3/4 view), 35 Whalley Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Building geometry has also contributed to modifying the prototype in other ways.

Popeyes 6233 Northwest Espressway Oklahoma City OK 4 htts___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 6233 Northwest Expressway, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

Site limitations have in some cases redefined the building envelope.

Popeyes 1000 N Miami Beach Blvd North Miami Beach FL 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Side elevation), 1000 N Miami Beach Blvd, North Miami Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 1000 N Miami Beach Blvd North Miami Beach FL 4 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front elevation), 1000 N Miami Beach Blvd, North Miami Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 1000 N Miami Beach Blvd North Miami Beach FL 5 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Side elevation), 1000 N Miami Beach Blvd, North Miami Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Site factors have also caused on some occasions where the prototype was re-oriented so that the longer side elevation actually faces the street.

Popeyes 3660 Austin Peay Highway Memphis TN 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Street-facing side elevation), 3660 Austin Peay Highway, Memphis, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Furthermore, the slim front façade has also seen some significant modification resulting in substantially larger storefronts.

Popeyes 914 Jefferson Street Nashville TN 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front view), 914 Jefferson Street, Nashville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 914 Jefferson Street Nashville TN 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Right side view), 914 Jefferson Street, Nashville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Minimal, less-prominent, simple or non-existent parapet steps have dulled some of the drama within the elevations in several cases.

Popeyes 5245 W Colonial Dr Orlando FL 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 5245 W Colonial Dr, Orlando, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 5245 W Colonial Dr Orlando FL 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 5245 W Colonial Dr, Orlando, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Evidently malleable, the new “heritage” design allows for certain parts and pieces to be removed or altered while still retaining the essence and flavour of the New Orleans inspired design.

However, the road that led to the “heritage” design was not without pitfalls.

4-Updating the past

It seems like a no-brainer to get behind the idea of the new design that at first blush is so intimately attuned with the brand’s history and milieu. Nonetheless, it proved a struggle to convince franchisees to get behind the new design.

Initial flashes of the new design starting appearing around 2001 in the Atlanta area, with expectations to have 200 restaurants, either through re-imaging of existing units or new-builds, featuring the “Heritage Image” by the end of 2001 (source: bizjournals.com, entrepreneur.com, qsrmagazine.com, http://business.highbeam.com).

Popeyes 2767 Clairmont Rd NE Atlanta GA 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 2767 Clairmont Rd NE, Atlanta, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 2767 Clairmont Rd NE Atlanta GA 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front view), 2767 Clairmont Rd NE, Atlanta, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

As would be expected, Popeyes, and its franchisees, have seen several iterations and various prototype stores over a 40-plus year history.

As such, long time franchisees still found themselves saddled with smaller legacy stores that reflected the earlier mansard style. Small and outdated, many would prove almost impossible to update.

Popeyes 1501 NW 20th St Miami FL 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 1501 NW 20th St, Miami, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 2390 Homer M Adams Pkwy Alton IL 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 2390 Homer M Adams Pkwy, Alton, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 5534 NW 7th Avenue Miami FL 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Frot 3/4 view-left side), 5534 NW 7th Avenue, Miami, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Furthermore, others had stores that reflected the red and blue hued 1990s-era design with a square-ish building geometry, which could prove difficult to update and re-image.

Popeyes 130 NE 8th St Homestead FL 3 May 2011 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 130 NE 8th St, Homestead, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, some stores simply did not fall into any particular defined Popeyes style. Many would simply be impractical for re-imaging.

Popeyes 105 Southwest 7th Street Renton WA 61 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 105 Southwest 7th Street, Renton, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 1228 Camp Jackson Rd Cohakia IL 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 1228 Camp Jackson Rd, Cohakia, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 35193 Newark Blvd Newark CA 4 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 35193 Newark Blvd, Newark, California (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 1315 14th St NW Washington DC 1 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-right side), 1315 14th St NW, Washington, District of Columbia (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 6503 Harrisburg Boulevard Houston TX 2 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 6503 Harrisburg Boulevard, Houston, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Some existing locations could be viable for retrofits. Meanwhile others would require demolition and rebuilding from the ground up.

Popeyes 11205 SW 152nd St Miami FL 3 February 2014 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side (circa February 2014), 11205 SW 152nd St, Miami, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Popeyes 11205 SW 152nd St Miami FL 4 April 2014 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side (circa April 2014), 11205 SW 152nd St, Miami, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Consequently, the re-image process became a multiyear sales job that included design tweaks. Management turnover, tense relations with franchisees, weak sales, rising costs made the climate less than favourable for franchisees to make the financial outlays to remodel their stores.

New CEO Cheryl Bachelder’s arrival in 2007 did little at first to persuade immediate change. “We showed them our first design and they hated it and thought it cost too much. We came back with a new store design that was more cost-effective, and we built 12 new stores in New Orleans that they could go and see and touch, and we laid out all the costs” (source: wsj.com). Negotiations took two years to convince franchisees that jettisoning the kitschy tourist evocations of New Orleans, such as street lamps and Mardi Gras beads, would help alleviate the cringe factor that was pervasive in many of the older legacy restaurants (source: forbes.com). Although the roll out was quite slow at first, it progressively ramped up, and finally hit its stride in 2010-2011. And, by the end of 2014, some 80% of the restaurants are scheduled to have undergone a remodel (source: wsj.com, forbes.com).

Popeyes 2629 North Hollywood Street Memphis TN 2 htts___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 2629 North Hollywood Street, Memphis, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Although it would be erroneous to suggest that older restaurant iterations were lacking a unique design style, none were as attuned to the New Orleans/Louisiana link as well as the current design.

5-From Bourbon Street to any street

Fortunately, Popeyes benefits from a loyal customers who fondly remember the ”Love That Chicken!” tagline, and even superfan Beyoncé who reportedly served Popeyes at her wedding(source: forbes.com). Yet, while longevity can boost brand recognition, older restaurants often run the risk of becoming stale and passé.

Operating over 2,300 restaurants in the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands and 26 foreign countries, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. has successfully managed to export its Louisiana-style menu overseas (source: nasdaq.com, ksl.com, nrn.com, wsj.com). In order to maintain the growth trajectory, Popeyes’ rebranding efforts, which have included a name change (formerly Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits), a new logo (dancing P) and a new restaurant design, all need to work in concert to expand the brand, and highlight its Louisiana roots.

Popeyes 2450 McFarland Blvd Northport AL 3 https___maps.google

Popeyes (Front 3/4 view-left side), 2450 McFarland Blvd, Northport, Alabama (source: maps.google.com)

Undeniably, the New Orleans / French Quarter inspired Heritage prototype restaurant provides the chain with a focused design and architectural identity as it pushes further into untapped markets at home, and beyond its US borders.
Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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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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