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Architecture + Branding: Friendly’s Ice Cream restaurants seeking to transition from traditional to timeless design

1-I scream, you scream, …

During the Depression, brothers Curtis and Prestley Blake, decided to go into business for themselves. In the summer of 1935, they opened an ice cream shop in Springfield, Massachusetts, which they named “Friendly Ice Cream”, as a pledge to both themselves and their customers that they would offer warm and caring service (source: referenceforbusiness.com, wsj.com, examiner.com, masslive.com).

Friendly Ice Cream First store

Friendly Ice Cream, (Front view), First store (source: examiner.com)

Over the next four decades, the brothers expanded the menus and grew the chain from a single ice cream shop into a 600-plus location restaurant chain spread across 16 states (source: referenceforbusiness.com, examiner.com).

Friendlys HQ and Plant 1855 Boston Road Wilbraham MA 9 https___maps.google

Friendly’s Head Office (3/4 Front view), 1855 Boston Road, Wilbraham, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

In 1979, Hershey Food Corporation purchased the chain and as Friendly Ice Cream celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1985, the restaurant count stood at 740 restaurants (source: referenceforbusiness.com, wsj.com). In September 1988, Hershey sold Friendly to Chicago-based Tennessee Restaurant Company (TRC) (source: referenceforbusiness.com, Fast food: Roadside restaurants in the automobile age, wsj.com). Over the next year and a half, TRC initiated corporate layoffs, tweaked the brand name, and closed under-performing restaurants, located mainly in Virginia, Florida, and Ohio, (source: referenceforbusiness.com, examiner.com).

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Friendly’s broadened its distribution by making its ice cream products available in supermarkets, enlarged its menu, refranchised locations, planned a new limited-service ice cream shop concept called Friendly’s Cafe, engaged in international expansion and went public (source: referenceforbusiness.com, Fast food: Roadside restaurants in the automobile age). Although the chain was growing once more, by late 1998, the company was scaling back, shutting down all stores in Ohio, and pulling out of Chinese and United Kingdom ventures (source: referenceforbusiness.com, MyFoxBoston.com, Fast food: Roadside restaurants in the automobile age).

Friendlys 25600 Center Ridge Road Westlake OH 1 https___maps.google CLOSED 2014

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Front view), 25600 Center Ridge Road, Westlake, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

The following decade started off much in the same fashion as the previous one ended. In 2000, more closures followed and the brand Friendly’s struggled to regain its former status. Yet, throughout its tumultuous history, the company’s New England base provided one of the few bright spots.

2-Linear. Rectangular.

A longstanding New England/Northeast fixture, Friendly’s typical restaurants had several specific design cues that made them instantly recognizable. However, achieving that feat came with its share of perils, as earlier building design iterations revealed glaring inconsistencies between expectation and execution. In essence, “people attracted by the meticulously detailed exterior were disappointed to find that they had to sit at counter stools choosing among hamburger sandwiches, ice cream and other common fare” (source: Orange Roofs, Golden Arches). Therefore, finding brand success required a toned down, simplified and more informal exterior (source: Glitter stucco and dumpster diving: Reflections on building production in the vernacular city). Diminutive and concise, the typical restaurant building exemplified simplicity.

Friendlys 560 Arsenal Street Watertown NY 2 https___maps.google

Friendly’s (3/4 Left side view), 560 Arsenal Street, Watertown, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 560 Arsenal Street Watertown NY 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s (3/4 Right side view), 560 Arsenal Street, Watertown, New York (source: maps.google.com)

A single storey rectangular building with limited articulation, the building geometry stressed functionality and efficiency.

Friendlys 1148 Upper Front Street Binghamton NY 1 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Right side view), 1148 Upper Front Street, Binghamton, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 1148 Upper Front Street Binghamton NY 4 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Left side view), 1148 Upper Front Street, Binghamton, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Averaging less than 2,500 square feet, the linear restaurants utilized their footprint judiciously. Almost universally organized with internal circulation along the longer axis, seating on one side, and kitchen/prep area on the other side, the long and narrow restaurants redefined close quarters for patrons.

Nonetheless, the building placement relative to site consisted primarily of aligning the restaurant in a front of the house/back of the house arrangement, with the narrowest building face to the public roadway.

Friendlys 2080 Warwick Avenue Warwick RI 1 Aerial https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (Aerial view), 2080 Warwick Avenue, Warwick, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 2080 Warwick Avenue Warwick RI 2 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Left side view), 2080 Warwick Avenue, Warwick, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 2080 Warwick Avenue Warwick RI 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Right side view), 2080 Warwick Avenue, Warwick, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Ingress and egress points converged, with one defined principal entrance/exit. Typically located on the narrow street facing front elevation, the entrance would be accentuated with its own distinct roof element.

Friendlys 3935 Dewey Avenue Rochester NY 4 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Left side view), 3935 Dewey Avenue, Rochester, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 3935 Dewey Avenue Rochester NY 5 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Right side view), 3935 Dewey Avenue, Rochester, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Secondary exit doors, located on other building faces, would be blended into the adjacent wall finishes.

Reinterpreting traditional cues, the window treatment consisted of wide punched windows, replete with muntin bars and divided lights.

Friendlys 1835 Farmington Avenue Unionville CT 2 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Right side view), 1835 Farmington Avenue, Unionville, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 1835 Farmington Avenue Unionville CT 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Left side view), 1835 Farmington Avenue, Unionville, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 1835 Farmington Avenue Unionville CT 1 Aerial https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (Aerial view), 1835 Farmington Avenue, Unionville, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Long and narrow, the small linear buildings were topped off with a simple sloped roofline with end gables.

Friendlys 7134 Ritchie Highway Glen Burnie MD 1 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (Front view), 7134 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 7134 Ritchie Highway Glen Burnie MD 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Front view), 7134 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

In several instances, dormers would be added, primarily to the approach side, quite often the parking side of the building, providing a visually more interesting elevation to approaching guests/patrons.

Friendlys 415 Washington Street Weymouth MA 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Right side view), 415 Washington Street, Weymouth, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 415 Washington Street Weymouth MA 2 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Left side view), 415 Washington Street, Weymouth, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

A cupola, quite often rather ornate, would be affixed onto the roof ridgeline.

Friendlys 759 Main Street Tewksbury MA 1 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Left side view), 759 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 759 Main Street Tewksbury MA 3 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Right side view), 759 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Designed in the Georgian style, Friendly’s restaurants displayed a penchant for more classical proportions, trending heavily towards the traditional. Overwhelmingly clad in brick and wood trim, exterior siding treatment options are generally quite sparse.

Although restrained, quoins (decorative brick corners) provided a surprising amount of articulation, whilst adding an aura of prestige to the small structures.

Friendlys 411 East Street Chicoppe MA 1 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Front view), 411 East Street, Chicoppe, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

A walk-up ice cream window, where patrons could order ice cream treats, shakes or a Fribble without ever setting foot inside the restaurant, added some design interest to the building elevations. Simplistic in concept, the window was sometimes adorned with a roof to shield guests from inclement weather, or enclosed into a 3-season room.

Friendlys 501 East Genesee Street Fayetteville NY 2 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Left side view), 501 East Genesee Street, Fayetteville, New York (source: maps.google.com)

In the Georgian tradition, brilliant white, especially in trim pieces, dominates the colour palette. Additionally, a substantial number of locations extended the white tone to the brick cladding as well. However, several more locations featured brick facades in colours such as beige and tan. Additionally, brand specific red accent elements, including banding, window kneewalls, gable ends and the like, added a splash of colour into the commonly muted exterior.

Friendlys 631 Dartmouth Street Dartmouth MA 4 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Left side view), 631 Dartmouth Street, Dartmouth, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 631 Dartmouth Street Dartmouth MA 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Right side view), 631 Dartmouth Street, Dartmouth, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Decorative detailing and ironwork, along with an idyllic mid-century inspired white picket fence along walk paths or the patio would often help complete the Friendly’s look.

Uncomplicated, the exterior aesthetic provided a homey and unpretentious look to a brand that strived to capture some of the simplicity of yesteryear.

3-Two scoops

Although the sub-2,500 square foot rectangular restaurant format served the brand in many instances, certain markets and locales afforded Friendly’s the opportunity to build out larger restaurants.

Friendly's 1220 Hurffville Road Deptford Township NJ 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Front view), 1220 Hurffville Road, Deptford Township, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Rather than seeking to reinvent the brand aesthetic, the classic Georgian design was simply stretched to fit over a larger envelope.

Expanding the floor space into the 5,000 square foot range, the newer format generally doubled the small rectangular form into a more cubic, larger, square form. Boxier than its forebearer, the square format restaurants employed the same classic cues pulled from their linear predecessor.

Friendlys 65 Sumner Avenue Springfield MA 2 https__maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Left side view), 65 Sumner Avenue, Springfield, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 65 Sumner Avenue Springfield MA 3 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Right side view), 65 Sumner Avenue, Springfield, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Seeing as the new format had 4 more or less equidistant sides, lot orientation was inevitably altered.

Principal entrance, door placement, and window locations, quantities and spacing also changed with the new geometry. Additionally, ribbon windows have been introduced.

Friendlys 264 North Plainfield Road Lebanon NH 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Right side view), 264 North Plainfield Road, Lebanon, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 264 North Plainfield Road Lebanon NH 1 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Right side view), 264 North Plainfield Road, Lebanon, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

The roof lines became more varied and more complex, yet roof top elements such as dormers and cupola provided a lineage to the rectangular predecessor.

Friendlys 544 Reidville Drive Waterbury CT 1 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Right side view), 544 Reidville Drive, Waterbury, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

The previous Georgian design influences were also adhered. The exterior cladding materials and detailing largely reinforced the aesthetic that Friendly’s had previously established.

DSC11282 Friendlys - Friendlys 170 Clinton Avenue Cortland NY

Friendly’s, (Front view), 170 Clinton Avenue, Cortland, New York

Friendlys 170 Clinton Avenue Cortland NY 3 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (3/4 Left side view), 170 Clinton Avenue, Cortland, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Checking off many of the necessary boxes, the larger locations emulated the quaint East Coast/North Eastern cottage style of its smaller brethren, and continued the brand’s established architectural identity.

4-Updating the design language

Range bound and seemingly captive to its design language, Friendly’s nonetheless deviated from the Georgian script at times.

Several non-prototypical stand-alone restaurants, which introduced a more varied portfolio of formats, at times became candidates for ah hoc applied design elements in the hopes of creating a more expansive design vocabulary. Moreover, variables such as site, locale, new-from-the-ground-up builds, or reconversions, afforded the brand opportunities to expand and evolve its design aesthetic farther afield.

Friendlys 373 Main Street Waterville ME 4 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Right side view), 373 Main Street, Waterville, Maine (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 1300 Altamont Avenue Schenectady NY 1 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s  CLOSED (3/4 Front view), 1300 Altamont Avenue, Schenectady, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 936 Walnut Bottom Road Carlisle PA 3 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s CLOSED (3/4 Front view), 936 Walnut Bottom Road, Carlisle, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Alternatively, Friendly’s mall locations proved to more difficult to simply tack on Friendly’s design identity.

Enclosed mall locations, which afford little outward opportunities to differentiate the brand from other retailers, meant relying almost exclusively on interior decor to convey the brand message.

Alternatively, strip mall that permitted alterations to the exterior facades could more conclusively add and update the Friendly’s aesthetic repertoire. Often limited to nominal alterations, classic brand elements such as the Georgian design, exterior cladding, brand colours and even the cupola were often forsaken. As such, less intrusive design items such as colourful entrance doors, window mullions, white wrought iron railing, and even pergolas were obviously easier to institute.

DSC09544 Friendlys  - Friendlys 3873 Route 31 Clay NY FORMER

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Front view), 3873 Route 31, Clay, New York

Intuitively, neutering Friendly’s outward physical brand cues would seem a disservice to the brand. Yet, these locations offered the septuagenarian brand a blank slate to recast the Friendly’s, and attempt to make it relevant again.

Friendlys 1187 Wantagh Avenue Wantagh NY 2 https___maps.google

Friendly’s, (Front 3/4 view), 1187 Wantagh Avenue, Wantagh, New York (source: maps.google.com)

As such, when they experimented with the Friendly’s Express concept, the brand itself rebuffed much of its exterior design history.

Friendlys Express 295 Harward Street Brookline MA 2 https___maps.google CLOSED

Friendly’s Express CLOSED (3/4 Front view), 295 Harvard Street, Brookline, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

http://www.yelp.ca/biz/friendlys-express-mansfield

http://www.yelp.ca/biz/friendlys-methuen-2

Sleek and modern, with aluminum and glass storefronts and an aversion to traditional motifs, Friendly’s Express adopted contemporary design cues. The modern exterior flowed into an interior decor that featured red elements throughout, bright tiles and Friendly’s ice cream creations renderings made into custom pop-art signage (source: friendlys.com). Foreign to the established Friendly’s narrative, the Friendly’s Express restaurants created a dichotomy that was difficult to square for long time customers.

Unfortunately, the confluence of modern and traditional did little to revive Friendly’s sagging popularity.

5-Merging past with future

In 2011, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, closed several hundred stores and re-emerged in 2013 smaller and more focused on regaining some of the 75-plus year brand lustre.

Having previously experimented with modern design language, Friendly’s is ultimately staking its future on merging past with future.

Described as timeless decor, the central idea is “to have the dining room fit in 1950 as well as in 2020” (berkshireeagle.com, friendlys.com). Through this return to roots exercise, which began in 2012, over 50 of the roughly 350 Friendly’s have been remodelled with the new interior decor package featuring brightly colored walls, accent walls, newer seating and bold red and black booths (source: berkshireeagle.com, MyFoxBoston.com, masslive.com, centralctcommunications.com, friendlys.com, examiner.com). On the exterior, new signage, awnings, paint, and landscaping allude to the transformational changes within. Moreover, Friendly’s is launching a new restaurant prototype that will bring the new vision into a unified whole (source: friendlys.com). However, previous attempts to recast the historic brand have had mixed results.

Therefore, until the new prototype carves its distinct space in the Friendly’s lore, the iconic Georgian inspired stand-alone linear building format, topped off with the signature cupola, will continue to be intimately associated with the brand regardless of the name on the marquee.

Friendlys 270 Delaware Avenue Delmar NY 1 https___maps.google FORMER NOW Tea Garden Asian Bistro

Tea Garden Asian Bistro, FORMER Friendly’s (3/4 Right side view), 270 Delaware Avenue, Delmar, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Friendlys 708 Belmont Street Brockton MA 3 https___maps.google FORMER NOW Frank N Dogs

Frank N Dogs, FORMER Friendly’s, (3/4 Left side view), 708 Belmont Street, Brockton, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

DSC09422 Friendlys - Friendlys Route 11 near i81 Mattydale

Friendly’s CLOSED, (3/4 Front view), Route 11 near Interstate 81, Mattydale, New York

 

 

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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