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Architecture + Branding: Deconstructing Texas Roadhouse’s freestanding prototype designs reveal a symbiotic dependency on building form

1-Roadhouse redefined

Located principally along major thoroughfares, interstates, highways and freeways, Texas Roadhouse has steadily become a recognizable fixture to commuters and travellers trekking along such heavily travelled traffic corridors over the past two decades. However, back in 1993, the familiar rustic die had yet to be cast.

Back then, founder Kent Taylor opened the first Texas Roadhouse at the Green Tree Mall in Clarksville, Indiana (source : texasroadhouse.com, marketrealist.com, cnbc.com, architectmagazine.com, wikipedia.org). Yet, “roadhouse” or “road house”, especially as depicted by Hollywood movies such as The Wild One, Easy Rider and Road House, generally conjured up images of bawdy establishments of ill repute. It was a gamble as the roadhouse connotation was at odds with a family restaurant image. Nonetheless, Kent’s vision was to create a steak restaurant suited for everyone, where families could have a great meal in a fun atmosphere for a fair price (source: texasroadhouse.com, cnbc.com).

Texas Roadhouse 1808 North Roan Street Johnson City TN 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side 3/4 view, 1808 North Roan Street, Johnson City, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

At present, Texas Roadhouse operates in excess of 450 restaurants in 49 states and 4 foreign countries (United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia) (source: texasroadhouse.com, cnbc.com, architectmagazine.com, marketrealist.com, nasdaq.com, wikipedia.org). Clearly, recasting the rough and tumble roadhouse into a family-friendly dinner destination turned out to be a winning bet.

2-Don’t mess with Texas

Far removed from the early mall days, Texas Roadhouse invariably became synonymous with rigourous repetition. Having developed an affinity for empty lots and out-parcels within large retail/commercial developments, Texas Roadhouse’s preference for new-build (NB) freestanding restaurants is plainly evident.

DSC09669 TXRH - Texas Roadhouse 356 Cornelia Street Plattsburgh NY

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 356 Cornelia Street, Plattsburgh New York

Armed with not one, but two, prototype restaurants, Texas Roadhouse repeats the formula, tweaking slightly, yet never deviating too far from the proven recipe. Varying primarily in size, 7,163 square feet for the standard prototype, and 6,762 square feet for the “small town” prototype, the two building formats look much the same otherwise (source: architectmagazine.com). Designing within that framework, Texas Roadhouse restaurant range in size from approximately 6,700 to 7,500 square feet, with system-wide seating averaging 256 guests (source: texasroadhouse.com, marketrealist.com, nrn.com).

Self-aware, image conscious and protective of its architectural identity and trade dress, Texas Roadhouse has actively pursued legal action against competitors that sought to thread onto the design and image cultivated by the restaurant chain. Case in point, Texas Corral and Amarillo Roadhouse were specifically called out for having design, logo, marks, trade dress, décor, building designs and materials that were too similar, confusing, or copies (source : imiplaw.org).

Notwithstanding, Western-influenced or Texas-themed casual family restaurants are rather abundant.

DSC07870 TXRH - Lone Star Grill 2520 Hyde Park Gate Oakville ON

Lone Star Texas Grill, front 3/4 view, 2520 Hyde Park Gate, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Jimmy Mac's Roadhouse 34902 Pacific Hwy South Federal Way WA 2 https___maps.google

Jimmy Mac’s Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 34902 Pacific Highway South, Federal Way, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Arguably, the idea that one restaurant chain could somehow claim sole dominion over the design language of the Lone Star State seems like sheer over-reaching.

3-Texas typology

Home to bustling metropolises such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and wide open untamed spaces better suited for cattle ranching and farming like Simms, Electra, and Avery, modern-day Texas is inherently diverse and should not be simplistically summed up as the Wild West of old.

Yet, capitalizing on rustic stereotypes and perceptions, Texas Roadhouse chooses to highlight those particular traits and sensibilities. Exuding a building form meant to echo and celebrate Western/cattle ranching/farm and barn iconography, the building design is unique, rugged and identifiable, especially juxtaposed in a backdrop of modern, sleek, exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) and glass clad commercial façades chock-a-block of interchangeable retail tenants.

Texas Roadhouse 2856 Patriot's Lane Napierville IL 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 2856 Patriot’s Lane, Napierville, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

The rustic-inspired building, replete with flags flying atop, is reminiscent of a mid-19th century frontier outpost.

Texas Roadhouse 3601 Warden Road North Little Rock AR 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front view, 3601 Warden Road, North Little Rock, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

Located on its own pad site, surrounded by parking and drive aisles, the freestanding building is imposing, and dramatic. Additionally, the building massing, volume, neutral cladding materials, and limited transparency give it an opaque quality, and a sense of durability.

Texas Roadhouse 4005 East 53rd Street Davenport Iowa 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 4005 East 53rd Street, Davenport, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Texas Roadhouse 10051 N Metro Parkway East Phoenix AZ 3 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 10051 N Metro Parkway East, Phoenix, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

Within the bottom portion of the elevation and the lower roof, the facades propose limited articulation and relief along the more public sides. Bisected by the lower roof, the upper portion is set back further in from the lower facade, and features an even simpler articulation.

Texas Roadhouse 3037 Sisk Road Modesto CA 3 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 3037 Sisk Road, Modesto, California (source: maps.google.com)

Along the rear, and at times stretching towards the sides, the building face is often slad-sided, adding a dramatic sense of height to the already imposing mass. Consequently, building orientation upon the site quite often results in the rear-most elevation/service side being less visible from the public and patrons.

Texas Roadhouse 3037 Sisk Road Modesto CA 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side view, 3037 Sisk Road, Modesto, California (source: maps.google.com)

Texas Roadhouse 3601 Warden Road North Little Rock AR 3 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side 3/4 view, 3601 Warden Road, North Little Rock, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

In other cases where public views, or vehicular circulation, can be accessed from all sides, the lower roof might extend and wrap around in order to disguise and negate this inherent vertical heft.

Texas Roadhouse 31 Mystic View Road Everett MA 2 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, rear 3/4 view, 31 Mystic View Road, Everett, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Texas Roadhouse 3333 N Texas Street Fairfield CA 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, rear 3/4 view, 3333 N Texas Street, Fairfield, California (source: maps.google.com)

The building top is generally comprised of large monolithic facades, punctuated by faux-window openings/shutters, capped by a parapet of varying height, interrupted by a gable end over the main entrance, and beset between two hip roof capped book-ends.  In all, the roofline of varying height and composition, gable, and hip roof designs manage to add relief and interest to the building’s upper portion, and remain faithful to ranch style structures.

DSC06221 TXRH - Texas Roadhouse 3143 Erie Boulevard East Syracuse NY

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 3143 Erie Boulevard East, Syracuse, New York

Sliced into different horizontal strata, the building form results in a defined base and top, and proposes a pleasing pedestrian-scaled experience near street/sidewalk level.

In all, the building form,  proportionality, scale, materials, and rhythm, emulate characteristics and traits of the Texas/Frontier-era typology with conviction and contextual relevance.

4-Formulaic Frontier?

More so than simply adhering to a prescriptive building footprint or form,  Texas Roadhouse has obviously had to collate an arsenal of strategic design elements to capture the Frontier/Western-theme.

Natural materials, whether brick, stone, wood, tend to populate the exterior elevations.

Texas Roadhouse 1221 East Stone Drive Kingsport TN 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 1221 East Stone Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Texas Roadhouse 1420 N Peachtree Road Mesquite TX 1 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front view, 1420 N Peachtree Road, Mesquite, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

The colour palette is skewed towards shades of brown and beige for wood surfaces, greys for stones, and reds/rosé for bricks. The limited colour palette captures the rustic and rural essence of the primary or basic building materials that would have been available in the Frontier-era West.

Texas Roadhouse 31 Mystic View Road Everett MA 3 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side 3/4 view, 31 Mystic View Road, Everett, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

A wainscot, typically clad in masonry (stone or brick), provides a textural change and a strong grounding to the base of the building. Exhibiting a strong penchant for wood cladding above the wainscot, exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) cladding and/or brick is also utilized, although less commonly than wood.

Texas Roadhouse 1616 N 75th Avenue Phoenix AZ 3 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side 3/4 view, 1616 N 75th Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

Texas Roadhouse 3961 S Gilbert Road Gilbert AZ 3 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side 3/4 view, 3961 S Gilbert Road, Gilbert, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, brand-specific green banding is generally present in the overall composition. Often found framing various elements, outlining the parapet profile (cap flashing), or even providing strong corner/edge definition, the corporate coloured green trim is almost a must for Texas Roadhouse.

Texas Roadhouse 31 Mystic View Road Everett MA 4 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 31 Mystic View Road, Everett, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

At times light grey/silver in colour, the standing seam roof (SSR) is often finished off in the same green colour to seamlessly meld into the edges.

Attempting to dissect and deconstruct the essence of the overall design, it becomes obvious that strategic décor élements only aid and abet in making the building form and resulting overall design composition no more compelling, but simply more corporate.

5-Corporate cues

As the chain expanded over the decades, some locations were invariably not well suited to either of the prototypes. Of the 30 restaurants slated to open in 2013, nearly 1/4 did not adhere to the new-build (NB) freestanding ideal  (source: architectmagazine.com). Additionally, alterations that contravene, impede, mitigate or even destroy the overall design intent, such as the use of stucco and barrel-tile roof, are at times imposed by zoning boards and other authorities having jurisdiction (source: architectmagazine.com).

Texas Roadhouse 2571 Hempstead Turnpike Suite 100 East Meadows NY 2 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 2571 Hempstead Turnpike, Suite 100, East Meadows, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Further compounding the situation, cases arise where shoe-horning in, or exporting the Texas-themed traits into non-ideal formats, or a competitor’s former facility, becomes necessary.

Texas Roadhouse 181 Huguenot Street New Rochelle NY 2 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, side 3/4 view, 181 Huguenot Street, New Rochelle, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Texas Roadhouse 181 Huguenot Street New Rochelle NY 5 https___maps.google

Texas Roadhouse, front 3/4 view, 181 Huguenot Street, New Rochelle, New York (source: maps.google.com)

As such, there are times where having a broad collection of décor and design elements, that could be slathered on to varying degrees, might prove more useful than a rigid form and prototype building design.

20150613_151251 TXRH Gift cards

Texas Roadhouse Gift Cards – back side with prototypical building illustration

Unfortunately, Texas Roadhouse, which has chosen the latter, and largely built its cognitive image on the back of its built environment and architectural identity, the use of rustic Western-themed design elements such as wood trim, awnings, and a Texas star liberally applied here and there, simply cannot communicate or generate the same level of brand recognition as the recognizable Frontier-esque outpost prototype.


Disclaimer: 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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