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Architecture + Branding: Quaker Steak and Lube’s heritage gas station cues should prove essential to maintaining differentiated brand aesthetic into future

1-Oil is not well

After rising to well over $140 US per barrel in 2008, oil prices have plummeted to below $30 US in the early part of 2016. A boon to consumers, the current supply glut and subsequent price collapse has nonetheless sent shock waves through the shale industry, hurt major oil-producing nations,  and largely exposed OPEC’s (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) weakening influence in dictating world oil prices.

However, in the 1970s OPEC’s influence in setting world prices, and supply, was unprecedented. Thus, when OPEC acted to restrict supply, the resulting “oil crisis” in 1973 led to long lines at fueling stations, massive shortages, fuel rationing, and higher prices. The combination of rising prices and stagnant and/or falling wages introduced the term “stagflation” into the popular lexicon, and led to an uptick in the “misery index”, as numerous individuals and several business sectors suffered significant losses throughout the downturn.

However, even within the harsh socio-economic backdrop of the 1970s, opportunities could be found.

2-Old gas station. New restaurant

In the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo, numerous filling/gas stations were closing. And thus, an abandoned gas station in downtown Sharon, Pennsylvania, would provide the inspiration for a new restaurant and bar concept.

Rooted in the idea of conserving/preserving, even celebrating, the automotive/motoring culture, which included heritage style gas stations and high-powered muscle cars, founders George “Jig” Warren III and Gary “Moe” Meszaros built the first Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant in 1974 (source: thelube.com. wikipedia.org, bosselman.com, WKBN.com, americanbuildersquarterly.com, thefranchisecoach.net, FOX6Now.com). A play on the Quaker State motor oil brand name, the restaurant brand clearly attempted to highlight the building’s original automotive service roots (source: wikipedia.org)

Sited at the edge of the road, vintage filling pumps stand proud at the edge of the concrete apron.

Quaker Steak and Lube 101 Chestnut Street Sharon PA 5 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 101 Chestnut Street, Sharon, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

The building geometry is a jumble of volumes of various sizes, lengths, widths, and heights, cobbled together haphazardly. As such, the  evolutionary, piecemeal approach to the overall design, whereby additional building zones or wings were added over time, as the needs arose, and as the business grew, exhibits a high incidence of articulation.

With the main entrance facing the parking area, the building’s primary facade effectively faces towards the back of the lot. Numerous additional egress/ingress and service type doors are scattered along the perimeter.

Quaker Steak and Lube 101 Chestnut Street Sharon PA 8 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 101 Chestnut Street, Sharon, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Punched windows of varying widths are strewn across all facades with minimal rhyme or reason. Awnings adorn some of the windows, while others are bare.

Oddly, service functions, such as trash removal, which is traditionally hidden from sight, actually abut the street facing facades.

The various volumes also benefit from various roof lines and parapets. A combination of pitched, mansard, and flat roof, as well as low, high and stepped parapets, amplify and further distinguish the various building blocks that make up the first Quaker Steak and Lube location.

Quaker Steak and Lube 101 Chestnut Street Sharon PA 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 101 Chestnut Street, Sharon, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Even though evolutionary changes would have arisen over time, basic traditional materials such as masonry, stucco, plaster and lathe seem to remain likely choices for a building of such vintage and humble origins.

Devoid of banding elements, or wainscots, the elevations are painted white, with green accents that can be detected in window surrounds, doors, and fenced areas. Additionally, white and green stripes punctuate the awnings, and some of the roofs.

Quaker Steak and Lube 101 Chestnut Street Sharon PA 3 2009 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 101 Chestnut Street, Sharon, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Along with the heritage gas pumps out front, the exterior also features a large directional arrow inscribed with the word “EAT”, a newer style pump around the side, various automotive themed memorabilia/signage, and a race car set upon the roof.

Further reinforcing the automotive theme, the original location included a classic Chevrolet on the original hydraulic grease rack (source: wikipedia.org). The design approach would influence the Quaker Steak and Lube décor. The retro car aesthetic, including gas station memorabilia, NASCAR/racing paraphernalia, license plates, classic cars, motorcycles, race cars and Corvettes suspended from the ceilings, has since become a signature element of the brand (source: thelube.com, bosselman.com, americanbuildersquarterly.com, thefranchisecoach.net, wikipedia.org).

Although established as a “cook-your-own-steak” restaurant, with a basic menu featuring steaks, burgers, salads and baked potatoes, the brand would pivot in 1976, expanding the menu to include the newly popular Buffalo-style chicken wings (source: thelube.com, thefranchisecoach.net, wikipedia.org). Prepared with a choice of uniquely created Quaker Steak and Lube sauces, the new menu addition would attract a large following, and subsequently become the brand’s signature dish (source: thelube.com, thefranchiecoach.net, wikipedia.org)

Receiving their first major award as “Best Wings in the USA”, winning the 1988 National Chicken-Out competition, “The Lube”, as fans call it, has since won hundreds of national and international awards for its wings and sauces, and developed a cult-like fan following (source: thelube.com, bosselman.com, americanbuildersquarterly.com, thefranchisecoach.net).

Placing the heritage filling/gas station and motoring theme at the core, Quaker Steak and Lube has parlayed the automotive association into a distinct architectural identity and brand aesthetic.

3-Drawing influence

The automotive theme set down by the first location would lay the groundwork for the Quaker Steak and Lube brand.

As such, the retro-influenced design of the freestanding restaurants draws largely from the past, while injecting some updates.

Generally set back further back from the street, the freestanding building typically sits within a field of parking spaces. Although the orientation is often set towards a major street or thoroughfare, the building may face away from its main street address, much like the original location.

Quaker Steak and Lube 10400 49th Street North Clearwater FL 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 10400 49th Street North, Clearwater, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 8500 Lyra Drive Columbus OH 3 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, left side 3/4 view, 8500 Lyra Drive, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 8500 Lyra Drive Columbus OH 5 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, right side 3/4 view, 8500 Lyra Drive, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 350 University Blvd Harrisonburg VA 6 2012 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, (circa 2012), front view, 350 University Boulevard, Harrisonburg, Virginia (source: google.com)

Rectilinear, the main building elevations are principally continuous planes with minimal steps or “bump outs”. However, several corners and vertical edges serve to add breaks in the long planes, thus introducing some level of articulation within the building footprint.

Quaker Steak and Lube 3725 Presidential Drive Beavercreek OH 1 Aerial CLOSED 2015 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, (Closed 2015), 3725 Presidential Drive, Beavercreek, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Boxy and squat, the typical freestanding restaurant generally proposes a more expansive facade, making it long and deep.

Quaker Steak and Lube 5935 Canal Road Valley View OH 5 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 5935 Canal Road, Valley View, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 5935 Canal Road Valley View OH 7 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 5935 Canal Road, Valley View, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 7851 Peach Street Erie PA 13 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 7851 Peach Street, Erie, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

In early 2011, Quaker Steak and Lube introduced a 7,700 sq. ft. prototype (source: thelube.com). Of note, the brand currently proposes two prototypes, the “Classic” at 7,500 sq. ft., and the “Power Lube” format which ranges from 5,500 sq. ft. to 6,500 sq. ft. in size (source: thelube.com). Although not included in the floor area calculations, both restaurant prototypes feature patios that augment the effective areas with outdoor tables and seating.

Still, some locations even approach 10,000 sq. ft. in size (source: http://www.holladayproperties.com, fredericksburg.com).

Quaker Steak and Lube 6245 Ameriplex Drive Portage IN 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front view, 6245 Ameriplex Drive, Portage, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 6245 Ameriplex Drive Portage IN 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 6245 Ameriplex Drive, Portage, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

Often centered within the main building facade, the principal entrance is encapsulated within an entrance tower that “bumps out” from the facade, rises above the primary roof parapet and travels rearward, effectively creating a spine that splits the building into two halves. A canopy generally projects from the tower, which often houses a vestibule, breaking up the height, and providing shelter from inclement weather. Additionally, the large directional arrow is habitually incorporated into the canopy, or at the edge, likely concealing a support column within the enclosure. A series of daylight openings (DLOs) clad in glass-block and a retro-touch to the facade, and allow sunlight to filter in. A checkered flag motif is an obvious reference to the brand’s racing and motoring culture affiliation.

Quaker Steak and Lube 2502 South Gulf Freeway League City TX 4 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 2502 South Gulf Freeway, League City, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 3320 Mid America Drive Council Bluffs IA 3 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 3320 Mid America Drive, Council Bluffs, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Although less common, the main entrance may also be located on a building corner.

Quaker Steak and Lube 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue Brick NJ 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue, Brick, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue Brick NJ 3 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue, Brick, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, several supplemental egress/ingress, overhead door and support function doors are located along the sides, rear, and near the main entrance vestibule.

Quaker Steak and Lube 2502 South Gulf Freeway League City TX 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 2502 South Gulf Freeway, League City, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 6073 Dressler Road NW Canton OH 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 6073 Dressler Road NW, Canton, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 6073 Dressler Road NW Canton OH 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, right side 3/4 view, 6073 Dressler Road NW, Canton, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

An array of large expansive windows with divided lights, and punched windows, populate the front and sides elevations, and the rear to a lesser extent.

Quaker Steak and Lube 3320 Mid America Drive Council Bluffs IA 7 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 3320 Mid America Drive, Council Bluffs, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 6073 Dressler Road NW Canton OH 3 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 6073 Dressler Road NW, Canton, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

As per the original location, awnings are distributed unevenly, with some windows barren and others covered.

Adhering to the current conventional approach, service functions, such as receiving, loading/unloading and trash removal, is relegated to the rear, and hidden from the usual customer/patron views and sight lines.

Quaker Steak and Lube 165 Gateway Drive Mechanicsburg PA 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 165 Gateway Drive, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 7851 Peach Street Erie PA 3 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 7851 Peach Street, Erie, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Although some incidences of shed roofs can be observed, the predominantly flat roof construction tends to propose a uniform parapet height, with limited changes in variations in height.

Quaker Steak and Lube 165 Gateway Drive Mechanicsburg PA 3 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, right side 3/4 view, 165 Gateway Drive, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 165 Gateway Drive Mechanicsburg PA 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front view, 165 Gateway Drive, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue Brick NJ 5 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, right side 3/4 view, 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue, Brick, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue Brick NJ 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 1036 Cedar Bridge Avenue, Brick, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 7851 Peach Street Erie PA 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, left side 3/4 view, 7851 Peach Street, Erie, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

CMUs (Concrete masonry units), EIFS (exterior insulation and finish systems), stucco, aluminium and glass tend to round out the materials choices in the typical freestanding Quaker Steak and Lube.

Quaker Steak and Lube 4094 Pearl Road Medina OH 5 2013 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 4094 Pearl Road, Medina, Ohio (Source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 4094 Pearl Road Medina OH 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 4094 Pearl Road, Medina, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Although the original concept was largely lacking in exterior embellishments, the typical prototype benefits from banding elements, and/or wainscots. Clad in the traditional white, green and yellow accents can be detected in window frames, doors, fences, cornices, parapet caps, canopies, as well as wall and column bases.

Quaker Steak and Lube 3737 Stonecreek Blvd Cincinnati OH 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 3737 Stonecreek Boulevard, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 3737 Stonecreek Blvd Cincinnati OH 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 3737 Stonecreek Boulevard, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Although not necessarily hoisted onto the rooftop, a race car/vintage vehicle on the premises pays homage to the original location, much like the vintage gas pumps at the main entrance that welcome guests and patrons into the unique motoring-themed Quaker Steak and Lube environment.

4-Slipping into something different

Although “The Lube” has honed a particular look and feel into its prototypical restaurant format, passing up an opportunity to expand into a new market is sometimes a difficult proposition. As such, the brand’s freestanding restaurant main elements have been distilled, and recast in order to convert existing locations into a proper Quaker Steak and Lube.

Simply cherry-picking from a collection of established brand design elements from the prototypical entrance such as the tower set forward within the facade, the canopy, the large directional arrow, and the checkered flag pattern atop can instantly create a brand connection. Painting the whole ensemble in the white, green and yellow colour palette pulls the converted property further into the family.

Quaker Steak and Lube 561 US-1 Edison NJ 3 2012 https___www.google

Photo: Kidazzle, (circa 2012), right side view, 561 US-1, Edison, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 561 US-1 Edison NJ 6 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, right side view, 561 US-1, Edison, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 561 US-1 Edison NJ 8 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, rear 3/4 view, 561 US-1, Edison, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

When working with conversions, the base building and footprint is not always ideal. In such instances, modifying essential brand elements is crucial, in order to put some distance between the previous tenant. Approaches that rework a floor plan or flow, arrival point, roof lines, parapets, or ingress and egress, can all serve to break the past associations and help create new ones.

Quaker Steak and Lube 4900 South Moorland Road New Berlin WI 5 2007 https___www.google

Photo: Western themed restaurant, (circa 2007), side 3/4 view, 4900 South Moorland Road, New Berlin, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 4900 South Moorland Road New Berlin WI 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, side 3/4 view, 4900 South Moorland Road, New Berlin, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)

In another example, introducing an array of generous divided light windows around the perimeter with unevenly distributed awnings, reworking the marquee, adding in the checkered flag pattern, aid in adding elasticity into the brand’s design envelope.

Quaker Steak and Lube 1431 Parkway Sevierville TN 3 2014 https___www.google

Photo: Gatti’s pizza, (circa 2014), left side 3/4 view, 1431 Parkway, Sevierville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1431 Parkway Sevierville TN 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, left side 3/4 view, 1431 Parkway, Sevierville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1431 Parkway Sevierville TN 8 2014 https___www.google

Photo: Gatti’s pizza, (circa 2014), front 3/4 view, 1431 Parkway, Sevierville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1431 Parkway Sevierville TN 9 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 1431 Parkway, Sevierville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, when working with an existing base, some supplemental care is required for what may be summed up as new paint colours and a reworked marquee may very well downplay interior changes, that may be quite extensive and thus not proportionally reflected by outward appearances.

Quaker Steak and Lube 2003 Cleveland Road Sandusky OH 6 2013 https___www.google

Photo: TGI Fridays, (circa 2013), front 3/4 view, 2003 Cleveland Road, Sandusky, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 2003 Cleveland Road Sandusky OH 4 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front 3/4 view, 2003 Cleveland Road, Sandusky, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Generally located in suburban or ex-urban areas, Quaker Steak and Lube has nonetheless located in more densely populated urban areas. However, as large acreage undeveloped lots in urban areas are quite rare, conversions are by far the preferred route.

5-On a wing and a prayer?

In a departure from the larger format suburban restaurant, a dramatic updating of a shopping plaza afforded the brand an opportunity to step into a freshened and re-imagined retail space.

Applying a collection of signature brand elements, such as windows with divided lights, vertically stripped awnings in the brand colours, the checkered flag motif, and a reduced scale interpretation on the directional arrow, “The Lube” continues to expand its distinctive automotive themed brand away from its largely suburban base.

Quaker Steak and Lube 15312 Detroit Avenue Lakewood OH 6 2011 https___www.google

Photo: retail mall, (circa 2011), front view, 15312 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 15312 Detroit Avenue Lakewood OH 5 2014 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, (circa 2014), front view, 15312 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Relying largely on a similar array of brand-specific elements, vertically stripped awnings in the brand colours, checkered flag motif, a reduced scale interpretation on the directional arrow, and vintage gas pumps at the entrance, “The Lube” has managed to expand its concept into confined and one-dimensional spaces that afford limited and/or minimal brand personalization.

Quaker Steak and Lube 501 Benner Pike State College PA 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front view, 501 Benner Pike, State College, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 1425 Scalp Avenue Johnstown PA 2 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, front view, 1425 Scalp Avenue, Johnstown, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

In the same vein, the brand had set up outposts in non-traditional locales such as sports stadiums, airports, and college campuses. However, the results have been uneven.

Additionally, a string of several Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant closings throughout the U.S. in recent years, including closures in Richmond (Virginia), Waco (Texas), Fort Wayne (Indiana), Henrico County (Virginia), Springfield (Illinois), Kentwood (Michigan) and Dayton (Ohio) shook the brand (source: WKBN.com, woodtv.com, fredericksburg.com, daytondailynews.com).

Quaker Steak and Lube 3725 Presidential Drive Beavercreek OH 4 2011 CLOSED 2015 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, (circa 2011) (Closed 2015), left side 3/4 view, 3725 Presidential Drive, Beavercreek, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Quaker Steak and Lube 3725 Presidential Drive Beavercreek OH 5 2011 CLOSED 2015 https___www.google

Photo: Quaker Steak and Lube, (circa 2011) (Closed 2015), front 3/4 view, 3725 Presidential Drive, Beavercreek, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Subsequently, on November 16th, 2015, “The Lube” filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and TravelCenters of America LLC (T/A) agreed to acquire Quaker Steak and Lube’s restaurant and related assets for approximately $25 million (source: FOX6Now.com, WKBN.com, jsonline.com, wikipedia.org).

A mix of both corporate and franchise-owned locations, Quaker Steak and Lube comprised more than 50 locations across 16 states (source: FOX6Now.com, WKBN.com, jsonline.com). However, as the purchase involved only the Quaker Steak and Lube Corporate brand, located in Sharon, Pennsylvania, multiple franchise-owned locations continued operations as usual (source: FOX6Now.com, WKBN.com, jsonline.com).

Largely a vote of confidence and a testament to the devout and cult-like following the brand has cultivated over the past 40-plus years, TravelCenters of America LLC ultimately plans to elevate “The Lube” into a nationally recognized brand through a combination of franchising, and by converting some of its existing restaurant/truck stop facilities into Quaker Steak and Lube branded locations (source: FOX6Now.com, WKBN.com, jsonline.com).

Ambitions of rolling out the brand’s award-winning craveable food offerings and the Quaker Steak and Lube distinct architectural identity on an American wide scale could yield numerous new fans heeding the oversized “EAT” sign, and come streaming by the brightly lit globes atop the vintage gas pumps, to sample the award worthy chicken wings and sauces.

 

 

Disclaimer: 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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