Friday, December 14, 2012

Gunshow- ai3 & Kevin Gillespie... Here we go!

It's official.  We got a permit from the city and are ready to begin construction on Gunshow with Chef Kevin Gillespie. Whew.

Unlike anything ai3's done before, we are in a creative partnership with Kevin, challenging our process as much as he is challenging his.

Here is a video of the first of many Vision Sessions we will be having with Kevin, Blake Morley, and the rest of his team.  Typical to all of our kick-off meetings, we gathered in our studio to discuss our goals, measures of success, what the buzz will be, program needs, aesthetic preferences, what staff will wear....

Challenge: How do you design a space for a new restaurant model?  Check out the first of our Vision Sessions. 

Our space, as captured by Blake on Day One. 

Lucky for me, this is 2 blocks from my house, so I will publish our progress, along with Kevin.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ai3's Dan Maas, "Leveraging FLOW" in Sante magazine

Recently published in Sante, a magazine for restaurant professionals.

"The Leverage of Flow: How to Harness Flow & Intimacy for a Better Guest Experience." - By Dan Maas, Co-Founder and Principal at ai3, Inc.

When talking about the flow of a restaurant, most restaurant experts focus on the physical flow of food to the dining room floor. While food flow is critical in restaurant design, so are several other aspects of flow, including timing, pace, and communication between the chef, kitchen and service staffs, and guests.
Good design should infiltrate all aspects of a restaurant, but, most importantly, it should enhance the guest experience. This involves orchestrating many moving parts, all centered on creating positive social interactions around food and drink. Here are a number of tips to help foster these interactions, while still allowing a restaurant to funcion efficiently.

TIP 1: Design for the Director
The host/greeter plays the role of "cruise director," yet is often overlooked in restaurant design. When guests arrive at a restaurant, that seemingly normal greeting experience is actually the point where they elect to become an active participant in the restaurant's flow, allowing the host or greeter to lead the way.
A good host will always have an eye on the kitchen, as well as the dining room and the bar. To do so, he/she should have visual accessibility to the entire restaurant. Coordinating the flow between the dining areas and the kitchen requires continual contact between the host and the chef to ensure that no guest is waiting too long in one location and that the kitchen can always handle the order load.
Also, the host is typically the first and last impression of the dining experience. This poses many design questions. For example, can the host station be seen from outside the restaurant, allowing guests to connect and interact with the dining experience before actually entering the space? Is the host station adequately lit for the task, and does that lighting add to the overall restaurant experience? Does the design level of the host station reflect the design concept and mission of the restaurant?

TIP 2: Create One Flow with Many Options
The repeat guest is king, and the restaurant design should play a part in enticing guests to return. To that end, flow and circulation throughout the dining spaces should allow guests to easily discover all the available seating and dining options, including the bar, chef tables, private and semi-private rooms, communal tables, intimate booths, counters, patio and outdoor dining, and so forth.
This creates more opportunities for connecting guests to the vision of the restaurant, and gives them the sense that they have only experienced a small portion of what is available. If guests understand whay they are missing, they will make a mental note to return and try something different at a future visit.

TIP 3: Manipulate Flow for Intimacy
In some situations, lack of physical flow is acceptable, even desired. In a restaurant with a thriving bar scene, for example, a crowded bar is the goal. To achieve this, your designer should realize that tight spaces are okay. Saying "excuse me" forces interactions, both with the staff and other guests. Lively, crowded restaurants and bars promote conviviality, which in turn feeds their success.
The design and flow of the bar presents numerous opportunities to reinforce social interactions. The bar should have as many outside corners as possible, as guests gravitate to them in order to speak across the bar with other patrons. While some long, skinny spaces do not cater to outside corners, gathering nodes along a bar can serve a similar purpose.
Close quarter dining, such as communal tables and banquettes, also encourage social interaction. Unique design elements, textures, artwork, and accessories around such areas become objects of conversation among guests and generate specific buzz about a restaurant. Here, tight flow is an advantage.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Developing our Neighborhood Story- Oxford Hotel Indigo

"The Way to a Man's Heart is Through his Stomach"
- By Ethan Lewis

Concurrently nicknamed "The Literary Center of the South;" as well as, "The Little Easy," Oxford Mississippi is The Magnolia State's prized possession.  A cultural jambalaya of freaks, geeks, Greeks, and jocks, Oxford is home to some of the best seasoned stories we have heard in a while.  Knowing how serious we take our food, our stories, AND our road trips, ai3 embarked on a journey through the heart of the South landing to the last notch of the bible belt on the other side.

Just a few shady skips from Oxford's prized "Square", lies the Downtown Oxford Inn, a hotel that will soon be churned into a cornucopia of story and style as a Hotel Indigo.  ai3's design of this new hotel will be inspired by the few that locals know by name and go unnoticed in plain sight by out-of-towners, these behind the scenes faces are the driving force of what makes Oxford, Mississippi so rare and tender. It is our team's interviews with these dedicated locals, each with their own story to tell but sifted together from small town ties, where the design of the Oxford Hotel began to thicken.

Long-haired lawyers in shorts, bookstore DJs, and celebrity chefs led us down a tree-lined path into Oxford's pealing past and how the small town fumed and then cooled, and quickly flourished into a robust Southern mecca of art, music, literature, and film.  The reoccurring chime of the arts, like Oxford ringing a dinner bell and yelling, "Creativity is Ready!" caught our attention, and we came running towards it, hungry for more. Stuffed five deep in a booth, an unspoken unanimous decision was made over a table full of beer, wine, and dishes kin to Oxford, that we would pursue each of these artistic ingredients as literal themes for spaces throughout the hotel.

Uncle Tupelo led to Wilco, police officer turned blacksmith, movie theater by night and music venue by late night, Oxford, MS is a representative for change and a breeding ground for culture.  We began to paint a picture that you won't get from reading any Faulkner novels, nor cheering at any Ole Miss football game -- like The Grateful Dead standing next to Ronald Regan, the funky underside stood next to the three-piece suits and exuded their own concoction of respected free-spirit, and became a small southern town with conscious development. As this recipe for growth, change, and culture was passed on by front porch rocking chairs; festivals, film makers, musicians, and artists fled to Oxford for a glass of the fresh fragrant cocktail. Finding this unexpected parallel between the way ai3 cooks up ideas and the way that Oxford, Mississippi writes recipes, was all we needed to put the cherry on top of our design inspiration.

Full from the days before, but hungry for more, we graciously thanked our wonderful host and client, Luke Chamblee and The Chamblee Hospitality Group, for some of the heartiest laughs and most fun we have had in a while.  Sizzling with excitement, we loaded up the Dodge Caravan and made our way back east with design on our minds and Oxford in our rearview.

Monday, October 1, 2012

La Tagliatella Trip to Madrid and Barcelona

An amazing opportunity was afforded to ai3 upon our engagement into the La Tagliatella team - a benchmarking and team building trip to Spain to meet with the project team, sample the La Tagliatella food, and witness and observe, firsthand, the Tagliatella dining experience. ai3 has been engaged by AmRest, the parent company of the La Tagliatella restaurant concept for its North American roll-out of restaurants.

The La Tagliatella brand is a well-established Italian restaurant concept based in Madrid, Spain, with locations throughout Spain and into France, Germany, India, and China.

With several North American locations scheduled to roll-out in the coming months, ai3 traveled with the project team to Madrid to benchmark several of the existing locations. It was a whirlwind tour of locations. Chris Carfora and I started our Spanish adventure, leaving Atlanta on an overseas flight on Wednesday evening, traveling through the night to make our initial meeting at 9am, Madrid time, at the Tagliatella home office in Pozuelo, Spain. There, we met up with Mike Muldoon, David Smith, and David Henzlik of AmRest, North America, Mary Reynolds and Kelly Norris of The Reynolds Group, along with Maciek, Piotr, David Justo , and Steve Winegar.

After a few team meetings, we all piled into a mini-tour bus with the ambitious agenda of seeing 14 Tagliatella locations, all of which had certain idiosyncrasies and unique elements that would help paint the picture of the desired design aesthetic that needed to be maintained in North America.


With jetlag weighing heavy on our bodies, we managed to get through all 14 locations, stopping to eat lunch and dinner along the way. Our resounding opinion of the cuisine at La Tagliatella was that of incredible flavors, powerful influences of hand-made, caring pizza combinations, and delicious pastas and sauces. The food was so very amazing and will definitely cause a stir in the US. There was a sense of authenticity to the food - the way only true Italian food can. We can only compare it to what we have come to know as Italian cuisine here in the US, but it was distinctly different - something that can only be fully understood through experiencing it. This difference of offerings will be a game-changer for the Tagliatella brand in the US.

The care and detail of service was equally impressive. It might have been the language barrier that added to the mystic of the service, but there was no mistaking the love and care that every server had for the product, the company, and the reputation. Every single person we encountered that worked for the La Tagliatella brand demonstrated a level of care that no doubtedly added to the experience.

The Spanish culture has a wonderful casualness about it. It slides the work day slightly forward into the day. 9am meetings didn't really start until 10 or 10:30. Lunch begins somewhere in the 2pm hour and dinner before 9pm is unheard of.

After our whirlwind tour of Tag locations, and Day One in the books, ending around midnight, we crashed hard, trying to catch up to the new time zone.

Day Two involved several meetings with our Spanish architectural counterparts, ABC Arquitectos, and the local millwork/artist that designs and supplies much of the interior decor, DecoRetro. The team seemed to nicely complement each other's strong suits and the morning's meetings resulted in well-coordinated efforts for the first three Tag locations in the US - Metropolis and Emory Point in Atlanta, and Clarendon Blvd in Arlington, VA.

Meetings ended around lunchtime and we quickly popped back to our hotel in Pozuelo, for a quick refresh and then headed into downtown Madrid to check out the Spanish culture and nightlife.

Our first destination was the Mercado de San Miguel. The “Mercado de San Miguel” is one of the oldest covered markets in Madrid. It was recently refurbished and now offers and whole new concept of market. You can actually go and buy good fruits, cheese (more than 100 different varieties) and fish among others things… you can also have oysters with a glass of wine while reading a book bought in the library recently opened inside the place.

Its 33 shops offer a great variety of the best delicatessen products in a magnificent setting. It can be called the market of this century even though the Market is almost one hundred years old (it was constructed in 1916).

The Mercado was the ideal portrait of what I think many warehouse redevelopment projects in Atlanta are trying to emulate. Rows of fruit stands, ham or jamon legs hanging all about, and Sangria stands littered throughout the market. Market San Miguel seemed so alive with locals and tourists alike that it created an energy of metropolis that most everywhere else would love to have.

After sipping a few Sangrias with the team, we headed over to Plaza de Mayor. The Plaza Mayor has been the scene of multitudinous events: markets, bullfights, soccer games, public executions, and, during the Spanish Inquisition, "autos de fe" against supposed heretics and the executions of those condemned to death. The Plaza Mayor also has a ring of old and traditional shops and cafes under its porticoes. Celebrations for San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, are also held here. The Plaza Mayor is now a major tourist attraction, visited by thousands of tourists a year. We posed for a few photos, drank a few beers, and generally took in the scene. David Henzlik even danced and/or taunted a creature in the square, ultimately making friends as he went.

Dinner wound up in another public plaza where we dined on ox tail, jamon belotta, olives, beer and wine.

After Friday, Chris and I were on our own until Monday's flight back to Atlanta. The team said their farewells until next time and we headed to the train station on Saturday morning to figure out how to book a “bullet train” ride to Barcelona, our departure city. The bullet train, called AVE, Alta Velocidad Espa├▒ola  is a service of high-speed rail in Spain that reach speeds of up to 310 km/h. The name is literally translated from Spanish as "Spanish High Speed", but its initials are also a play on the word ave, meaning "bird".


We had only a few things on our itinerary in Barcelona, the penultimate event being the Barca-Valencia football match on Sunday evening. Upon our arrival in Barcelona, we quickly realized that the few words of Spanish that we picked up on in Madrid would do us no good in Barcelona as Catalan was the local language. While it was somewhat similar, negotiating taxi rides and ordering food was difficult. We made our way to Hotel Cram, a really cool and hyper-modern hotel in NW Barcelona, midway between Camp Nou and the La Rambla, the main tourist drag in Barcelona that led down to the waterfront. The juxtaposition of the old building’s exterior and the breath-taking avant-garde interiors was a beautiful combination.

Our first matter of business, though, after checking in was to figure out how to claim our football tickets for the game. Tourism is, no doubt, the main industry in Barcelona and they made is very easy to claim our tickets from ATM-like machines littered throughout the city.


With tickets in hand, we were feeling great about seeing the city. We rambled down La Rambla, stopping in a few stores and wandering through a few artist markets in small outlying plaza off the main strip. Our day ended down at the waterfront for dinner on the docks, overlooking the marina.

Sunday began with an amazing tour of the "Third Cathedral" of Barcelona, Sagrada Familia - the unfinished masterpiece by legendary artist/architect/builder Antoni Gaudi, distinct with his architectural and engineering style—combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. His elegant use of stone and concrete to form the most organic structure literally brought tears to my eyes upon entering. This is a journey that EVERY architect needs to do to understand the possibilities of design and the impacts and responsibilities that we all have to the world around us to create lasting works of art and architecture that embody our cultures and our generations.


Our minds quickly shifted to football as we made our way to Camp Nou. The football museum at Camp Nou is one of the most visited museums in all of Spain and it did not disappoint. To see the Champions League trophies on display was incredible.

The game, later that evening, was all it was touted to be, with the blaugrana victorious by a score of 1-0 on a brilliant goal from Andriano, a young and spritely defender that curled a shot from outside the penalty box into the upper right corner. Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi were amazing and so very much a step above everyone else on the pitch. It was an experience I'll treasure forever.

Our flight back stateside on Monday morning was long, but nicely uneventful. The trip left a lasting impression on both Chris and me. The Spanish culture is amazing and their way and pace of life is admirable. They work hard, play hard, have distinct points of view and opinions, and generally love and live life to the fullest.

We left with the unequivocal opinion that the La Tagliatella concept will do extremely well in the United States. The team that has been put together for this effort believes so fully in the possibly and their enthusiasm was so very contagious. The ai3 team is excited to be a part of such an endeavor.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Our first ai3 road trip

Our first ai3 road trip. Some I shared this exciting news with said, "A road trip... to Oxford, Mississippi?" Actually, EVERYONE said that.

But having gone to college in a small college town with a lot of history and charm, and having my wedding in a similar, small Southern town, I found it completely appropriate to be excited. We were going to spend a day talking about design with creative and aspirational Oxfordonians. To stop checking our iPhones and actually slow down... s l o w    d o w n.
Amy "Driver", Lucy "DJ", Dan "Dealer", Kerry "Score-Taker", Chris "Winner"

We were off to a good start when Amy batted those baby blues and got us an upgrade on our rental car from minivan to Pathfinder. Score 1.  With coffee and croissants in hand, we started the journey on I-20. After a traffic detour, rain storms, hours & hours of cards, a car wreck (not ours), and maneuvering John Currence crazy-backroad-shortcuts, we arrived to a beautiful day in Oxford Square, 6+ hours later.

The  purpose of our trip? Boure, the latest Chef John Currence restaurant concept, was a design collaboration between ai3, Chef, and Stefano Capomazza. It opened almost a year ago, and our team had yet to see it's completion. 

Stairwell design shares years of history by maintaining layers of old wallpapers & plaster found during demolition

We also came to help charette ideas for the bar above Chef's first Oxford restaurant, City Grocery. The bar, fondly termed the perfect, dive bar, is what Chef describes as the perfect contrast to the fine dining of City Grocery below.So after our tour of Boure and a few wild stories from Chef, we headed to the dive bar.  We put on some music, pulled together some tables, handed out a few beers (except preggars Kerry), rolled out some trash (sketch paper) and new ideas for the bar started flowing. It was like a well-orchestrated routine and a fun one. John and Stefano were happy, and even wanted to push the concept further! Perfect.  We toasted to a successful day over shrimp & grits at City Grocery and a night cap at Snack Bar before retiring from a very, very long day.

Our "dive bar"
Bacon Bitters... Yes.

Big. Bad Breakfast.  Yes, it is.
It lived up the the hype, and the 2nd morning of our road trip we enjoyed fresh, farm eggs and bacon from the smokehouse in the back... biscuits and gravy (of course). Oh my. What's not to love about this traditional southern food?!?! I wish I could eat this in Atlanta... hmmmm, maybe some day?

Now, the only question is, where should we go next?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pig, Goat & Oysters in Chicago

Our time at Chicago's Neocon 2012 last week was equal parts exploration of product design and restaurant design. My dogs may be barking, but the many miles trekked in the Merchandise Mart and on the streets of Chicago were well worth my sore muscles today.

the Publican
Sunday brunch... our chance to observe the dominant, racetrack communal table seating up to 100 people. Our clients either love or hate the idea of communal seating, but as popular as the Publican continues to be, Chicago seems to have embraced it.  The high back chairs and the pure volume of noise seem to be key.  The ladder back provides seated privacy, a psychological barrier between you and the patron who may be standing... waiting... just behind you.  The noise allows you to carry on a conversation with your group and not necessarily hear every detail of your neighbor's.

We enjoyed hanging at the 3-tier, pub-style banquet table stands at the center of the restaurant... purse hooks included :). We were impressed at how much floor space was dedicated to standing tables with no seats, but it provides a comfortable space to wait in this "No Reservations" joint.  And, it wouldn't hurt to grab a beer and first course plate. The restrooms are communal as well, 5 single stalls with an adjacent bird bath sink.

GT Fish & Oyster Bar
Only a few blocks north of the Merchandise Mart, we strolled over for lunch on Monday. This was my favorite meal of our trip, which may not be fair since seafood is my true love.  The design combines both traditional and non-traditional elements (inspired by the chef's approach to the menu). The design uses details of rustic fisherman nets, anchors, and materials evoking the feel of cottages or boat decks. We appreciated the high contrast palette of warm, light greys with black, the boomerang communal table (yacht-like) transitioning the bar to the dining area, the fish mural above the banquette looks as good in person as in photos, the brass table corner guards, the placement of mirrors, black venetian plaster in the bathrooms, mosaic tile flooring in the bar area  . The service was impecable and perfectly timed.

The Girl & the Goat
We showed up at 5PM, hoping for one of the coveted walk-in tables.  We lucked out with a 2-top bordering the bar and facing the super long expo line with chef tables. Perfect. Our server was also perfect, guiding us through our first goat selections. The chairs and pendant lights we've seen before, but the fire-screen back bar is just as cool in person, as is the long expo line anchored by (2) 2-top date tables- ON THE LINE.  That is one of the best "special occasion tables" we've seen. There were many thoughtful details such as ledges holding a water carafe & menus at the table. 

I still remember my first visit to Blackbird. There was little to see in that part of Chicago, and you worried the cab driver was taking you to a back alley... and he wasn't coming back. Fastforward more than 10 years and it's one of the coolest areas of Chicago with restaurants from top chefs and taxis looping the streets. avec has long been admired by our clients and by our studio for it's simple design.  We stopped by post-dinner and were lucky to grab a few seats at the bar.  Everything is wood in this simple, rectangular box: wood stools, wood tables, and wood benches.  Only the bar counter is stainless steel and the wall of green bottles screening the restrooms. The scale and intimacy reminded me more of a NYC shotgun floor plan... maximizing every nook and cranny. With a space so efficient, it's no surprise they take a straight-forward approach to service and hospitality.  Get in. Eat. Get out.  Luckily, we struck up a conversation with another guest at the bar to soften some of the hard edges.

violet hour
Ahhh, the speakeasy.  We just finished one, Eleanor's, tucked in the back of Muss & Turner's dining room through a door that looks like it's to a walk-in cooler.  Violet hour is disguised by an ever-changing mural painted across the front of the building and entry door.  We only knew the address because of Jess, the super cool server at Girl & the Goat that told us to go.  Just through the door is the holding area, someone's gotta come out before you can go in.  It's a surprisingly large space, over 150 seats at bar & lounge, but the floor to ceiling heavy drapes divide the volume into intimate areas.  And, of course, very little lighting other than candles.
Check out the House Rules:
Cell phones aren't aloud, so I had to snag these images online.

bar runs along side wall between drapery panels- see above pic
This is the current mural. We walked through door by whale's mouth.