Lowell’s Restaurant in the Pike Place Market has been a Seattle institution for many years—about 56 if you’re keeping track. Lowell’s contacted me via a regular client of mine, Cactus Restaurants, which is run by two brothers who are actually the sons of the guy who owns Lowell’s (small town!). Turns out, the Brothers Cactus basically grew up in Lowell’s while their father ran the place, and it kind of makes sense to me now why they are such successful restaurateurs. The elder Cactus has long since handed over operations to a fellow named Mark Monroe, and he’s the guy I first met regarding the project.
I’ve been saying “no” to new work for over a year because I am actually that busy. But after listening to Mark Monroe tell me the history of Lowell’s and the market space itself—all the way back to the turn of the century—I became rather intrigued. There is a lot of history in those three floors, and to a designer, a lot of history means a lot of material to work with. There were old photos from the lunch counter days, and even a few back when it started as a coffee roaster and café. There were old guest checks, coffee coupons, and menus that listed the price of an omelet at $4.95. I began to see Lowell’s as a genuine piece of Seattle history, and I was quickly sold on the project.
This was going to be a complete rebrand including a new logo, menus, postcards, advertising, signage, and the ever important website. Since Lowell’s has a captive audience of tourists throughout the year, one of goals was to make an appeal to locals. This was interesting to me, and while I had enjoyed breakfast at Lowell’s years ago, I really hadn’t been back since. It seemed a bit too touristy in my mind, but in actuality, it’s kind of a cool place and not a bad spot to grab a cocktail in the market. It’s one of those places that everybody knows but hasn’t been to in a while. Lowell’s will always be famous for its breakfast and will always appeal to tourists who can’t pass up the views—but a question arose: How can we make Lowell’s appeal to Seattleites too? Do people even realize there are three floors? One floor even has a fantastic bar serving decent cocktails with those amazing views. Does Seattle even realize what we have here? This became the beginning of our creative brief.
We zeroed in on a logomark rather quickly. I proposed a handful of options, but we were both drawn to a banner style logo that seemed rather timeless. Other options felt too period-specific, or too “Pike Place”, while the final direction felt at home in any decade and had a certain retro-contemporary feel to it (if that makes any sense). The original tagline for Lowell’s had been “Almost Classy”. There was some talk of letting this go for various reasons (too comical?) but I actually kind of liked it. But I also really felt that a strong part of the Lowell’s brand was the history, so adding the birth year of the modern incarnation of Loweel’s seemed like a way to give the tagline some context. Almost Classy Since 1957 says a lot. It’s lighthearted like the restaurant itself—but it’s also got staying power. Sure, Lowell’s is going to have fun with your visit, but they’ve been around. They know what they are doing.
From there we redesigned the menus, created a postcard guest check holder that guests could take with them (and they did, we had to do a second 10,000 count print run by the end of summer) and we eventually created a new website from the ground up. For this project I knew I wanted to create a responsive design that could tailor both content and graphics to whatever device the visitor was using. More and more websites are being accessed via phones and tablets, and with such a large tourist base, an efficient serving of device-specific content became a major goal. Unlike the shoddy, secondary “mobile sites” you see a lot of companies trying to sell to restaurants these days, a true responsive design is a single site that recognizes the device it’s being viewed on and optimizes content accordingly. You don’t suddenly realize you are on a “mobile version of the site” because you aren’t. One site serves all.
I brought in my pal Ryan from Crashpad Design to work on the code and production and he did a great job with my concepts. Taking on responsive design like this is almost like designing 3 or 4 sites at once, and there are certain challenges to making it all work—especially when designing on the fly like I do. I threw a lot of different hurdles at him and Ryan did a great job. In the end, a great balance of visuals and content as the site scales.
After a few photo shoots the site was soon ready to go live. I gave Mark the keys to the blog engine and he hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since. Great to see somebody so committed to the voice of a restaurant. Check out his blog when you can. (I need to tell him to lighten up on the multi-colored typography at some point! Or not.)
And when you do get a chance, go visit Lowell’s again. It’s probably been a while. Tell Mark that Geoff the designer guy sent you.