Established in 1994 with a single location in Hayward, WI, Famous Dave’s is a chain of barbecue restaurants in the U.S. that now spans 35 states and includes 165 locations. The restaurant is named after Dave Anderson, who is apparently an outstanding guy, has great business acumen, and came up with the original BBQ recipes. Recently, Famous Dave’s has been rolling out a new identity and interior design across its own stores while providing guidelines to its franchisees with a design by Minneapolis, MN-based Zeus Jones.
We started with their brand identity and tone, which had a long-established and very strong point of view, but needed some updating. Because of their large number of franchises, they’d created a library of messages and language that sometimes contradicted each other, and, as a resource, could be both confusing and limiting for their creative. We took multiple stakeholder opinions into account, focused on the brand’s deep barbecue heritage and unique, irreverent tone, and streamlined the brand’s voice. The resulting voice and tone guide maintains what makes Famous Dave’s different, but updates it for a more welcoming and heritage-forward set of messages, breathing new life into future advertising and restaurant designs.
While the logo remains mostly the same, the full logo with the chef pig fire-cooking another animal’s ribs has been redrawn to remove shading and texture, leaving a more usable graphic with a slightly less creepy pig. The wordmark has been repurposed nicely on its own by getting rid of its stroke and hard shadow and instead putting it where it belongs: inside a ball of fire. Both of these changes are a great way to maintain the equity of the logo while breathing new life into them. Frankly, adding flames to any logo instantly ups its game and is quite possibly the most underused strategy in corporate and brand identity.
We wanted to make incremental changes that moved the brand forward rather than revolutionizing their look and losing their strong ties to heritage, so we were careful to make the brand’s must-haves key elements of all of our new designs - Wilbur the pig, sign painting, bright colors, and Famous Dave himself. But we also wanted to add some elements that spoke to new consumers and modernized the look of the brand.
To do it, we focused on picking a palette that toned down some of the brightest colors, kept others, and added textures and treatments to lend an authentic feel to our designs. We also created new elements for the logo, the barbecue competition team, to-go service, and the restaurant’s loyalty program, Famous Nation, all of which have a cleaner, more streamlined look that speaks to heritage and expertise, but still maintains the whimsical elements of the brand’s identity. With all those elements working in concert, every consumer touchpoint communicates the same feel and message, and creates a uniform experience of the brand’s personality.
I am a sucker for identities that have a lot of graphic doodads that can be used freely on their own or as a pattern — see TDC 62 Call for Entries by ODC, JJ’s Red Hots by Matt Stevens, or Miller High Life by Landor — so I’m quite fond of the above graphics because who doesn’t like an American flag where the mast is a fork?
In application there is no shyness about layering stuff over stuff nor any doubt that more is more is a good thing. All of the materials carry a fun, confident, un-fancy vibe that is perfect for an unpretentious restaurant chain.
Once we had the brand’s new voice and look established, we worked on bringing it to life in the real world. In partnership with Famous Dave’s corporate restaurant design firm, Shea, we created a broad design system that gives every restaurant owner the tools they need to apply the new branding to their location. Because lots of locations are owned by franchisees, we worked hard to make sure that what we created could both repurpose existing décor and signage and use new elements to make a cost-effective remodel possible.
The interiors of one of their restaurants are a massive improvement, going from what looked like a lightweight version of TGI Fridays with random tchotchkes all over the walls to a cohesive, relevant set of graphics that tie all the rooms together and a color palette of dark gray, red, orange, and yellow that maintains the shabby shack look but with a much more contemporary patina. Overall, a great case study for keeping the existing sensibility of a company while improving on it in every aspect.