Since 1932, Papaya King has delivered sweet/savory subsistence in New York City. Somehow, after 68 years, the brand has resisted gentrification. While it feels like this institution has been franchised onto every block, in reality there are only several official locations which are in ferocious competition with other namesake brands who all aim to corner the hot dog culinary category including Gray’s Papaya and Nathan’s, (not to mention street vendors or the Shake Shack.) In this update, designer Joe Guzman at Skaggs Design has embraced the existing vernacular of “organized chaos” and built a system to deliver a consistent experience on packaging, signage, and online.
I’m happy to report both that Papaya King is back in business and in the process has managed to pull off an amazing feat: It’s somehow avoided succumbing to hubris — to believing it had to change, upgrade or get fancy to justify the toil and expense of renovating — and in the process losing its soul.”
— Ralph Gardner, Wall Street Journal
Cleaning up the logo takes on an entirely new meaning here. Several of the locations had been shut down for some health violations, which effects the context of the rebrand slightly, but also makes the “clean up” all the more resonant.
In the symbol, the refreshed brand assets now use gravity, a great idea. The papaya guy is standing straight up, serving you a fatter hot dog, now with mustard and bigger drink. The wider smile and cheery eyes suggest friendly service. The elimination of makeup, dimples and eyebrows reinforce his stable mental state. Moreover, his crown is less sharp and somehow more welcoming. He is the servant and we are the queen.
Surrounding elements such as the script which delivers happy aphorisms like “The Original” are also well integrated. The condensed gothic that hammers off healthy facts is a little less convincing than it may have been in the mid 20th century, but it gives everything a needed volume and organized chaos. The smartest part about this rebrand is the elimination of the clunky lettering and clever integration of existing signage elements into the logo. It would be extraordinarily expensive and lazy to update this signage with a novel font. Moreover the neon letters are arguably the most iconic and functional asset… they draw you into the restaurant like a fly.
The first time I visited this place I was a tourist, the second time I was desperately hungry. I got a little sick both times, but I was happy spending very little money. Even if you have no appetite for greasy frankfurters or tropical fruit beverages, it’s hard not to enjoy the king’s papaya-eating grin.