Between 1999 and 2015, “fast casual” dining grew 550 percent to achieve $21 billion in sales, quintupling its share of all restaurant expenditures. While this category has its roots in the early 1990s, a turning point in its growth arrived in 2003, when Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar launched ’Wichcraft. The spinoff of Tom Colicchio & Company’s famed Craft Restaurants eschewed the notion that portability could not equate thoughtfulness, priding itself on sandwiches and other prepared foods that support local farmers and ethical business. The concept took shape in 10 ’Wichcraft locations. More fundamentally, it created a new farm-to-table benchmark of fast-casual eating that has since defined the entire category, and underpinned its meteoric rise.
In 2015 Colicchio and Ortuzar wondered how to remind consumers of their leadership in fast casual. Their brief to Mapos proposed redesigning ’Wichcraft spaces to more strongly communicate the brand’s commitment to locally sourced natural food, and to the well-being of supporters ranging from farmers to kitchen employees and customers. Our reinvention would fully come to life in a new ’Wichcraft location, and roll out to new and renovated locations throughout New York and the East Coast.
The prototype Mapos-designed ’Wichcraft opened in a landmark Tribeca building in July 2016. In addition to underscoring brand message, the space resolves a barrier to success that we uncovered in our field research—namely, that existing locations lack easy navigability. In response, the Tribeca sales counter sits at the back of the dining room, with the menu board overhead. Maximizing the counter’s setback from the entrance ensures its visibility, allowing new entrants to quickly grasp the fast-casual format and the food and beverage offering. To enhance legibility, we also set the menu against white ceramic and oak; the board’s tiled signage can be reconfigured quickly to reflect seasonal items.
In the volume of space between entry and counter, counter seating integrated with merchandise display and environmental graphics hugs the storefront windows. And in the center of the room, a dais ringed in stools permits chair- and bar-height dining. Together, the seating types preserve sightlines to the menu board, and encourage single-user or community dining. Nearby, the “condiments column” transforms a necessary tool into a brand signature. Water, napkins, condiments, trash, and recycling are all found within this oversize central column whose shape resembles farm structures. The condiment column is finished in handmade terracotta tile, and supports a light sculpture that cantilevers over the dais.
Given the diverse conditions of ’Wichcraft’s existing locations, we completed the Tribeca restaurant with an eye to how that concept could adapt to a variety of spaces. Materiality is one effective means of achieving consistency: ceramic and terracotta tiles recall bread ovens, and the irregularly stacked oak forms of the counter and dais pedestal suggest produce crates; natural steel melds natural elements to integral refrigeration units, POS touch pads, and beverage taps; planters remind guests of natural ingredients’ seasonality. Key brand colors were added as highlights, and ceramic pendant lights round out the palette.
Our approach to Tribeca’s counter seating also supports rollout. It is part of a larger framework of shelving, display boxes, and signage that may be scaled down to eliminate dining. In large and small spaces alike, this so-called Market Wall places branded merchandise and graphics at the most prominent wall, and in effect becomes an extension of the exterior ‘Wichcraft sign. By adding cookbooks, packaged goods, and other branded merchandise to the food offering, the concept promises to reshape fast-casual spaces for the industry.