May 29, 2014
By: James Oxendine
Not content to rest on the laurels garnered from the uber success of his restaurants, Star Chef / restaurateur Ford Fry has hired design director Elizabeth Ingram to develop new concepts that maintain the unique look and feel that his growing portfolio of Atlanta restaurants like no. 246, The Optimist and St. Cecelia have become known for. Fry recently chatted with me about what role the new design director will play in his future projects, why design is a critical part of his very successful business model and offered a sneak peak at some of his upcoming projects.
Q: What specific role will Ms. Ingram play in the design of your future projects?
FF: Elizabeth’s role as our in-house interior design started with the purchasing and custom fabrication of most of the furniture, fixtures and equipment for our Krog and Avalon project. Parts & Labor had already been engaged as design / architecture. She also assisted in polishing up existing restaurant design holes. As far as her first project: she is designing our Houston restaurant with architecture assistance from Square Feet Studio. She is also in the early stages of designing our sister restaurant to The Optimist in Inman Park. Not to mention helping me design my new house! So, her role will be all interior design in partnership with a local architect.
Q: How does design add value to your very successful business model?
FF: One of the reasons we made the decision to go in-house with design is to have more control over the design goal and budget. I truly feel that design should be timeless and not “restaurant of the month” design. Only time will tell if we have achieved that or not. I think design is one component to the first impression. To quote Smith Hanes back in 2007 regarding JCT: “I’m not sure how the food will be, but I can tell you that it will feel good once inside.” That speaks a lot to a dining experience. It has to be comfortable and work as a neighborhood spot as well as a special night out.
Q: When did you first begin to appreciate the value add of good design and invest accordingly?
FF : Interesting you ask. We do have a formula as to how much we can spend based upon expected annual sales. Beginning with No. 246, I wanted to allow Smith to work pretty freely after we defined the feel. He did that without much “art direction” from me. Just simple moments of validation like, “thoughts on this light design,” or “this floor,” etc. I was, and am still, very happy with the outcome and I believe it will be timeless.
Q: Can you share some of the design concepts of some of your future projects, i.e. the Inman Park oyster bar.
FF: Our sister restaurant to The Optimist in food is a small plate version of The Optimist and The Oyster Bar at The Optimist. With that, it needs to feel good yet feel slightly more casual than The Optimist. The inspiration is Hamptons-esque meets a surf lodge. I do like encouraging elements of humor and anticipate some of that in the restaurant. Our restaurant in Houston is inspired by Texas history and the evolution of Texas food and my childhood growing up a few blocks away from our location. The feel will be a bit vintage with a bit of German influence and a bit of humor.