Redesigning the dining experience at Earls.67

Earls.67 is a new prototype restaurant based on global micro and macro trends

By Cheryl Mah

With time comes change and innovation. For the beloved 35-year-old west coast based restaurant Earls, time brought a one-off prototype concept designed to transform the chain dining experience. Earls.67, the 67th eatery in the powerhouse’s roster of locations, has packaged and delivered its newfound approach in the form of a compellingly curated restaurant.

Spearheaded by renowned designers Glasfurd & Walker and Ste Marie Design in collaboration with Earls, Earls.67 is the first of what will be a collection of independently compelling restaurants. To conceptualize the interiors, the collaborative team underwent a vigorous three-year process, which synthesized global inspirations, past experiences and investigative research. The end result? A design that evokes Earls’ rich North American history while articulating a sense of adventure and exploration.

“The design is lead by a core narrative and sensibility, and an overall spirit of risk paired with comfort,” said Craig Stanghetta, principal of Ste Marie Design. “The way we achieve it is through space programing, shifts in colour and the vernacular of the furniture. For example, we use darker, lusher, softer and more cloistered forms paired with darker colours and lighting.”

Although the interiors are unified to the larger Earls narrative with the use of reoccurring materials, each area of the restaurant is designed to encompass a different sensation for the guest. The dining room boasts clean lines, egalitarian seating and an open concept to encourage sharing and collaboration mirrored in the menu, while the Bankers Bar is specifically designed to manifest a feeling of mischief and anonymity. For guests visiting between the lunch and dinner rushes, Earls.67 even includes a coffee bar that is driven to foster relaxation.

“In a space this vast and with the frequency of visits, we wanted guests to be able to dictate their experience to a degree,” says Stanghetta. “The space is like a well designed home. It always has the homeowner’s ethos and personality in it’s bones, even though the mood and intention of each room can be starkly different.”

For both designers, working with a chain restaurant was a new experience. In an industry that thrives on the new, the pair had to ensure the brand remained relevant and exciting, while also being mindful of the company’s existing structure. Autonomous yet a true reflection of the Earls, what resulted is a blend between innovation and the historic narrative of the brand, which has been treasured by consumers since 1982.

Earls.67’s step into the unknown displays the restaurant’s willingness to adapt to the changing urban landscape. The prototype as a whole was based off of micro and macro dining trends that appeal to basic human values: comfort, food, nourishment, fun, community and security. Ste Marie Design, Glasfurd & Walker and Earls credit the 18 months dedicated to understanding human habits to being able to create a space that guests are naturally drawn to.

When the team wasn’t researching, they spent time traveling, dining and brainstorming to allow energies to flow and merge into what is now Earls.67. Stanghetta remarked, “the product is a hypothesis. What we do know we have right is that it helped galvanize a new point of view for this company and the energy and commitment to evolving this brand in way that is compelling, and innovative is very strong now.”

The concept stems from Earls’ president, Mo Jessa, and his understanding of the need for exceptional and innovative dining. Jessa and his team recognize that consumers are looking for unique experiences, which are customized to their location – a new freedom that allowed Earls.67 to source and utilize local and niche products customized to the surrounding market.

As a direct result of Earls.67’s success, the restaurant group has started to apply elements of the Calgary-based prototype to future developments. The company’s latest location, Mall at Millenia in Orlando, Florida, is a rich, multi-use space infused with fresh, localized design. With the demand of unique dining experiences increasing, North Americans can expect Earls to continue to expand their collection of independently compelling restaurants to existing and future visions.

This article was reprinted with permission from Design Quarterly.

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