Burrito Beach Leaves the Kitsch Behind

The look of an operation should always align with the quality of its food. That simple statement drives plenty of redesigns, including the project recently completed by Burrito Beach.

BurritoBeach1Burrito Beach's new Chicago location.Based in Chicago, this six-unit chain has evolved its look significantly since opening its doors in 1995. According to founder and CEO Greg Schulson, the chain originally took the beach theme literally, with umbrellas and beach chairs part of its early design. About 10 years ago, the concept switched to a look that blended the beach with colors and design elements typical of Mexican restaurants.

Late last year, Burrito beach rolled out its newest look, one that better reflects the chain’s menu and food quality.

The chain’s flavor profile, says Schulson, is broader than many of its competitors. Offerings include buffalo chicken, chicken and chorizo, and goat cheese with black beans, all available as burritos, quesadillas, tacos, nachos or bowls. The new look is meant to reflect the nature of this menu. “The design is focused on the energy, passion and creativity of what you may find on West Coast and Baja, California. That has always driven the name Burrito Beach,” Schulson says.

The new look, then, is clean, bright and calm and features light wood tones with splashes of bright orange and yellows.

Flooring around the perimeter is a faux-bois tile that serves as subtle wayfinding while the dining area has a complementary light-colored tile. Chairs have pale painted metal frames finished with wooden seats. High-top seating features a powder-coated orange to offer a pop of color.

Tables are made of reclaimed light wood, a more expensive option, but still worthwhile investment, says Schulson. “When somebody’s sitting at a table at a restaurant, they’re experiencing a couple of different things, but they’re definitely experiencing the meal at the tabletop itself.”

BurritoBeach2Burrito Beach's dining room features blond reclaimed wood, powder-coated metal chairs and light-colored tile.

The restaurant's clean look extends to the ordering line. A light wood wall with attached banquette seating separates the dining area from the ordering queue. Burrito Beach uses the familiar pick-your-toppings fast-casual approach to ordering, the new design offers a twist. The top of the ordering counter in front of the food shield is raised several inches and the food shield itself is attached to the counter top several inches down.

”It provides a little privacy,” says Schulson. “You don’t see the messiness of the food and it looks like the sneeze guard floats into the stone.”

This clean look extends to the redesign’s lighting package. The chain likes the idea of lights strung across the ceiling, like lights strung between trees at a beach party. The look, however, was a bit too haphazard for the clean lines of the new design. In response, Burrito Beach installed a series of long struts that hang from the ceiling. Edison-style bulbs run along the length of each. This solution gives the impression of a string of lights without the overly casual look, Schulson says.

Another touch that’s new to this design: fresh flowers, held in hot sauce bottles filled with water, sit at every table. The flowers contribute to the sense of freshness in the space. They also signal to customers that the chain is committed to quality, Schulson says. “When you’re keeping up with fresh flowers, people know that takes energy and effort. Hopefully that translates into them acknowledging or subconsciously realizing that we put a lot of energy into everything we do.”

BurritoBeach3New graphics at Burrito Beach in Chicago.

The wall decor in the first of these stores is limited by its location. The restaurant is in a hospital in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood and has glass walls on three sides. In the few spots where the chain can place art, it is relying on new graphic elements, including a redesigned sun logo. Some of these are on tile behind the ordering counter, while others are painted directly on the glass walls.

This wasn’t the only design feature determined by the structure itself. The space also has a structural column that currently holds mechanical infrastructure, such as the fire alarm pull and wiring. In the coming months, the chain will relocate some of this infrastructure to make room for additional wood elements and signage.

Such flexibility with the design, in fact, will be a hallmark of Burrito Beach going forward. The concept is always open to further evolving its look to better reflect the brand and connect with customers, says Schulson. “I don’t see this restaurant finished in any way. I see this as an evolution and plan to continue working on it. If we come up with better solutions or a new piece of art or new direction, then we’ll just redo something. We want to try and hone in on what people connect to.”

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