MCA-Using Design To Keep An Original Pancake House Truly Original-1

She gave us the wow factor. Model home interiors are only a part of what we do at Mary Cook Associates, so we were thrilled when we read our client’s assessment of the restaurant interior design project we did for her in the Chicago Tribune a new Original Pancake House in Oak Lawn, Il.

This wasn’t our first restaurant; we have designed a significant number of restaurants and bars in clubhouses and community centers. But this was a new challenge that came our way through Julie Harrigan, a family friend who was familiar with our work. And it was interesting to add franchise restaurant experience to our always expanding oeuvre.

In every project, we respond to a wide range of demographic, geographic and architectural influences to create spaces that establish an immediate connection with their users. In the case of this time-honored brand, historical influences also counted. Oak Lawn is a community on the rise; it has young families and a good housing market, Harrigan noted in a Chicago Tribune article about the new franchise location. Our goal was to make the new Original Pancake House a destination for this growing community of millennials and families.

Just as in our model home interiors, our restaurant design choices were made with the community’s demographics in mind and calculated to build on the success of Harrigan’s first Original Pancake House in nearby Beverly. She gave us free reign, with only one request: make it warm and homey. We did just that, but elevated it with some wow factor design elements that now have everyone in the community making plans to meet at the pancake house.

Here’s how we did it:

1. Respecting the Brand: To pay homage to the brand, we included framed photos of the very first Original Pancake House, founded in 1953 in Portland, OR. Adjacent to those black-and-white photographs, accompanied by industrial metal lettering that reads THEN, we hung vintage posters with images of fruit, coffee beans and other wholesome ingredients that go into the brand’s iconic fare. The results: a retro vibe that millennials love but older generations can also appreciate.

2. Creating Flex Spaces: From birthday parties and family reunions to business meetings and community gatherings, we knew from the beginning that this restaurant would serve a variety of needs. That meant everything about the interior design and furniture choices had to be focused on achieving maximum flexibility. We created a totally private space that could accommodate up to 50 people, and gave it sliding barn-style doors fabricated in reclaimed wood for a touch of earthy authenticity. The open area in the middle of the restaurant can be reconfigured thanks to the scale, flexibility and style of the furniture. And the old-fashioned, diner-style counter is artfully separated from the rest of the restaurant by a half-height wall that still lets natural light and the buzz of activity permeate the space.

3. Bringing in Color: Playing off the Original Pancake House franchise’s dedication to using the finest and most wholesome ingredients, we chose a warm, upbeat color palette that reflects the restaurant chain’s famed namesake dish. Carpet tiles and booths in apple green and orange peel vinyl that evokes fresh-squeezed juice are paired with harvest-themed art work and whimsical features, such as the word pancakes spelled out in reclaimed vintage industrial letters that have just the right pop of color.

4. Mixing the Right Materials: Reclaimed wood used in the sliding barn doors, wood tables and chairs, the vintage signage, stenciled walls and harvest-themed art give this project the homey feel that Harrigan wanted, and also gives the place an air of authenticity. To stay on budget, and further that ambiance, we also used a prefinished wood floor as paneling. These warm wood elements mix nicely with more modern, industrial lighting and a sleek, metal diner counter. But our favorite material in this mix is Harrigan’s own personal touch namely the addition of ceramic mugs and bowls customers can buy to keep at home and remind them to keep coming back.

5. Using Functional, Durable Furnishings: In addition to the diner-style counter and traditional booths along the edges of the dining area, we used comfortable tables and chairs in the center that can be moved around and reconfigured. The chairs are covered with vinyl that has a brushed silk finish, elevating its style quotient and making it even easier to wipe down.

Our goal was to create multiple avenues for customer sales by crafting a space that would be transformable, attractive to multiple generations and sell the space for meetings. Like the model home interiors we create for developers, sales are our best measure of success since they prove that good design yields a return on environment. Given the owner’s success with sales and event bookings in the few months the restaurant has been open, it’s a case of mission accomplished.

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Written By

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Founder and President of Mary Cook Associates (MCA)