Remember the local diner in your hometown? Or maybe it wasn’t exactly a diner, but nearly every town across America had a local coffee shop or deli or soda fountain. Those were the places where you could congregate with friends for a burger, a milkshake or a golden grilled cheese sandwich. A place where you felt welcomed and comfortable just hangin’ out with friends, catching up on local news and gossip.
That’s the concept behind Winnie & Ethel’s Downtown Diner—a homey and hometown space for the West Huntridge neighborhood of Las Vegas—and our entry in the Great Las Vegas Coffee Shop contest. From the beginning of our odyssey, I decided to apply my the same Feelings-led 4D Framework approach I’ve used successfully with so many of G+A’s clients to design an independent restaurant experience of our very own.
A Quick Recap
Dapper Companies, a Las Vegas-based development firm, launched the Great Las Vegas Coffee Shop Giveaway competition last December, around the same time Chef Aaron Lee and I got engaged. The two of us had been kicking around the idea of launching a hometown diner in our neighborhood for the past several months, writing up menu items on old envelopes and napkins, and visualizing a vintage, 1940s-inspired look for a space. The timing could not have been more ideal! (Check out last month\’s blog post for a dive into our concept.)
As the owner and creative director of G+A | An Experiential Design Firm, I decided early on to apply my own 4D Experience concept to this endeavor, with an emphasis on the first element: Discover. Feelings first, solutions second. During the Discover phase of any project, the client, in this case, me, flips the paradigm of “solutions first” and determines how they want to feel about a brand and/or event experience from beginning to end every solving a single design challenge.
The DISCOVER Step
In plain English, I decided what feelings I wanted to evoke—not just in myself but for all involved in the process—during all aspects of contest participation. Because the development process involved sharing ideas with my fiancé and tapping into our experiences of family, history, and sharing great food, defining those feelings was relatively easy: warmth, nostalgia, comfort, a sense of fun, small-town ambiance—and ultimately love.
All those feelings have gone into every step of our project. And once we were selected from more than 80 entries as one of six finalist teams, it was time to bring others who shared those feelings into our experience. A win would mean a fully funded restaurant build-out valued at nearly $1M, but to reach the finish line, we needed additional help.
Finding the Right Partners
My Instagram feed is closely tied into our project success; our next step was finding the right people for a food photo shoot I recently posted. I got in touch with Jen Taler, the creative director for Ferguson Downtown—and a former client—who helped me define the setting for the shoot.
Fergusons Downtown is a city block #rootedin community, celebrating local music, art, and creators. Jen had sought out G+A | An Experiential Design Firm to evaluate, build and map an efficient approach to launching a portfolio of partnership opportunities that would showcase the essence of the #rootedin city block experience that was the heartbeat of Fergusons Downtown. So she was familiar with my process from the beginning.
I also tapped Kate Stowall from Authentic Public Relations for assistance as well, who helped guide the tone of our photo shoot and the resulting Instagram feed.
We spent the better part of a day watching Aaron prep food we’ll be using at our pop-up promo “restaurant” in early May; that’s our preliminary public intro before the judges dinner—the final stage of the contest—on May 10th.
A Great Collaboration
Once the photo shoot was completed, everyone involved joined in a casual lunch and the interactions were literally a microcosm of the experience that we want for the diner and its patrons—warm, funny, totally comfortable with one another—a true sense of community. And those feelings came through in the photographs. These are people who Aaron and I would love as friends regardless of any prior business association.
I have found in creating feelings-based experiences for clients that the feelings focus removes many of the self-induced obstacles found in a more analytic approach to defining an event experience. By understanding the feelings you want to evoke from start to finish, clients can cut through a lot of static.
Finding people to work with who are simpatico eliminates the need to interview and receive bids from say, four different PR firms; keeping things simple allows for more creative thinking. While the million dollars in goods and services that winning the contest brings is great—and vital for getting Winnie & Ethel’s up and running—I also didn’t have to spend a small fortune on the photo shoot design.
In fact, I found everything we needed—dishes, flatware and other décor items—during an evening visit to Ikea. Total expenditure? Less than $400. And the shoot looked GREAT! One of the beauties of Instagram is I didn’t require an expensive web consultant to put forth a truly professional product.
Why I insist on Feeling-Based Experiences
It’s like those old Hair Club for Men commercials: “I\’m not only the president, I\’m also a member.” I\’m not only the 4D framework creator, I\’m also my own client right now. When I start to spin out dealing with all the logistics—cuz we’re gonna WIN this thing—get stressed or anxious, I go back to my feelings-based Discovery. I get to remind myself what feelings I want this experience to create. And that grounds me, not only in the moment, but in the total direction of this project.
This really is living the dream; when you know at every phase of a project how you want it to feel, you’re designing a new dream experience all along the journey.
“If we win, we’d have to get married at the diner,” I told Aaron, “It could be our soft opening! A couple that falls in love, creates an amazing diner in the community where they live, and then gets married there? That would make a phenomenal story!”
Follow Winnie and Ethels Diner @winnieandethels on Instagram