Restaurant Development & Design

MAY-JUN 2017

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7 2 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • M A Y / J U N E 2 0 1 7 Talk Shop Make Cool Sh*t JAMES GEIER Founder and Creative Director 555 International www.555.com W ith a 300,000-square-foot wood shop, metal fabrication and design studio — built on the mantra "make cool sh*t" — James Geier has carved out an unusual niche. He's an industrial designer and sculptor that worked in kitchens and owned and operated bars and event spaces in Chicago. His firm 555 International, founded in 1988, has designed and/ or manufactured high-end retail spaces, venues for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, and some of the hottest hotel and restaurant spaces in operation. Recently, his firm worked on the renova- tion of Chicago's Gemini Bistro and Goose Island's microbrew pub and restaurant. What are the big trends in restaurant design right now? JG: People are looking for a better, more refined experience. I don't mean tradi- tional fine dining. For the last few years, there's been a backlash, and people have moved away from the white tablecloth experience. A few years ago, the burger became haute cuisine, and that created a big shift in restaurants, in the food and the ambience. Urban industrial as a style worked really well when pivoting away from finer dining. People are looking for an elevated experience in terms of materials, the environment, the overall design, the menus — they're all getting more unique. What informs your design? JG: It depends on how prepared the client is when they come to us. Sometimes, they come along and have a very defined idea of their menu, their design, and they might have a very specific idea of the vibe they want. It's not our job to emulate designs but to bring all the things together based on the soul, vibe, culture and menu concept the clients have intimated to us. Experienced owner/operators do that. But in a lot of cases, they come to us and don't have a defined concept. They might just have a space and know they have a customer for that space. Who is their customer? What is the location? What is the reason for going to their location? We look at the customer base of the area, and we work with the client to create a center, a core or a soul of what everything should speak to. From menu and branding to finishes and design: who is that core customer, and what is the soul of that space? That's what informs our design. What do you turn to for design inspiration? JG: I read a lot of periodicals. I'm one of the old guard here. We've been in business a long time, and I still get a lot of periodicals and magazines — not just on interiors or design but cultural, world art. I'm an artist at heart, and I look at art and sculpture, and I travel a lot. I'm not always taking pictures, but I'm really looking. I make a point of trying to seek out unique and interesting things no matter what areas I go to. How did you get started in industrial design, and what led you to focus on hospitality? JG: I'm an artist by birth and passion, a sculptor in particular. And I came up in and around the hotel and food and beverage industry. I started as a pool boy at 11 years old at the original Hyatt in Chicago and then became a lifeguard and pool manager. I spent time in the maintenance department, and I was an apprentice maintenance engineer before I started working in the kitchen. The executive chef took a liking to me, and I started working in the kitchen at all hours — on the line, peeling potatoes, you name it. And I started to get a sense that my future after high school was not in higher education but was in learning everything about the hospitality industry. + BY REBECCA KILBREATH, Editor in Chief For more with James Geier, see rddmag.com/May2017.

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