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Brand, Business Design, Food Experience, Service Design

Continuum And Bertucci’s Come Together To Bring 2ovens To Life

Boston 02.12.13, 05:54PM by Craig LaRosa


Strategist Daniel Sobol, left, and senior designer Peter Strutt, two of Continuum’s big cheeses, debate menu items for a new Bertucci’s spin-off. | Photos by Guido Vitti; Prop Styling: Kara Butterfield

People often associate edgy consulting firms with makers of cool tech gear or maybe consumer products giants bent on rebranding. So we were curious to see what happens when an out-of-the-box consultant works with a company that’s neither gigantic nor cool. And we found the perfect pair: Continuum, the design and innovation consultancy, and Bertucci’s, a 94-outlet New England and mid-Atlantic restaurant chain with an Olive Garden-like ambiance. A year ago, the latter hired the former to create a spin-off chain that might appeal to a hipper clientele. Three locations are planned this year. Fast Company sat in on the birthing.

A Year In The Life Of A Consulting Gig

February 9, 2012 
Project summary
Continuum headquarters, West Newton, Massachusetts

Like a military campaign, the job starts with a moniker: Project ‘Za, short for pizza (based on text-speak, as in, U want 2 get sum za?). Continuum has assigned six staffers to the task, and when working on the Bertucci’s assignment they leave their desks, head down a hallway past a trophy case of their greatest hits–the Swiffer, the Reebok Pump–and meet in a sequestered room wallpapered with thumbtacked charts, head shots, and menus. Inside, the project’s mission statement, hashed out with Bertucci’s execs, hangs front and center: “Create a new contemporary casual restaurant with a distinctive experience concept in a small footprint and a limited menu featuring unique, high-quality brick-oven items including a foundation of pizzas. Concept should appeal to the millennial demographic as well as the broader groups with on-trend offerings that are not necessarily defined by Bertucci’s authentic Italian positioning yet can leverage Bertucci’s knowledge and competencies.”

Clockwise from top: Continuum’s Craig LaRosa and Bertucci’s chef Jeff Tenner, Skip Weldon, and James Quackenbush test the layout (and pizza) in the Saxonville, Massachusetts, warehouse mock-up. | Photos by Guido Vitti

It’s the “leverage” step that worries Continuum. Bertucci’s reputation among young people isn’t sterling. To figure out how to do better with them, Craig LaRosa, Continuum’s principal on the project, and his team of five strategists and designers interview and dine with 16 millennials (kids of boomers and gen-Xers); tailgate at a Patriots game, where they offer free, unmarked Bertucci’s pizzas and ask people what they look for in a pie; and road-trip down the coast, sampling dishes and, ahem, borrowing menus from 75 restaurants.

Continuum identifies four millennial strains. Active Socials are the sweet spot. They go out, meet friends, and order drinks and appetizers. The other three aren’t so appealing. Nomads are just looking to get out of the house–any local joint with free Wi-Fi will do for them. Homebodies are mainly good for takeout business. Young Parents are okay, if they come on their own. “Active Socials do not want kids around when they’re getting their drink on,” says LaRosa. No birthday pizza parties in the new place.

February 15, 2012
Consumer interview
Apartment, South Boston

The research phase of the project is mostly over, but for my education, LaRosa and Continuum strategist Daniel Sobol interview the firm’s new HR manager, Jill Shapiro, in her home. For 90 minutes, they grill her on when, why, and how often she dines out; if the age of fellow patrons determines her comfort level; and if her tolerance for low-quality dining rises or falls when she’s eating alone. She says she loved Bertucci’s in high school but rarely goes now (though she still adores the pizza). In food quality, she ranks Bertucci’s above Panera Bread but below the Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s; in authenticity, it’s well below Starbucks and Subway.

“We tell our clients that perception is reality,” says Sobol. “The reality is that [calling the new chain] Bertucci’s Junior ain’t gonna happen.”

February 17, 2012
Client meeting
Continuum offices, West Newton

Bertucci’s senior EVP James Quackenbush, the restaurant’s project head, and SVP Skip Weldon, executive chef Jeff Tenner, and CEO David Lloyd are meeting with Continuum’s ‘Za team. They discuss the “journey map” of how the food will travel from kitchen to client (a parent picking up takeout interacts with the space differently from twentysomethings at the bar).

LaRosa acknowledges the need to scrutinize layout. He is more blase about the name and branding. “Brands are empty vessels you pour meaning into,” he says. “What’s a Verizon?”

February 24, 2012
Work session
Continuum offices, West Newton

Two brick ovens will be the central elements of the restaurant. Quackenbush proposes elevating them, like a judge, or a pharmacist. Tenner wants to limit dessert options, and Continuum agrees; if they aren’t warm dishes, what’s the point?

When Quackenbush suggests offering a brick-oven burger, the Continuum group goes cold. “With the menu we’re talking about,” says LaRosa, referring to pizza-centric and shareable dishes, “the burger feels like we’re pandering.”

“It’s universal,” counters Quackenbush. “It’s for that other occasion: ‘You want pizza, I’m gonna get a burger.’”

One strategist says, “I don’t think you’re going to the same place, though.”

Quackenbush replies, “Not today.”

A look at the journey map of customer interactions with the restaurant’s space. Below: A typical day in the ‘Za project room. | Photos by Guido Vitti

February 28, 2012
Brand direction meeting
Continuum offices, West Newton

Carin Stimolo, a Continuum brand strategist, presents three brand designs and a couple of restaurant names for each: The Simple Life, for customers who want “real food that tastes great” and expect the menu to steer them to specific dishes (names: Two Ovens and Fire & Flour); Kitchen Collective, for those valuing the social aspect of dining out, conveyed by an open kitchen celebrating community (United Brick Company and Standard Hearth); and Modern Heritage, playing on traditional elements, like the brick oven (Brick Oven Bar and Joey’s Oven; Joey founded Bertucci’s).

March 7, 2012
Envisioning workshop
Continuum offices, West Newton

By a wide margin, a group of Bertucci’s execs, including CEO Lloyd, vote in favor of the Kitchen Collective theme, and nix any mention of Bertucci’s or its ancestry in the name. Sorry, Joey.

March 13, 2012
Menu alignment meeting
Continuum offices, West Newton

Diners can expect a fleet of pizza choices. Tenner says the toppings will come from “what’s in the building,” not the other way around. He isn’t sure yet which dishes will be menu fixtures.

“You don’t pick your signature item,” he says. “Your guests tell you your signature item.” Build-your-own pizzas are out, says LaRosa. “We’re going to have a point of view on what’s better on a sandwich, what’s better on a salad, what’s better on a pizza.”

The burger argument resurfaces. Eventually, LaRosa concedes that omitting a burger would cost more than any credibility hit for including one.

March 29, 2012
Mock-up debut
Warehouse 5, Saxonville, Massachusetts

In the middle of a warehouse right out of central casting–exposed pipes, dingy concrete, uncovered halogen ceiling lights–the ‘Za team reveals a 75-by-40-foot full-scale mock-up of the restaurant. Almost everything–chairs, tables, ovens–is made of foam core to allow for easy reconfiguration. Tenner walks with imaginary pies in his arms to see which surfaces should go where. The ovens will live behind the bar and takeout counter (no outside takeout window; the message, says LaRosa, is that “our food is good enough for you to get out of your car”). A semicircle of bar seating will surround them.

Continuum’s naming announcement comes at midday: Two Ovens. It’s news to Lloyd. Continuum shows him different ways to treat the name–the Two could be a 2; the decor could be wood fire or blackened steel.

Lloyd displays a cold restraint. “It sounds like a kitchen place,” he says. “[A place to] go and buy an oven.”

One consultant says the name addresses the brevity that millennials value when describing their experiences. But there’s tentative consensus that adding a qualifier like “bar and grill” to the awnings wouldn’t hurt.

July 18, 2012
Test lunch
Bertucci’s dining room, Northborough, Massachusetts

I slide a plate of appetizers toward myself and spill a bowl of salad dressing all over the table. I’m mortified. Tenner tells me to rest easy, that learning about precarious plating schemes is as important as anything right now.

September 20, 2012
On the road
Route 9

Quackenbush and I drive around Shrewsbury, a suburb west of Boston and the site of the first 2 Ovens (the numeral won out). The pizza ovens will be unique–a Marra Forni model with a rotating bed that can cook a pie in less than two and a half minutes, which the team is counting on to boost pizza orders.

Quackenbush brags about his hard-fought burger. When he debuted it to Bertucci’s bigwigs, some wanted to steal it for the flagship.

November 30, 2012
Ribbon cutting
Shrewsbury

Skip Weldon, beaming, says that without a big group of people in the space, designing 2 Ovens was “a sterile experience.” Not tonight. Full of executives, investors, and family, the restaurant–three days from its public opening–handles the crowd well. The ovens, and their warmth, form a hearth, and between them hangs a wooden disc with the 2 logo carved into the center; turns out the numeral makes for great iconography. As planned, customers eat and drink at communal tables out front, befitting the sociable atmosphere for which 2 Ovens hopes to be known.

And the food? Chef Tenner presents pizzas including Caramelized Butternut, and Spicy Pineapple and Prosciutto, and small plates of Yukon potatoes and black pepper shrimp. Build-your-own pizza is on the menu after all.

Right before they bring out the scissors, both sides of the Continuum team thank the attendees and one another. LaRosa says, “We’ve never had a client who was so trusting.”

The decor reaches for sincerity. Weldon says they decided not to go full-wood paneling (in part to save money), but attendees don’t seem to notice or care. New dishes come in and out of the open ovens, there for everyone to see. No one spills any salad dressing.

What’s The Big Idea?

Sometimes a great notion starts with a bad one. Here are a few of the more embarrassing suggestions that Continuum floated on the way to creating 2 Ovens.

1. The menu would offer pizza in only one size, but those in the know could order an off-menu half-size pie.
The thinking: Secrecy appeals to the millennial sense of discovery.
The reality: Woe on the restaurant that keeps secret its more affordable offerings, especially in this economy.

2. Dice with a different menu item on each face would sit on every table.
The thinking: They would help aid customers unable to decide what to order.
The reality: Who likes to be told they don’t know what they want?

3. Add the article the before the name of house specialties.
The thinking: It lends the menu a distinctive quality.
The reality: Do chicken wings sound better if they’re called The Chicken Wings, or dumber?

This article was originally published in Fast Company and written by Jake Zucker.

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