Portfolio: Frisch’s Big Boy, Cincinnati

Frisch's comes back to downtown Cincinnati after a 14-year hiatus
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Posted October 18, 2018

Operating more than 120 locations, Frisch’s Big Boy is a regional chain based in Cincinnati and launched in 1939. Recently, the storied eatery made headlines when it opened in downtown Cincinnati for the first time in 14 years at the historic Carew Tower, a landmark building housing offices, retail and a Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel.

The interior is a striking departure from its typical design with expansive graphics, woodgrain materials and splashes of blue. “The question was how do we acknowledge our legacy and heritage, while having our customers sit in a restaurant they [still] recognize, and also see that it feels very updated, contemporary and modernized?” says Jason Vaughn, CEO, Frisch’s Big Boy. “We have a cool color palette with a light blue, a deep gray and what we call our ‘signature red’ that blends with the wood and white tile.”

References to the chain’s past include a graphic collage upon entering that features images of old signage, menus and company uniforms, and a wall that showcases the transformation its iconic Big Boy character has gone through over the years. (One wall graphic features a swath of just his black hair, recognizable to virtually any regional resident.)

While history is being paid homage here, technology helps move the setting into the present. Servers are armed with tablets to take orders, also allowing customers to checkout at their table, aiding in efficient table turnover. High-definition digital menu boards near its “grab-and-go” section, intended for downtown visitors who might not have time to sit for a meal, add a touch of modernity. Several in-restaurant areas welcome dwellers, like a lounge area that invites guests to sit and watch TV while sipping their coffee, as well as a community table.

The biggest hurdle for the design team, which included DP3 Architects (Greenville, S.C.), was working within the limitations of Carew Tower’s historic building status. Working closely with the building’s owner and its management team, the designers were able to overcome myriad technical issues, such as hooking up the HVAC to an up-to-code, but older, system.

In the end, it’s arguably Frisch’s regional charm that’s maintained through its new design. “When people walk into Frisch’s and see the Big Boy, they smile,” says Vaughn of Frisch’s branded character. “Outside of every restaurant, and in the mall at Carew Tower, we have one of our Big Boy statues. To watch people of all ages, from different countries, want to take a picture with this icon – it’s a neat part of this brand, and most brands don’t get to enjoy that.”