Chi-nnati's, Cincinnati, Ohio

Deep dish or thin crust? The designers didn’t choose sides in a restaurant catering to two distinct Midwestern tastes.
Posted April 26, 2010

Don Laden grew up in Chicago loving a “great pizza joint.” When he moved to Cincinnati, he discovered the local preference was for super-thin-crust pies – and began craving an authentic take on the Windy City’s deep-dish style pizza.

But why choose? Instead, Laden decided to create a restaurant concept that celebrated deep dish as well as the thin-crust recipe, “a cool pizza joint that’s fun for families, friends and business associates,” he says.

Laden named his restaurant Chi-nnati’s (a mash-up of Chicago and Cincinnati) and designers from FRCH Design Worldwide (Cincinnati) took that idea of duality and contrast as a launching point for the design concept. “We wanted to let the idea of these two cities clash in a genuine, playful way,” says Paul Lechleiter, chief creative officer for FRCH.

But just as Laden had to convert locals to his beloved deep dish, designers had to make sure passersby would even notice a new neighborhood hangout. The 7000-square-foot location had been home to several restaurant chains over the years, most recently as a bright-yellow, stucco-clad Mexican restaurant. “The building was falling apart but it had good industrial bones,” says Lechleiter. “We got rid of everything.”

With a clean slate, designers’ next challenge was helping the restaurant stand out in a “sea of strip centers,” says Lechleiter. Crews sanded down the layers of stucco on the exterior walls, while the roof was reconfigured from a multi-level pueblo style to a taller, cleaner look. The entire building was then skim-coated and repainted in warm tan with a contrasting darker band around the bottom. Architectural lighting, including backlit awnings and buried uplights, was also added to draw attention to the new exterior.

Designers repositioned the main entrance from a corner fronting the main parking lot to the side of the building to make way for a double-height glass tower. Topped with an illuminated sign and housing a colorful chandelier sculpture, these new elements are a clear sign that something new is cooking here.

With a fresh face on the outside, designers could then focus on transforming the interior. Since both Midwestern cities share an industrial past – one centering on the meat industry, the other on its German brewing roots – designers chose an urban, industrial design language using raw steel, dark woods, stained glass tiles and metal details with exposed riveting.

A black and beige color palette, flexible furniture arrangements and warm light levels add a residential vibe. Three private dining areas, for party or event hosting, were created by adding walls and industrial sliding-glass doors.

The play on contrasts extends into the signage with its dual typeface logo design. Photo collages throughout the space display iconic imagery of each city, such as the Sears Tower in Chicago and Cincinnati’s Tyler Davidson Fountain.

Any way you slice it, Laden says his “simple dream” has been a success. “We’re connecting the dots between pizza and a great environment,” says Lechleiter.

Retailer: Up North Investments, Cincinnati
Design and Architecture: FRCH Design Worldwide, Cincinnati
General Contractor: Oswald Co. Inc., Cincinnati
Outside Design Consultants: KLH Engineers, Fort Thomas, Ky. (MEP);
GOP Limited, Cincinnati (structural engineers)
Fixtures: Appletree Design Works Inc., Cincinnati
Flooring: Patterned Concrete of Cincinnati, Fairfield, Ohio
Furniture: APG Office Furnishings, Cincinnati
Signage/Graphics: Harlan Graphics, Cincinnati