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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2004 — April — Restauratour
Real Simple
Light on decor and awash in California colors, the new Wolfgang Puck Express focuses on food.

The new Wolfgang Puck Express in Hoboken, N.J., is awash in soft orange and yellow, brightened here and there with a slash of lime green. Even the ceiling is a warm sunset red. Dark cherry wood tables, blonde wooden chairs and Corian countertops lend an expensive look to the room. The words “Live Love Eat,” emblazoned in bright circles and scattered around the room, encourage customers to do just that.

Take an online tour of Wolfgang Puck Express
Photography by Kingmond Young

What a difference from the old Wolfgang Puck Express, with its jewel-tone mosaics and busy look. The original design, created by Barbara Lazaroff, was innovative in its time, but the 15-year-old concept needed refreshing, says Steve Magnie, vice president of design and construction for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, the Los Angeles-based franchisor of Wolfgang Puck Express.

“It was fun and vibrant, but it was chaotic,” says Jennifer Johanson, principal at San Rafael, Calif.-based Engstrom Design Group, which handled the redesign. “It wasn’t sophisticated enough.”

Magnie agrees that the concept needed to be dialed down. “We didn’t want it to be loud color-wise,” he says. “We wanted a comfortable place to hang out, where people would enjoy the food.” In preparation for a nationwide rollout, the company also wanted finishes and colors that would say California but still feel at home in markets all over the country.

That Full-Service Feeling
The chain embarked on the redesign at the beginning of 2002 at the behest of franchisees, according to Magnie, who adds that the company had been mulling one anyway.

A team that included Magnie and Wolfgang Puck himself solicited designs from four firms. They chose Engstrom because “the comfortableness of the store showed through,” Magnie says. “We had a real sense that they had done a lot of fine dining.”

Wolfgang Puck Express
Hoboken, N.J.
Alexa Enterprises LLC, Hoboken, N.J.
Oct. 28, 2003
Engstrom Design Group, San Rafael, Calif.; Lee Levine Architects, Hoboken, N.J.
4,300 square feet
125 inside, 60 outside
Average Check
$11 to $12
2004 Unit Sales
$4.8 million*
Expansion Plans
300 to open in five to eight years
*Chain Leader estimate

The ordering station needed the most work. In the original design, customers walked up to a counter, ordered, then waited for their food, a system typical in quick-service restaurants.

Puck wanted to replace that system with one more leisurely, more full-service in style and feeling. “This is a fine-dining heritage,” Magnie says.

The ordering station, or “host stand,” in the redesigned version is set off from the dining room. Customers order from a hand-held menu or from the minimally worded menu board. If there’s a line, customers can entertain themselves by watching Puck cook on a plasma screen embedded in the menu board. The videos add Puck’s presence to the room, an element franchisees deemed important, says Johanson.

To make an even stronger, more sophisticated full-service statement, the designers considered doing away with the menu board entirely, “but we felt that would be a little far afield,” Magnie says.

Less Is More
In addition to a leisurely layout, the design is markedly less cluttered than its predecessor. The Hoboken location, the fourth Express to feature the redesign, has only a potted plant near the bathroom door and a large mural of a palm tree imprinted with the “Live Love Eat” legend. “We didn’t want a whole bunch of little bits of art here and there,” says Magnie.

The Hoboken unit is atypical in several respects. Because it has south- and east- facing plate-glass windows, there aren’t as many booths as the prototype calls for. Also, because of landlord restrictions, exterior signage and lighting aren't quite as bold.

Finally, at 4,300 square feet, the restaurant is substantially bigger than the 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot prototype, and thus has more seats, larger restrooms and a bigger kitchen. “You gobble up the extra square feet rather quickly,” says Lee Levine, the Hoboken-based architect who tailored the prototype to the space.

Engstrom is modifying the prototype to accommodate franchisees who want to install the Express concept in bigger locations.

Other changes are afoot as well, most in the name of value engineering. As the company prepares to open 300 franchised locations in the next five to eight years, future stores most likely will have less decorative wallboard work on the ceiling and more laminate finishes, though the tabletops will remain cherry wood. Those modifications should help keep building costs down to $750,000, Magnie says. While there is no timetable, the existing 24 units will be remodeled.

But in new units and remodels, the overall look will remain plain and simple, allowing customers to focus on what’s important, Magnie explains: “Wolfgang Puck wants it to be all about the food.”


Young Spinach Salad: fresh baby spinach with Granny Smith apples, radicchio, Gorgonzola cheese, caramelized pecans and sherry vinaigrette, $5.95 small, $7.95 large

Four Cheese: mozzarella, fontina, Parmesan and creamy goat cheeses with tomato, fresh basil and pesto sauce, $6.45 7-inch, $7.95 9-inch

Vegetable Pad Thai: rice noodles with fresh Asian vegetables and chili-peanut and Thai-shrimp sauces, $8.95; add chicken, $2; add shrimp, $4

Garlic mashed potatoes, $1.95
Fresh-baked herb bread, 95 cents

Crme Brlée with fresh seasonal berries, $3.95
Chocolate Fondant Cake, $3.95

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