By: David Wells
A few things immediately evident as I travel across the U.S., hoping to take advantage of the best dining our country has to offer:
1. Smart phones and Google are the best invention ever
2. Not everything you read on the internet is true
3. Nothing beats the eye
Making my way from one coast to the other in a good, old-fashioned road trip, I can’t help but notice the branding and signage along the route. Before I hit the road, I made a rule of no ‘chain’ restaurants – I wanted local, unique and creative. I’m not sure if I’ve been blessed with good luck at picking out great places to stop, or if I simply know how to use the information available to me, but every stop fulfills my need for not only good food, but a great and memorable brand experience.
The first stop, although not too far from A. Bright Idea headquarters in Bel Air, was in Cumberland Md., at the Queen City Creamery. A simple Google search on my smart phone for “best places to eat in Cumberland” provided me with a plethora of rating websites, Yelp reviews, locations and more. After seeing the Creamery appear on several sites, I decided to check out their website. You notice a historical feel to the logo, which matches their historical building on the main street. When we pulled off the highway and onto the street, the building, signage and quaint nature of the place caught my eye, and I know it would be what I expected and wanted. The creamery is known for its homemade ice cream, but the deli sandwiches were a treat. You can tell it’s a local favorite by the number of groups of people laughing at the diner-style tables and talking with the staff like they were friends. I indulged in one of their well-known milkshakes as headed West. For me, a restaurant brand is not just about the outside looks and website, but from the moment I visited their website, I formed an expectation and the physical restaurant, atmosphere, service and fare didn’t disappoint!
Another stop along the way, thanks to another Google search and Trip Advisor recommendation landed me at Wild Eggs in Louisville, Kentucky. From the reviews, to the social media, to the website, I knew we were in for something special when I decided to stop at this breakfast spot. Like some of the reviews proclaimed, we got to the restaurant and had to wait almost an hour for a table. However, from the time you walk in until the time you walk out, guests wait in the lobby and even outside in the cold to eat at this restaurant, so you know they must be doing something right. This family-owned restaurant has a great history and photographs of their delicious food on the walls, and a somewhat ‘wild’ appearance from the outside with bright colors. The Wild Eggs ‘story’ hangs on a poster in the lobby, providing something to read and learn. The Wild Eggs brand is all about tradition, history and comfort. With signature dishes and favorites, the waiter had no problem steering us in a direction he thought would please our palette. Their specialty strawberry tall stack, Eggs Bennie, grits and cinnamon roll did not disappoint, and looked just like the photographs on the website, foursquare photos and on the restaurant walls. For locals and tourists alike, the Wild Eggs brand is set for success.
For great views of downtown St. Louis, those who are 21 and over should stop here to view the city from above at 360 Rooftop Bar. With some of the best views of City Hall, the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium, the 360 Bar is an upscale tapas restaurant and bar with modern amenities. Cool fireplace features on the outdoor patio and outdoor TVs to watch sporting events, the 360 degree glass walls allow you to see any feature of St. Louis, even a Cardinals game from above. The 360 brand is modern and speaks to a certain crowd, and features DJs at night for this crowd. The modern website and logo pair with the created brand and atmosphere of the business. The tagline, Sip See Savor, captured my attention – I’m a sucker for three word taglines – and spoke true to the 360 mission and brand.
A final brand on the road trip thus far included Andolini’s Pizza in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Deciding where to stop and eat on the way to Oklahoma City was a challenge, but my smart phone and Google helped out yet again. Two local places sat next to each other and had favorable reviews, so we decided to check them out from the outside before making the final selection. One review for Andolini’s said, “If you’re looking for something with an ambiance, Ando’s is not your place, but if you want fresh ingredients and great food, this is your stop.” Well, as soon as we saw the place, it screamed ambiance. The outdoor fireplaces and brick walls welcome visitors. The chefs tossing pizza in the air in the windows was the final seller. The menu was designed well and included a great selection of signature pizzas, local craft beers and more. I’m not sure what the reviewer meant when he said the place had no ‘ambiance,’ but I’m glad we chose Ando’s, and the waitress even provided me with my very own Ando’s glass as a souvenir.
From experience, I know many local joints depend on their loyal customer base and word-of-mouth, but an investment in a solid brand is never wasted. For those businesses looking to grab the attention of a traveler, hope you have good reviews, have a website and be true to your brand in all aspects of your business, and you’re bound to earn a stop from this guy.