Opening their third Bin 4 Burger Lounge in just three years, Dan Blackmore and Sarah Russ have brought their renowned gourmet burger to Saanich, next door to the Accent Inns on Blanchard Street. Just days before they opened their doors, MHV sat down with Blackmore, Russ and Tamara Bush from Inhabit Designs, in their stylish new lounge, to find out what it takes to design a restaurant, how the design has evolved through three locations and how design has impacted Bin 4’s success. Working with Blackmore and Russ since Bin 4’s inception at the Harris Green location on Yates Street, Bush was enlisted to build their entire identity including both branding and interior design.
“Saanich is an exciting move for us, we really feel like this community is underserved in terms of local, family-run businesses. Our intent is to cater to both the hotel clients and, of course, the community, just as we do at our Yates Street location,” says Russ of the move to neighbour with Accent Inns. Obviously, the decision to attach themselves to a hotel didn’t come easy and resulted in some important discussions, particularly regarding how to approach the design. “We certainly expect some business to come from the hotel but not all of it. Our West Shore location is community driven so that is always where our focus is, on neighbourhoods,” explains Blackmore.
For the Blanchard location, the couple wanted the style to be casual upscale. The challenge was to be casual enough for families with children but upscale enough for couples on a date. “We knew that because of the concept of our food, it was important to differentiate ourselves from fast food restaurants and put the focus of our design into the lounge and bar area,” states Blackmore. Enter Tamara Bush from Inhabit Design. “Bush has been our designer since we opened the Yates location; she understands what we are about and where we are going. We happily leave all the design in her hands,” smiles Blackmore.
“We have definitely evolved from our first location, which was built on a dime, but Bush built us a strong brand from the beginning and that consistency has contributed to our success from one location to another. We want our customers to feel like they are in a Bin 4 restaurant, but in terms of materials and layout, we learn something new every time we change locations,” states Blackmore. We used a lot of the same materials in each restaurant, like lighting and fabrics, but each restaurant has a unique floor plan. We wanted to avoid the cookie-cutter feel of a franchise,” says Bush.
Faced with the daunting task of catering to a wide range of customers at the Blanchard location, from children, business clients, couples, tourists and large groups, Bush wielded her materials strategically to create a room that has it all. “The most exciting feature that sets this Bin 4 apart is the generous bar and lounge concept. Plug-ins at every lounge table meet the needs of the business clientele and from the Yates locale we learned that we needed to consider the foot traffic of servers and minimize traffic from the back of house to the front; the basic flow of the space had to evolve,” adds Bush. Ample square footage at the Blanchard location allowed Bush some flexibility to incorporate a configurable space unique to this location. A banquette wall extends the length of the window to accommodate groups and larger parties.
With a friendship spanning almost twenty years, there is a palpable ease and trust in Blackmore and Bush’s working relationship. “I connected with their vision from the beginning so building them an entire identity was a natural process,” says Bush. She adds that, “it is important when designing restaurant spaces to bring a particular personality and vibe. I love hospitality spaces and feel like clients are much more willing to take risks, try something new and push all aspects of the design with materials, layout, lighting, furniture and design. Hospitality is all based on a feel and working in the industry in my younger days really helped to inform my choices for Bin 4’s design,” states Bush.
Flow and visibility were integral to the restaurant’s design giving way to open sight lines, generous foot traffic space and server proximity to point-of-sale stations. After suffering through insufficient storage at smaller locations, adequate storage was key to this location’s design. “It was so nice to have the extra space to design proper storage spaces. The bar was extended to incorporate the necessary high chair storage which makes the flow much more efficient,” says Bush.
With foot traffic and slip issues a challenge in restaurants, flooring is always a critical consideration in the design. From hardwood to textured slate and finally carpet tile, the Yates Street location proved a bit of a flooring experiment for the couple. “In the end, we went with a vinyl plank flooring with a wood look for the Blanchard location. As a hardwearing floor, it was easy to install and is anti-slip which is the perfect solution for this busy location,” explains Bush. The graphic stripe fabric on the booth seating is from Maharam and mimics the stripe in the Bin 4 logo. “It took some convincing to get Sarah and Dan to go with a fabric with a bold pattern but it really makes the room more dynamic. We limited the use of the fabric to the booth backs and used a more durable vinyl on the seats and headrest,” adds Bush.
Bush adds that, “George Nelson bubble lamps at every location provides a consistent warm glow with a cozy lantern feel when the sun sets. In order to transition from a vibrant daytime restaurant to evening dinners and a late night lounge feel, I paired the bubble lamps with glass Bocci fixtures over every Bin 4 bar to add a bit of sparkle and shine.”
Successfully synchronizing the identity of all three locations, Blackmore says that, “Tamara’s branding has been integral to the success of our business. She has carefully curated all the interiors and all brand collateral right down to Bin 4’s monthly feature sheets, menu design and take out bags. Her vision for the design and skills to see the project through allowed us to stay focused on running our restaurants; we definitely see a return on the design investment,” adds Blackmore.