Elements of Chinese architectural history are key components of this restaurant’s design

Now opening its seventh location, Congee Queen wanted to incorporate elements of Chinese culture to reach out to new customers while maintaining their iconic brand for existing ones. The seating layout maximizes seating while providing a stunning visual experience from any angle of the restaurant. 

Interior Designer: Joe Cho, ARIDO 
Design Team: Long Wu, Derek Yeung
Design Firm: J.Cho Design
Project Photographer: AZ Photography 

Customers entering feel the vibe of a traditional Chinese restaurant but are greeted with a modern ceiling that emulates one of China’s most iconic and traditional buildings, the Temple of Heaven. Dissecting its architectural features, we were able to create key interior components that recall this important building and its architectural markers.  

Two columns were added to the layout, to balance two existing load-bearing columns and place greater emphasis on a centralized ceiling sculpture in the space. The columns are a visual cue that leads the eye to the massive sculpture composed of glowing curved elements. The design team tried several different configurations before finding the perfect angle for each suspended piece. An inky graphic of a dragon, an auspicious symbol of power, strength, and good luck in Chinese culture, done in a swirling indigo welcomes customers inside.  

The focus on traditional elements is emphasized with architectural details such as traditional Chinese rooftop edges on the ends of millwork dividers, and black lacquer and bronze accents found in traditional Chinese wooden doors at the host stand. The dragon visual element is recalled in the striated blue marble tables and continues around the surrounding walls, each element extending the customer’s impression of being amongst the clouds. 

9 tips for Resilient Restaurants

2020 has taught us all a lot of tough lessons—even ones we couldn’t have possibly prepared for. When it comes to restaurant owners, one of the biggest takeaways from 2020 is the importance of having the flexibility to adapt to situations as they arise. Many restaurants throughout the industry have shown a great ability to do exactly this by incorporating resilient design into their restaurant layouts. During a time that has made it tough for even the most stable businesses to stay afloat, restaurants have surprised us all with their creativity and drive. And in return, communities have come together to help support these businesses.

Over the past year we’ve seen restaurants adapt in order to succeed, by doing things like:

  • Switching to a delivery/takeout-centric model.
  • Creating outdoor dining spaces
  • Making changes to their interior design to meet guidelines and promote safety
  • Finding creative ways to sustain their revenues and business
  • In this post, we outline some restaurant interior design tips that will help you create a beautiful space, while still giving the flexibility to adapt and change depending on what’s thrown your way.

1) Create flexible seating & displays

This one is pretty standard, so it’s likely you’re already doing this if your restaurant layout allows for it! A great way to create a resilient interior design for your restaurant is to incorporate flexible seating and displays. The need for this flexibility has been highlighted more than usual with social distancing being a requirement in restaurants and commercial spaces for the foreseeable future, however, it’s important to make sure this is a part of your restaurant’s design at all times.

Flexible seating options of four top tables and bar seating in a bright, plant-filled space.

When design is done well it should have the flexibility to change and adapt to accommodate whatever new situations arise.

2) Make designated areas for takeout and delivery

Image of exterior cafe takeout window open with a white fabric awning above.
Source: Katrín Björk domino.com

With takeout and delivery currently on the rise, the restaurant industry is seeing the importance of having a designated area for the pickup of these types of orders. Yes, this will help with the current need for social distancing, but that’s not all—this is a form of resilient design that is applicable at all times. It can help to reduce crowding at the front of your restaurant while people wait for their orders, and it also makes for an overall better experience for your patient customers.

If your restaurant layout allows for it, one of the best options is creating an actual take-out window like the one pictured. Turn a regular window into a space where people can easily pick up their online orders or make a quick purchase as they’re passing by. It can even be used by outdoor diners as a spot to place orders to speed up the ordering process.

3) Make use of moveable partitions or moveable glass dividers

The use of moveable glass dividers is a great way to ensure social distancing and give peace of mind to both customers and employees of the restaurant. They give a clear separation between diners without making them feel boxed in. The ability to move these glass walls /partitions is key as it will allow for flexibility—if tables need to be pushed together to seat a large family, the barriers can be moved to fit around the new seating arrangement. A great way to achieve this flexibility is to install tracks or wheels at the bottom of the glass dividers for ease of movement.

Glass divider partitions in a retail space.
Source: Satkartar Glass

And who says partitions or dividers need to be boring? For example, you can be creative by using fluted or reeded glass to create more of an architectural statement. In addition to being beautiful, these glass partitions create privacy for diners while still giving a more open feeling by allowing light in.

4) Be creative with your restaurant’s empty space

Implementing social distancing in your restaurant doesn’t have to be boring. Try doing something interesting instead of simply having six feet of empty space between tables. This can be as simple as putting a plant or a prop in between tables, or something more out of the box such as having mannequins seated in between. If you’re looking for more creative ideas and strategies for your space, hiring an interior designer will definitely help! Just look at this fun and super cute example of restaurant Maison Saigon and their stuffed pandas.

5) Add a display for impulse buy items at the entrance/waiting area

Shelves of take home items and prepared food in a restaurant.

With limitations on the amount of people allowed in a restaurant at a given time, along with the increasing amount of people resorting to takeout, it’s likely that people will be waiting at the entrance of your restaurant for longer than usual. Why not take advantage of this by creating a display to show impulse items such as take home meal kits or sauces, gift cards, branded merchandise, home and kitchen goods, snacks or treats.

If you’re looking for more creative ideas and strategies for your space, hiring an interior designer will definitely help! The ideas are endless and you can really have fun with this one.

6) Hand out free samples or coffee for those waiting in line

We’ve all experienced this before—the waiting game for one of our favourite restaurants. With capacity restrictions and social distancing in place, many restaurants, coffee shops, boulangeries and alike are experiencing long wait times. One way to keep those loyal customers in line is to hand out free samples.

Heck, you can even offer your restaurant guests a cup of coffee or tea while they wait outside—this will be especially appreciated during Toronto’s cold winters! Not only does this help them enjoy their time in line, but it also may assist in line drop off (keeping people around for longer than they’d usually like to wait).

7) Utilize social media to get traffic to your store

Hand holding iPhone about to take image of food.
Source: Paprica Burgers in Brazil

Social media is often where people go to learn more about your business. Well, that, and Google. One way to draw more foot traffic to your restaurant is by hosting flash deals, giveaways, and even fun window display shows or activities. For example, you can say the first 15 people at your restaurant on a given day will get something free. This can also help to spread the word about your business, grow your social media presence, and in turn increase your profits.

8) Infuse touches of the story around the store

Unless you’re a local mom and pop shop that has already grown roots in your community, most restaurants need to stand out with their interior design. This doesn’t mean every restaurant needs to have wacky colors on the walls, but it does mean that your interior design should be intentional and reflect your unique brand.

Remember, the design of your restaurant has to tell a compelling story. The best way to improve your restaurant’s interior is by infusing your story into the various elements, finishes, spaces and create moments of awe.

9) Provide pods or dedicated zones for “private” nooks

Dining booths with small laters and bench seating.
Source: Restaurant Fabbrica in Bergen

A great solution for implementing social distancing in a restaurant setting is to provide pods, or create “private” nooks for diners to eat. Not only will this separate diners from one another to help stop the spread but it will also provide a more intimate dining experience for them to enjoy. Yes, creating pods, or “private” nooks can help with the current need for social distancing, but this type of resilient design is beneficial in many other ways as well. This type of seating is a great way to create some privacy, and promote a more intimate dining experience. Below is obviously an exaggerated example of what pods can look like in a restaurant, but you can still have fun with your layout to make it feel more safe and cozy for your visitors.

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, but Covid-19 has been especially difficult on the restaurant industry. Through all this, one thing that has been amazing to see is the resiliency that restaurant owners and workers have shown, and their ability to adapt to a difficult situation.

By incorporating some of the above tips into your restaurant’s interior design, you’ll be able to safely welcome restaurant-goers in style, no matter what life throws at you. If you’re based in the Toronto GTA and are looking for some restaurant design assistance, we’re here to help!

Sansa Interiors was born out of a passion to create spaces that are comfortable, functional, and inspiring. We take a holistic approach, which enables us to study and explore each interior space differently. Every client is unique, and every design should be unique, too. If you’re interested in learning more, send me a message, and let’s find a way to help improve your space.

Nothing strange about the design for this java joint

Strange Love Coffee is a growing Toronto-based coffee shop focusing on providing a unique coffee experience by utilizing specialized treated water and one of a kind roasts which are hand picked by a Coffee Sommelier. The intent was to create a space that communicates Strange Love’s obsession with quality coffee experiences in a setting that helps drive revenue. Our client leased a humble corner in a busy section of Toronto’s PATH Network, off the main corridor sandwiched between dental offices. 

Interior Designer: Tatiana Soldatova, ARIDO
Design Firm: Syllable Inc. 
Photographer: Revelateur Studio

The site was awkwardly shaped and hidden from view to the people passing by during their busy commutes to and from work. The two key challenges were to fit a complex coffee production program within a triangular 275 square foot space, as well as drive passerby attention to an easily overlooked spot. We were required to integrate a 26’ counter space into an 8’ storefront where five staff would seamlessly produce 1,500 coffees per week. We chose not to fight the existing site and insert a traditional linear counter. Instead, the team used the shape of the site to inform the design. 

The counter follows the main feature wall and bends inward to extend counter space –this approach maximizes linear workspace and, functionally, breaks apart the baristas from cashiers while creating additional space for patrons to order. The cafe’s production line was carefully studied and barista equipment was arranged to minimize travel and movement for all staff. This counter was also mounted on hidden wheels to allow easy access for workers. 

The second challenge was drawing customers, corporate professionals with stressful jobs, to the cafe. Located below a main staircase with a staid wall, it’s easy for potential patrons to miss. 

Our team diligently built a positive relationship with the landlord to convince them to permit a floor-to-ceiling sign by the staircase wall to entice patrons. A loud and inviting custom wallpaper adorned with tropical plants introduced a biophilic experience into a small space with a restricted budget, and Strange Love Coffee became a tropical retreat within the PATH.  

As a sophisticated re-engineered mineral water is one of the secret ingredients behind Strange Love Coffee’s award winning recipe, we celebrated the filtration system by creating an illuminated display that showcases the raw industrial beauty of the system itself. 

The shop has a weekly rotation of custom roasted coffee, which is placed at the front counter where the Baristas can proudly introduce the different roasts. Additional products on open display atop custom wood shelving with brass hardware are available for purchase.

From the bold material finishes, a flexible counter which snakes through the awkward site, water filtration and produce showcases, we created a space that puts the client’s story on display and entices passersby to stop and smell the roasts.

Interior design is key to expressing the brand experience

The design for Picnic Food’s first street-front shop had to reference previous iterations, in subterranean concourses, in a refreshed experience.

Interior Designers: Ashley Rumsey, ARIDO; Stanley Sun, ARIDO

Design Firm: Mason Studio

Design Team: Marti Hawkins, Intern ARIDO

With more expansion in mind, an adaptable design needed features that would be both easily replicable as well as physically identifiable as key symbols of the brand experience. Repeated linear woven wood textures recall textiles commonly associated with picnics and become an iconic design element for future locations. The communal dining table returns on a trestle base while the lime and watermelon brand colours are present via with greenery in terracotta pots.

The vibrancy of South African visual culture informs this Nando’s location

Every Nando’s location is unique, and with over 1,200 open around the world, it proves to be an exciting challenge for any designer to create a one-of-a-kind identity while maintaining the Nando’s soul and brand.

Interior Designer: Olga Evstifeeva, ARIDO

Design Firm: Stoa Design Collective

Photographer: Steve Tsai

This 70-seat Nando’s location is a celebration of South African colour and craft layered within an already charming building on Queen Street East. Stoa Design Collective wanted to create a laid-back atmosphere which would welcome beach goers and the close-knit community that makes up the Beach Village in Toronto.

This restaurant project was an exploration of colour and pattern blocking, along with interpretations of traditional African weaving techniques while reusing the raw identity of the envelope. The design team preserved the existing historical raw brick walls of the space as a backdrop to the overall design, layering on new tin ceilings with vibrant South African personality.

Local collaborations with artists and fabricators, as well as the incorporation of South African-sourced art and products, enabled us to create a space with authenticity at the forefront, where wood is wood and leather is leather, and most importantly, craftsmanship and detail is cherished.

To create multiple experiences in one space, the design team created distinct dining zones defined by furniture, lighting, and art – each offering something special. Leather tufted banquettes run along the exposed brick walls and are complemented by custom copper light fixtures and wall art respectively. Along the storefront, tall windows open to the busy street allowing for indoor/outdoor bistro style dining in summer months. Curved bench seating pods, each with a stunning South African-made beaded light fixture, occupy the central space, while a counter height round table with an oversized custom dome pendant hangs front of the open kitchen.

Playful African-inspired textiles, colours, and textures reinforce the vibrancy of South African visual culture while attaining a level of sophistication for the brand that is reminiscent of their European ventures. The carefully selected materiality and thoughtful planning throughout the restaurant creates a well-balanced aesthetic and flow and retains the eclectic and vibrant attitude of the brand.

This Bird’s got people squawking!

New to Toronto’s revitalized Queens Quay Terminal, the one and only Joe Bird has quickly become a popular hang-out for local foodies, and a must-see destination for visitors.

Interior Designer: Joseph Persia, ARIDO
Design Firm: Green Tangerine Design Inc.
Photographer: Riley Snelling

Maybe it’s the can’t miss, 1980’s RV parked within the façade (highly ‘grammable), which serves as the restaurant’s take-out component. Perhaps it’s the interior’s rusty, boho vibe overlooking the lake? Or, the juicy chicken it serves up? This Bird’ has got people squawking!

The design team was engaged in the early stages to create an identity for this non-chain eatery on a budget, of course. The 2,500 square foot unit was uninspiring, to say the least, situated dead centre between two other establishments in the Terminal. The client tasked Persia and team with creating a ‘one of a kind’ experience; a ‘staple’ restaurant and bar unlike what Toronto has seen before.

The designers met this challenge head-on with an unexpected take on the ‘typical’ mall eatery. It all started with a wild vision by the project’s designer to incorporate and repurpose the aforementioned RV and park it well within the restaurant’s footprint. The design team fit out the RV as the restaurant’s take-out counterpart, that also serves as a focal point, grabbing the attention of locals and tourists alike. A take-out space was not in the client’s criteria- but they immediately fell in love with the idea! The Joe Bird RV can now be found on a multitude of social media posts from around the world.

Exterior view of Joe Bird Restaurant with van and neon signage.

The interior was designed to follow suit with bright, funky and boho styling. An exaggerated custom neon sign hangs over the large concrete and reclaimed metal oval-shaped bar below. Tables and most of the seating within were custom designed and fabricated with mixed, reclaimed materials. Graffiti tags and edgy art can be seen on the restaurant’s walls and above on duct work and mechanics.

All existing finishes in the Terminal were incorporated- some worth noting, repurposing the existing terrazzo floor, and unmasking columns, walls, and bulkheads previously hidden under built frames. Custom millwork and furniture were constructed with reclaimed wood and metal; all of which were locally sourced.

An 11th-hour request from the client to create an ice cream shop within was answered with a colourful, graffiti-bombed nook from floor to ceiling. ‘The Fix’, not only serves as Joe Bird’s dessert component but has a garage door that opens directly to the Harbourfront Trail. With its vibrant ‘pop’ of art and colour, it’s hard to miss!

'The Fix' ice cream bar at Joe Bird with handpainted graffitti inspired signage.

Reports from the design team indicate Joe Bird 2 is currently in the works …

Three different moods for three distinct spaces at Victor Restaurant

Interior Designer: Allen Chan

Design Firm: DesignAgency

Photographer: Lisa Petrole

Hotel Le Germain Mercer Street in Toronto invited the design team to transform its on-site restaurant, Victor. With the multitude of surrounding condos, this district is quickly becoming a neighbourhood in its own right – within five years, almost 40,000 people will live within a two-block radius- and Le Germain wanted Victor to become a destination for morning coffee, business lunches, and late-night dining.

Before, the space had no connections with the street, and the only entrance to the restaurant was through the lobby. The design was dark, uninviting, and lacked flexibility, and the venue only functioned as a nighttime establishment.

With the redesign, Victor has a distinct and cohesive brand identity. Now, a highly fluid space comprises a dining area with leather banquettes, a chef’s table in a side alcove and open counter beyond, an intimate bar-lounge, and a cafe with communal harvest table – all of which meld and transition seamlessly into the hotel’s lobby, which the hotel also redesigned to complement the new hospitality space.

Custom-designed specialty lighting was central to setting a new ambiance – one that is approachable, universal, and versatile enough to attract both hotel guests, daytime business visitors, corporate event attendees, and special occasion groups taking part in the city’s adjacent entertainment district for concerts, theatre, screenings, and more.

To impart a sense of vitality and character to the restaurant, the design team hung a custom-designed chandelier of brass tubing, strung with white globes, layered and rotating at different angles. The eye-catching fixture swoops above diners and is visible from the street, drawing interest from passersby. It glows in contrast to the gravel-grey ceiling, and visually drops the ceiling height to a more intimate level.

Photographer: Lisa Petrole

Entering the intimate lounge, hanging wall lights made from brass tubing and white globes maintain a connection to the feature chandelier in the dining room. LED-lit shelves are artfully decorated with crystal, silverware, and bronze and gilt chargers, and deco lamps line the bar to give extra lighting for guests. Even the inevitable television monitors disappear into smoky mirrors when not in use.

In the cafe, a bright palette creates an airy, daytime feeling. White marble counters and a fluted barista station with a glass display case heighten luminosity. Discreet rows of pendant lights hang over the harvest table and add to the guest experience.

Photographer: Lisa Petrole

Throughout, fabrics and materials were chosen for their ability to absorb and reflect light, including bronze accents, natural stone, warm wood shelving and millwork, plus playful patterned concrete tiling in the cafe floor, soft sage green tabletops, and serpentine banquettes upholstered in tufted, peacock-blue waxed leather.

Mason Studio’s redesign of La Banane is classic with a touch of whimsy

On a trip to France, Chef Brandon Olsen learned the idiom, “Tu as la banane”, which means to be happy, or pleased, and he has been smiling ever since. To Chef, the banana has always been an emblem of happiness and contentment.

Interior Designers: Ashley Rumsey, ARIDO; Stanley Sun, ARIDO

Design Team: Marti Hawkins, Intern, ARIDO

Design Firm: Mason Studio

Photographer: Angus Fergusson

Mason Studio integrated this sentiment and used it as a guide for the guest experience and interior design for new the 1,800 sq. ft. Toronto restaurant that specializes in French cuisine. The existing space had several identifiable design elements that required a complete transformation to rejuvenate the space and differentiate itself from the previous iteration. Within a narrow client budget and construction schedule, all exposed surfaces, furniture, and millwork were fully repurposed.

The new atmosphere is one of casual elegance where guests can comfortably savor the decadence and formalities of fine French cuisine. Classically inspired references form the foundation of the interior, while artistic gestures, such as a sculptural ceramic monkey, add a charming absurdity. Like the menu, the overall environment at La Banane is rooted in traditions but is distinctly modern.

Three separate dining areas were created by utilizing the client’s personal art collection, using a diverse colour palette, and modifying the seating types. The design team relied on readily available found  objects, materials, and lighting to support the new interior environment. They sourced antique pieces and commissioned in-situ artworks to add dynamism and interest.

At La Banane, contemporary art and saturated colour mingle with hallmarks of classic bistro-style dining and create a stunning backdrop for a modern dining experience.

History and place dictated the eclectic redesign of an East End icon

The new Broadview Hotel has come a long way from its former lives as a factory, a boarding house and then “Jilly’s” – an infamous seedy nightclub. Now, the landmark in Toronto’s east end is a chic 58-room boutique hotel boasting a restaurant, cafe, an indoor/outdoor event space, and a rooftop bar.

Interior Designer: Allen Chan, ARIDO
Design Firm: DesignAgency
Photographer: Worker Bee Supply

The building’s historic architecture, its varied uses over time, and the surrounding neighbourhood character inspired the design team to explore and reference its different phases and styles. They mixed styles and periods to reinforce the eclectic layers built up over time, using an array of bespoke finishes, furniture, and lighting, mixed with a pastiche of industrial, vintage and contemporary pieces. Furniture and lighting by Canadian designers including Coolican & Company, Anony, were incorporated along with custom art from a local curator.

Elegant bar area with stools and gray marble flooring.

A magnet for both guests and neighbours, the airy ground-floor cafe invites guests to sink into leather banquettes or gather at the white marble and brass bar under a halo of pink neon – an installation by the son of the creator of the original Jilly’s sign. Custom-designed wallpaper replicates designs found during demolition, and an “eroded” floor mixing wood and tile nod to the building’s history. The main-floor restaurant has the richness of a classic tavern, with surprising elements like drapery with lemurs smoking hookah pipes.

The guest rooms, the most spirited spaces of all, mix Victorian-style floral wallpaper and upholstery with deep blue ceilings, red velvet drapery, brass lighting, and even a brass rail to create a playful, modern boudoir ambience.

Bedroom at the Broadview Hotel with maroon curtains and lush white bedding.

The hotel’s treasure is found in the building’s tower, where guests find an intimate space for private dinners. The exposed brick and wood beams of the tower’s vaulted ceiling contrast with wood dining tables, leather chairs, vintage mirrors and a symphony of chandeliers – a magical space unlike any other in the city.

Interior dining room with decorative chandeliers.

The hotel has won numerous awards and the seventh-floor restaurant/bar has been voted one of the top patios in Canada, delighting guests with its stunning 360-degree views. With the redesign, the hotel is now a key catalyst in Toronto’s eastward expansion.