Tinderbox Case Study

The Objective

Collaborate with owners to reaffirm and expand the brand position and relevance of three distinct restaurant brands: Tinderbox Kitchen, Annex and Tourist Home. Each brand serves a specific kind of guest, but each brand lifts and supports the other concepts. 


When marketing a restaurant brand, especially several that are owned by the same company or owners, each brand must have its own distinct voice. More than any other kind of business, a restaurant most closely related to a living person.  There is an intimacy very similar to what one expects from a close friend. It is  here that we form some of our most important and lasting memories. Just like the home of a friend, we expect to be warmly greeted and for our time together to be fun, and memorable. We forgive our friends the occasional transgressions if we feel loved and if that love is consistent, unrestrained and unconditional. 


Food is the most sensual of transactions. We take sustenance in for energy but food is so much more than that. It is deeply connected to the experience of being human. In your restaurant friendships have been formed, business has been conducted, lovers have deepened their feelings, couples have become undone or reengaged, friends have laughed and enjoyed fellowship and through it all, your restaurant has been the catalyst for those deep connections.  


In the space of employees trying to be on time, complicated food temperatures, complex dishes requiring finesse, orders to be remembered, inventory to be managed—all of these things tend to take precedence in the minds of employees and owners. It’s easy to forget the heavy responsible outlined in the foregoing paragraph. You literally have to be perfect, always, because so much is at stake. 


If a restaurant is like a friend. then most troublesome friends are those who take us for granted, have no clear understanding of who they are and how they appear to others, are callous with our love or affection, disappoint us are not there for us when needed most, or we give them money that they squander, or time they don’t appreciate. When you consider this, the same connection can be made with a restaurant. From that perspective things begin to take on a deeper meaning.

When a friend is brilliant we rejoice. They are always there for us, they are consistent, they make us feel warm and wanted, special, unique and we feel lucky to have them as our friend. So too your restaurant has an important place and you must know who you are and what you represent. 


Everything points to who you are. From the silverware to the appearance of wait staff to the conditions of the restroom or the upkeep of the fixtures. They all whisper things to guests. They say, “we love you.”

The Challenge

The client wanted to re-imagine this brand to transform it from make a special occasions fine dining (and perceived expensive and "stuffy restaurant) to an every day fine dining restaurant. This transition requires finesse. Here the story must be told correctly in order for people to believe you while still maintaining the brand’s relevance. You wouldn’t want to lose the “specialness” the people feel because you pivoted the business model. From a brand perspective, we believe, that in order to do this successfully, you’ll have to do it with a sense of humor. While there is great strategy in appealing to a wider audience there are those that will miss it’s exclusivity so attention should be paid in programming that will allow for that specialness to continue: for example smaller, more exclusive menus after 8 pm; exclusive insider-only events. The brand approach needs to be relevant to the space, the position the restaurant holds in the community and the expectations of current and future diners. 

Previous restaurant layout and design with dark walls that soak up the light. Linen table clothes and fixtures suggest a special occasion, fine dining restaurant.


We asked the client to prepare a mood board of art and fixtures that will inspire the new restaurant. The color scheme includes gold walls and red accents. In particular we were struck with the whimsy of the stag. 

Mood Board

Idea 1: Hip Stag 

Playing off the stag/butler on the mood board above, this character is modernized and reflective of the hipster nature of the locals and the vibe associated with urban renewal and turning old things into cool things. The tag line is a humorous nod to a taxidermy mount but also is a subtle way of suggesting that the portions are healthy and value added. It's also a humorous nod to the idea of a "stuffy" restaurant. The cuisine is described as "Stylish Everyday American Fare," to counteract the notion that Tinderbox is a special-occasion-only restaurant. 

Idea 1: Variations

Idea 2: Piggy Cleans His Plate

This concept plays off of the reclaimed fine provisions and quality butcher meats movement. It's also harkens to the "This Little Piggy" nursery rhyme where in this case, the little piggy is doing just fine at Tinderbox, leaving full and happy. In fact, not just this little piggy, but EVERY little piggy can be full and happy when he visits Tinderbox. It also has a welcoming nature, in that all people are welcome regardless of who they are or how much money they have. 

The cuisine is described as "Stylish Everyday American Fare," to counter act the idea that Tinderbox is a special occasion only restaurant. 

Final Design