Technically, Tender Greens is a chain restaurant—but don’t call it that.
The California-bred eatery just opened its flagship East Coast store in New York City’s Union Square district, but what’s exciting about this particular chain is that no two restaurants look alike. With bespoke menus, elevated design, and a multifunctional business model—Tender Greens is an eat-in, carry-out, and catering venue all in one—this company goes past the cliché to deliver quite the unique dining experience.
“We aren’t trying to be on-trend,” says Tender Greens in-house designer Brooke Spreckman, who worked with Sarah Carpenter and Chris Horger of Carpenter and Mason to create the design-focused space. “You want to design for the brand. Here, we went for a more modern-eclectic feel so it could be a space you’d go to for a quick lunch but also somewhere you’d want to stick around for dinner.”
Spreckman and the architecture team gutted the 4,600-square-foot space and designed a restaurant defined by balance. With fine materials like aged copper and a marble chef’s counter complemented with crisp white paint and contemporary light fixtures (the custom “G” wall sconces, a play on the restaurant’s new logo designed by Rich Brilliant Willing, are Spreckman’s favorite part of the space), there’s definitely a juxtaposition maintained by the decor.
But the main balance in the newest Tender Greens storefront is the one that straddles the two coasts. Rather than try and create a new eatery that pays homage to NYC—which could be tough to do for a California brand—the team instead decided to “bring California to New York.” There’s still that bright and breezy West Coast element, but it’s been urbanized a little to get away from the modern beach house feel Spreckman says defines most classic Tender Greens establishments.
“For New York, we wanted to pump [the design] up and make it feel 'city modern eclectic',” she says. “Having the light fixtures and the random shapes that they bring feels city-esque. Everything else feels light and airy, and we used natural wood to make it feel California-like. We used Palladian-style floors, created using fragments of marble, in the entry and wooden furniture to make it feel like you’re in an outdoor space when you first walk in.”
The generally healthy menu further blends the line between grab-and-go lunch spot and sit-down dinner restaurant. Those in search of something quick for a work lunch will love the selection of fresh salads—Spreckman recommends the tuna nicoise—while those with time to spare can take their time with a glass of wine and a marinated steak. That's right: A full-on steak. Panera, who?
Tender Greens is a prime example of the “fine casual” movement, a type of restaurant that’s been gaining traction as of late and is predicted to take over the dining industry big time in 2018. Blending formal dinners with weekday lunches and high-end design with a more casual, practical setting, fine casual restaurants might be the solution for the financially responsible millennial who doesn’t have the time to cook at home every day.
“To me, fine casual is a place you feel like going to for both meals of the day; whether it’s a fast lunch or a really nice and healthy (but still cheating-on-your-diet) dinner. As a designer, fine casual needs to feel unique enough in terms of the design and materials and have enough creative interest to keep me inside and eating,” says Spreckman.
Looking at the even bigger picture, the fine casual movement is part of a greater societal trend, wherein people are no longer satisfied with single-use services. We’ve seen this with our luggage, with our technology, and even with our furniture: Multifunctionality is becoming more and more important for new brands. Tender Greens is already looking ahead, planning a series of experiential partnerships with local businesses, such as hosting a happy hour, to expand beyond just food service.
According to Spreckman, the multipurpose nature required of today’s restaurants in order for them to stay competitive is part of the appeal as a designer.
“It’s the middle ground of finding the right audience,” she says. “It’s a really interesting business model, and it’s an exciting time to be part of [the industry] because people are still figuring it out. Restaurants are still panicking over mobile apps—how do we figure out custom storage for those to-go boxes? How do we maintain a full restaurant of people who are still seated? You’re not just serving food anymore, you’re maintaining three or more functions at the same time. That’s why fine casual is blowing up right now: It’s like a massive puzzle, but that’s what makes it so exciting.”
Check out the new Tender Greens restaurant at 900 Broadway.
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