Vallorini is a new contemporary take on the Italian deli/cafeteria and is the first in a potential chain of outlets aiming to be located within shopping centres. The first Vallorini restaurant has just opened in the Brent Cross shopping centre, with all interiors, identity and branding work by SHH.
The new concept is being launched by brothers Nick and Simon Leveton of Vallorini Restaurants ltd, who come from a proven leisure operator family background: together with their father, the brothers built up the Giardino Group from a single restaurant in Bromley in 1992 to public flotation in 2003 to a chain of 58 cafes and restaurants, which they sold in 2004. The new company name is taken from the Italian maiden name of Mrs Nick Leveton and literally means "a little act of courage" - hence the new strapline for the brand - "a little courage in large portions".
"We believe that many current restaurants, especially within shopping centres, are looking quite dated now," commented Nick Leveton, "and we definitely believe there is a gap in the market for a new contemporary chain that combines good looks with good value and high quality food."
The brief for the fast-track project, developed between the client and design team, was to take the lead for the identity from the food and to be bold, as the brand name suggests, in all forms of representation.
The first L-shaped 1000 sq ft space taken by the brand owners is located on the 3rd storey of the centre in a dedicated food court section near to the centre's car-parking area. The interior will be "clean, white and crisp with contemporary feature areas, which will move the whole idea of an Italian cafe/deli forward and away from both traditional sandwich bars or from a sentimental, rustic positioning" commented SHH's Creative Director, Neil Hogan.
SHH created the identity for the brand - in elegant and contemporary red lettering - and also developed a range of 32 graphic icons to be used in association with the identity for application on stationery, menus, hoardings, signage, takeaway bags and cups, staff uniforms and the website for the brand, all of which were designed by SHH. With both a tight deadline and budget, it was felt that food photography was too expensive to commission for the graphics - and also very rarely works well. The red icons (with secondary colour green, referencing the Italian flag and additional black for emphasis) were a more cost-effective route, but in fact were more abstract, fun to use and bold - very important for a new concept (and also one which includes such heavily-branded offers as Pizza Hut and Burger King as neighbours!).
"The icons are a playful and colourful look at the food offer", commented SHH designer Ashley Thompson, "and sit within categories, from fruit, vegetables, herbs and seafood to wines, coffee and utility items such as corkscrews, rolling pins and parmesan graters. Certain of the items, such as the fish, tomato, pepper, lemon and rolling pin are 'hero' items and are used more prominently."
The offsite identity (especially the stationery and website) is particularly bold, with huge-scale red graphic icons used on for the business cards and the rear of the headed paper and compliment slips. This bold approach is also used for takeaway packaging and staff T-shirts. However, the on-site identity is more restrained and takes the form only of the logo on the glass storefront and signage.
The interior concept allows for different need-state consumers - from shopping centre workers to shoppers needing a break, to families and "coffee & cake" ladies who like to linger - via different seating areas (including banquettes, free-standing tables and a massive white stone group eating table) and a clear and easy route to counter service. "The interior needed to be both relaxing and sharp to convince" added Neil Hogan "and certainly to cater for all need states.". The food offer mirrors these need-states by being suitably diverse, based around paninis, salads, pasta, carvery, pasticceria and a special breakfast offer. The food is all made from the highest-quality produce and features classic Italian fare with a twist (such as crayfish linguine) and it is the owners' belief that the company's success will rest very strongly on the convincing quality of its fare.
The flooring, tables and counter areas are have a very clean look, with flooring in pale sandstone and the counter and tables in white technical stone (with chrome legs for the tables). The counter area is animated by large china bowls full of produce, giving the area a marketplace feel, with the produce all actually used and not just for display. Seating is white polypropylene cafe chairs, whilst the banquette seating introduces a small element of the secondary identity colour - green.
Two opposing feature walls are make up of different treatments, giving "a bit of natural warmth and a bit of bling" according to SHH Creative Director Neil Hogan. The first wall is made up of textured timber (rough-sawn oak) in three different tones, inset with long strips of mirror. The opposing 7m-long wall has pale yellow background with a curtain of bright chrome beads set in front of it. Green is used for one of the major feature points of the interior - a "flying bridge" pay counter in green technical stone.
Lighting takes the form of general trough and halo ambient lighting, with feature lighting in the form of twelve hand-blown chromed glass dome lights with yellow interiors - 3 positioned over the central table (set within a light feature edged by chrome beading) and 9 over the fixed banquette seating area.
"SHH have done a really good job", concluded Nick Leveton. "When we initially took them on, it was just for the architectural works, but their design skills proved really strong, so the job expanded as time went on. Without them we would never have come up with anything so imaginative, especially with regard to Vallorini's identity."