@studiocatherine Not in the slightest! Our printers just require a little extra time.
The Mexican Wave: how branding and effective design is shaping a culinary revolution in Melbourne.
Melbourne is in the midst of a taco trend. A spicy wave of lemon wedged beer has broken the banks of foodie circles and is reaching the average punter. A fondness for tacos and enchiladas used to be founded in nostalgia for the tex-mex Old El Paso kits that played cameos in Australian kitchens in the early 1990s. But what is it that has turned hipsters, preppies, suits and grey nomads to embrace everything enchilada?
More Latin Americans around? No doubt.
The boredom of ‘Modern Australian’ cuisine? Possibly.
More widespread flashpacking to Latin countries? Maybe.
The vibe and experience that dimly lit, hip American style eateries give? Certainly.
But the key change in this Mexican re-definitision is effective graphic design. It has not only played a part in re-shaping people’s mexi-kit perception of Mexican food, it has been essential and central to the new Melbourne Mexican restaurant model.
As a kid, going out for Mexican (to Montezumas or Taco Bills), meant your waiter might be wearing a sombrero, your drink could have an umbrella in it and your meal might be called the ‘Gringo Guts Special’ or the ‘Ondalay Enchilada’. Nowadays you feel more like you’re sitting in downtown Brooklyn in a Mexican restaurant, and less like you’re on the Mexican ride at Disneyland.
Mamasita was el original. It gave finesse and glamour to the humble corn flour tortilla. Quite an achievement by the way… and this saw the emergence of new Mexi-favourite restaurants – Paco’s Tacos, Fonda, Señoritas, Trippy Taco and Taco Truck. A key for all these new eateries has been minimalist logotype branding, graphic typo-murals and colourful illustrations. This bold graphic identity sits comfortably with dimmed lighting, colourful soft drinks, edgy street menus and their post-modern buzz words: chipotle, callejero and ceviche.
These new Mexican restaurants have bent cues around corners, loud music and exotic beer menus. Was I just describing a restaurant or a nightclub? Entertainment dining is the mantra of Melbourne’s Food Mafia. Masterchef judge and Melbourne uber chef George Calombaris admits as much: “They’re still wanting to go out and get an experience… they want buzz, they want excitement, it’s more than just sitting in a restaurant eating the food, it’s all about the action that’s happening around them.” Food king-pin Chris Lucas goes a little further “the meal’s become less central. What’s become more central is the entertainment, the overall package, the vibe.”
The evidence is apparent in the rise of Trippy Taco. This Collingwood gem humbly began as a much loved stall at Meredith Music Festival, then took up residence on Smith Street in 2004. Post mexi-wave, it has doubled capacity on Cumulus’ Gertrude Street with talk of DJs and percussionists from Thursday to Saturday.
This food entertainment experience relies on details. The tiniest thing can upset the applecart. What a design communication studio can bring to the new Melbourne restaurant model is a consistent streamlined harmonious message. The typographic map of Cuba on the wall uses the same face as the customised wallpaper in el baño. The website reflects Los Angeles’ street food van aesthetic which is rolled out with bleeding overprints on each instore promo poster. New Meyer’s Place hotspot Señoritas embraces established Mexican visual culture with wall murals by local artist Dennis Ropar, inspired by cultural heavyweight Diego Rivera. Owner Ricardo Amare has showcased Talavera pottery and stemware and has stated ‘I wanted it (Señoritas) to be very authentic but very Melbourne, rich and colourful but dark as well.’
Increasing visual awareness of the restaurant goer means these considered decisions become more important. The focus on effective brand design is a fillip for our industry. It shows in the fact that first time business owners such as David and Tim from Fonda have invested in strong communication in a first time, small enterprise. Not too long ago restaurant brands, interior decorators, websites, media campaigns were the sole domain of the big culinary players.
Thumbnail image: Paco’s Tacos.
All images copyright by the respective restaurants.