brand experience brief: gourdoughs public house

(Here’s my latest Brand Experience Brief and it’s a fun one — if you’d like to suggest I audit a brand experience at a new or interesting restaurant or retail concept, please email me at mail [at] deniseleeyohn [dot] com.) 

Have you heard of the main attraction in Austin, Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts.?!  Fans line up for the fantastical donut creations served out of an Airstream.  Gourdough’s recently branched out and opened a Public House — aka a “pub” — serving beer and cocktails alongside even more creative donut selections.  Here’s my take on this new brand experience:

Brand Experience Brief: Gourdough’s Public House (by Denise Lee Yohn) from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.

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If you’ve done any research about places to eat in Austin Texas, you’ve probably heard about Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. which serves delectable donut creations to lots of foodies and partiers including the ultimate foodie and partier Anthony Bourdain.   What you may not know is that Gourdough’s recently branched out of its Airstream trailer and now serves its legendary products alongside some stiff drinks and other cool eats at the new Gourdough’s Public House just two miles away.  I wanted to do a brand experience brief on this new development to show how a brand goes from being about a great product to creating an entire experience.

Gourdough’s Public House is equal parts food heaven, watering hole, and hipster hangout.  First, the food.  It takes the creative donut concoctions its known for, including the Flying Pig (a delightful combination of bacon and maple syrup) and the Mother Clucker (a donut topped with fried chicken) and blows them out into an unbelievable selection of food choices including burgers, sandwiches, and entrees.  I had the Phat Club, a club sandwich that substitutes donuts for bread — it was so good I thought I had died and gone to heaven, until I got the Ring O’ Fire featuring chipotle infused brownie batter and salted butter caramel sauce and then I knew I had arrived at my divine destination.  Not all of the menu items incorporate donuts, but most do — and Gourdough’s creativity puts to shame even the awesome Voodoo Donuts in Portland.

Then there are the drinks.  The place lives up to the “pub” in its Public House name.  Specialty cocktails including the Lamar Street Lemonade with fresh berries and a spritz of ginger beer and an extensive beer selection are served from a large bar by a friendly bartender.  In fact all of the servers were very personable and helpful.

Their friendliness contributed to an overall well-designed and well-executed atmosphere.  Dark wood and exposed brick and cinder block construction form the building structure.  Design details like mason jar water glasses, funky furniture, and rustic light fixtures convey a hip personality and the juxtaposition of chalkboard signage and lots of digital screens creates a laid-back but exciting vibe.  An audio track featuring  live Talking Heads and a Ping Pong table in the outdoor courtyard topped it all off.  The place succeeded at feeling cool without seeming like it was trying too hard.

The great experience at Gourdough’s provides some helpful lessons in how to expand a restaurant concept beyond a signature product.  You need to maintain the quality of your core product – every donut is still handmade and fried to order – while innovating new offerings and taking some creative risks.  And you need to make sure every item on your menu, even drinks and sides, tastes great and is on-brand.  You also need a clear brand personality that you can dimensionalize in all the details of the experience, down to the bathroom doors.

When I heard about Gourdough’s Public House, I was a little skeptical of how a couple of folks making donuts out of a trailer could do a full-blown restaurant.  But I was pleasantly surprised at what a fun, distinctive, complete experience it turned out to be.

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