brand experience brief: tom’s urban 24

Tom Ryan, the founder of popular better burger chain Smashburger, has started a new restaurant that’s a combination classic diner, hipster bar, and foodie haven.  Check out this brand experience brief to learn how such a mash-up of concepts has turned out.


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What do you do after you build a popular restaurant brand that has grown to over 200 locations?  If you’re Tom Ryan, founder of better burger chain Smashburger, you start a passion project.   That’s what Tom’s Urban 24 seems to be.  It’s a new restaurant concept that’s a cross between a retro diner, a hip bar, and a restaurant for foodies.

Located in trendy Larimer Square in Denver, Tom’s Urban 24 bills itself as offering modern comfort food with an urban twist.  The décor conveys this mash-up – old school round booths, structural posts from the original Larimer building, and a solid wood revolving door are juxtaposed with contemporary fixtures,  a bar full of neon lights, and a digital screen projected on the mirror of the bathroom.

The menu which is sourced from Colorado food companies and produce farmers also reflects the familiar and urban combination.  The menu features an extensive selection of hand-crafted cocktails, like the Urban Marmalade with vodka, apricot liqueur and marmalade, and the Orange Buffalo, tequila, orange liqueur and anise. Then there’s the breakfast offerings which range from a classic steak and eggs plate to a chorizo and pork burrito.  Lunch includes salads, pizzas, tacos, burritos and lots of burgers and sandwiches, regular ones, knife and fork ones, and Panini-style flat-iron ones.  The Green Chile and Black Bean Burger was huge and delicious.  For dinner you can enjoy Pot Pies and Meatloaf if you want classic American, or go for something totally different and have Tom’s Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup.  Yes, Pho – and that’s a good segue into the problem with this brand experience — or it may be the beauty of it, depending on how you look at it.

With such a range of food types and eclectic design, Tom’s Urban 24 seems to have an identity crisis.  Is this concept about comfort food?  Locally sourced ingredients?  Classic dinner?  Mod restaurant?  Hipster bar?  All-night hangout?  Right now it’s all of the above which may appeal to lots of different people, but could also be confusing and definitely difficult to market.  In this post-recessionary period, most people are less inclined to take a risk and spend money on something they don’t understand.  But there are a few explorers out there who are looking for a different kind of restaurant and Tom’s will reward them with great food.

For Tom Ryan’s sake, let’s hope there are some of those explorers who are basketball fans.  The LA Times reports that another Tom’s Urban 24 will be opening next to the Staples Center.

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