Collaboration for the Built Environment: Architecture & Design at QDOBA Mexican Eats
We had the opportunity to ask the Restaurant Design and Creative Teams at QDOBA Mexican Eats about the power of collaboration and the magic that happens at the intersection of architecture, design and the built environment.
QDOBA Mexican Eats is a fast-casual restaurant brand that was once headquartered in Denver, Colorado, and has since made its home in San Diego’s Mission Valley.
Here is your exclusive insider’s view of QDOBA’s fresh digs, otherwise known as “Flavor Central,” featuring behind-the-scenes insight from Tim Welsh, VP, Restaurant Development, Kamille Franchomme, Sr. Brand Creative, Christina Galgan, Design Manager, Restaurant Development, and Jorge Naranjo, Sr. Graphic Designer.
Tell us about designing your brand’s headquarters. How long did it take to complete all of this? What was it like?
Tim: It is critical in multi-unit restaurant and retail design that the marketing team and the architecture teams be very aligned in the brand goals. This is even more true when the two teams are working together on the brand’s new corporate headquarters. In the case of QDOBA, this was even more important because we were an established brand nationally, but still very new to San Diego.
Kamille: It took about a year’s worth of planning, and the design portion kicked into hyperdrive towards the last 4 months of the project. There were many meetings, ideation sessions, presentations, and a gamut of other planning efforts. We definitely had many long days to get things just right. To participate in a massive project like this is a designer’s dream and I’m so proud to have been a part of it. Our synchronicity as a team was incredible! Even with the amount of pressure and stress that was put on us, we kept strong and united. Trust and reliance on our team’s abilities, skills, and experience were vital. Designing Flavor Central has made my list of the top three favorite projects in my career so far. It was very challenging but the results made it all worth it.
Christina: It was quite the project! It gave us the opportunity to capture our history, brand, and mission in a physical way to inspire our co-workers for years to come! It was about a year process with a cross-functional team to complete the project.
Jorge: Flavor Central culminated in an extensive overhaul of the existing QDOBA brand, in which the more successful elements were identified and consolidated, and those less flattering were eliminated. Colors were improved and made more vibrant and fresh, and new textures were mixed in with iconography and the creative use of typography—it’s a large and flexible library of visual tools to compliment the brand while also creating a set of parameters to operate more efficiently and with ubiquity. The result was a vastly less cluttered, more colorful, textured, flavorful, and efficient visual communication system.
Over this period of time, the new and fresh visual tools resulted in the creation of brand central.
How did your teams—Restaurant Design & Creative—work together on this?
Tim: Kamille’s and my team collaborated closely to create an open office that was functional, fun, and energetic as well as embodied our cultural pillars and told our brand story to our current employees, future employees, and all of our guests—including new franchisees. What really made this project so special, is that we completely blurred the lines of responsibility and worked seamlessly on everything from the floor plan to the fabric colors and art and graphic design. It is rare in one’s career to work on your own corporate headquarters, and even more rare to work with such an amazing team!
Jorge: Cross-departmental communication was essential in creating an atmosphere of engagement and enthusiasm for the project. Being part of internal meetings, chatting with vendors, reviewing elevation drafts and material samples provided valuable insights into what could be done in each space.
Kamille: Open-mindedness and open communication was key to our success. The Creative Team definitely leaned into the expertise of the Architecture Team and vice versa. We worked tirelessly together, so much so that we ended up becoming a blended team during this project! We were able to bounce ideas off each other and brainstorm to create something bigger and better. It was a regular thing for us since we needed to move quickly and efficiently. To see an idea grow and evolve was exciting—Queso hallway and the employee wall were two ideas that continued to evolve throughout the project.
Christina: For the Flavor Central project as the team was developing the concept we worked back and forth all the time sharing ideas. In the final stages, we talked daily! The open communication channel really helped us achieve our deadline with an amazing cohesive design.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced?
Christina: Time! While we loved the Flavor Central project, we still had our “day job” of supporting our restaurants. It was nice to be connected as a team to lean on each other if needed to keep everything on track.
Kamille: Completely agree with Christina that time was definitely a challenge—we were up against some pretty tight deadlines. We had to iterate late into the evening and pitch new concepts early the next morning to land on a decision. It was exhilarating and trying at the same time. Failing wasn’t an option for us, and we did whatever it took to get the project to the finish line; even if it meant moments of insanity or fewer hours of sleep.
Apart from time, I’d have to say picking which ideas made it to final execution was also a challenge. There were so many more ideas we would’ve liked to add to the space!
Jorge: Looking back, the most challenging hurdle faced was demonstrating the value of such an undertaking. That what was best for the company, was for the work to be done by the in-house Creative Team. Fortunately, the work spoke volumes as to what was the correct path for the brand, and the internal Creative Team overcame it all in the end but not without many more challenges.
A marathon-like three-week period of early starts, long days packed with many other projects, calls with vendors, production calls with printers, company-wide or department meetings, and late work nights that typically ended around 11 pm. The pace was frenetic and high stress but filled with great memories.
What is one of your fondest memories?
Kamille: Two stand out in my mind. One is seeing the all elements come together. During construction, I would visit our new building as often as I could to watch the progress unfold. There’s something fulfilling in seeing what was once a rendering on a computer screen one day, turn into a new office space the next.
The second fond memory was the grand opening. To keep the excitement high, only certain individuals were allowed into our new office space during construction. So you can imagine the anticipation and curiosity were high within the company. To finally share our work with all our family, friends, and co-workers during the grand opening was such a great feeling – witnessing people’s amazement and excitement proved that we did a pretty awesome job.
Christina: The grand opening! The last few months of the project were late nights to get everything ready. As all our co-workers entered the office for the first time it was awesome seeing their smiles and hearing their praise. The Queso drip design hallway is a close second.
Jorge: Fondest memory was overcoming what seemed to be a monumental effort, and proving the value of the brand voice we created. To see the look on peoples’ faces when they first walked around the new space. And to hear their comments and express their feelings on seeing such colors and textures in their new work areas. It was all worth it.
Before we let you go, can you share a little bit about your new restaurant in Mission Valley?
Christina: Yes! We wanted our first location to really push us to the next level. Plus give us space to test new things as we want to continue to be relevant and fresh to our customers.
Kamille: Our teams worked together on this as well, and the pandemic added an additional layer of complexity to the mix. But go visit, the next time you’re in Mission Valley and get some QDOBA if you haven’t already. It features some of the newest designs that will be in our restaurants. We continue to play with design elements, color, and texture in this space, so expect more exciting things from us!
We will definitely keep an eye out for new things from QDOBA. Thank you to the QDOBA team for spending some time with us on the blog today!