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Bad Waitress Gets New Look



The new waitress as superhero mural.

Andy Cohen capitalized on the unwelcome pause the pandemic has thrust on businesses to refresh one restaurant and rebrand another one. 

The former Regis exec who ran international operations for the haircare franchise for 21 years got into the restaurant business when he left Regis during its reshuffle with a noncompete. His wife, Mary, was a flight attendant, so both had a knack for hospitality. 

A business broker introduced them to the sellers of The Bad Waitress in Minneapolis and the two liked the concept. The restaurant has been a fixture in the community since it opened in 2005. “It was established, stable,” he said about the restaurant. “I thought, how hard could this be? I ran 2,000 salons.”

He added beer on tap and live jazz on Thursdays. And things were going pretty well, he said, but “I was hesitant to have all our eggs in one basket. As margins get squeezed, I wanted volume.” To achieve that, they opened a second location in Northeast Minneapolis.

On the day I visited The Bad Waitress in early August, Cohen and team were getting ready to reopen for limited hours. They had decided against switching to takeout back in March/April, although they did do some third-party delivery. Cohen did the math, and even at 10-times their pre-COVID takeout/delivery volume, it wouldn’t be worth it. They already were partnering with Morrissey Hospitality on operations, and hired Shea to do the redesign on the original location and the rebranding on the Northeast one, which has been transformed into Central NE. 

Outsourcing the operations of both restaurants to Morrissey made sense, he said, because in addition to working well together, the staff at the St. Paul-based company has “a lot of vision and experience.” And Cohen admits that one of the reasons for rebranding the Northeast location is that they didn’t execute as well as they should have. While it’s hard to get guests back to a restaurant in the best of circumstances, asking guests to give you a second chance during a pandemic is not a sustaining proposition.

Andy Cohen benefitted from PPP money and other loan programs to rebrand and refresh his two restaurants during his downtime.

The refresh involved going with the stronger branding of superheroes and eliminating the secondary theme of B-movie posters. Shea created an oversized mural of a “bad waitress” as a superhero on a key wall and added two other murals to replace the posters, et al. “Bad,” by the way, refers to the slang version of the word, as in badass, not the competency of the server. 

“It needed decluttering,” said Tanya Spaulding, principal at Shea. Mary Cohen liked the superhero idea, so it was made the central image with fewer, larger graphics for higher impact, she said. The graphics were put in meaningful spots, such as on the front of the service bar. 

Guests entering a restaurant need one or two first impressions. Too many elements, such as extra lighting or too much art, becomes unnecessary clutter. Every design element needs a reason to be there, Spaulding said. Now with a full liquor license, they will be adding boozy shakes to the menu.

For Central NE, which has a great corner location in a 100-year-old building, they moved away from the diner theme to make it more of a casual, neighborhood restaurant. Gone is the coffee bar in the entryway, and in its place is a regular bar to shift the focus from all-day-diner vibe to a lounge-feel, Spaulding said. The challenge was “how do you change the dynamic without changing the bones?” she said. 

Some of that dynamic changing was accomplished with adding greenery and moving the color pallet away from orange-red to shades of gray. The menu also gravitated away from all-day breakfast.

The rebranding was done with “no big noise,” Cohen said. And while they don’t have the superheroes anymore, they’re hoping the neighborhood will embrace having a stylish place to social distance in. 

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