A few weeks ago, I was staring out the window of a NYC Taxi trying not to wince as we almost got flattened by a truck, and a bright yellow awning emblazoned with the word “summer” in bold, capitalized letters grabbed my attention. I caught a glimpse through the window as we whizzed by and had a vague impression of an interior dripping with vibrant plants, but before I could get a really good look we were off again.
My curiosity was piqued and as soon as I was back on solid ground I was furiously searching the internet for more information. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the location was a truly seasonal concept from Michael Stillman, formerly of Smith & Wollensky, and the concept was a revival and reimagining of the Park Avenue Café which had enjoyed a 22-year run on the Upper East Side.
The concept is completely seasonal, changing everything from the menu, décor, and details down to the business cards for each of the four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. The Summer menu is stuffed with light, sweet options like Strawberry Gazpacho and a Maine Lobster dish with pickled peppers, while the décor gives off a warm, comforting glow reminiscent of the sky at sunset.
The Autumn season, on the other hand, gives off classic crunchy leaves and hearty, spirit warming meals – like their famous Broccoli and Cheetos Soup (yes, you read that right, Cheetos) and Sticky Toffee Pudding.
It’s a concept that gives new meaning to the idea of “seasonality.” Clearly, the team behind the restaurant knows what they’re doing as visitors are drawn to revisit the location every few months to see what the new season has brought for them. They also do an excellent job of building up excitement for the new season through their social media channels. Once the time comes for the transition, they close for three days, black out all of the windows, and then reopen with the completed transformation – ready for guests to immerse themselves in the fresh season.
The idea of seasonality behind this restaurant isn’t necessarily new to Millennials, they’ve gotten used to constantly changing inventory and curated collections from brands like Zara and pop-up experiences across the retail industry. Even in the restaurant industry, we’ve been slowly conditioned to expect a certain amount of exclusiveness. Consider, for example, the rise of popularity in food trucks and promotional pop-ups during the holiday season. But, the idea of a permanent location that changes not only the food, but also its entire brand presence and recognizable elements is new for the category.
There are potentially some broader implications for the entire retail industry as we see consumers continuing to look for new and differentiating experiences. In the future, we could conceivably see the in-store design change right next to the clothes they’re selling. Can you imagine walking into Target one morning and seeing everything from the wall color to the carpet tiles and the clothing racks suddenly immersing you completely in the feeling of the season?