Heather Weerheim (00:04):
Well, welcome Kim Aune, Senior Vice President with Shea. Shea is a local design firm that brings together experts in architecture, interior design, graphic, and brand design. Did I get all those correct Kim?
Kim Aune (00:18):
Yes, you did a great job.
Heather Weerheim (00:20):
Well, welcome. Welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Tell me a little bit about your history at Shea and where do you fit in those categories described?
Kim Aune (00:30):
Well, first of all, thank you for inviting Shea and myself to be on your wonderful podcast. I’m really excited to be here. So my history at Shea, going on 20 years, has really been driven around a passion for client service and being the best kind of partner we can for our clients. And then really translating that into the strategic phase of our projects with our teams developing that strong strategy, the basis, the goals. That’s the foundation for our amazing design teams to take over. So really engaging our clients and getting the project launched off is where kind of my focus is in the process.
Heather Weerheim (01:13):
Awesome in 20 years. That is amazing.
Kim Aune (01:15):
Not quite okay, but I say less than 20, I guess. And once it’s more than 20, I think you don’t say that you can, you just say about 20 fair enough. So you just get older and older.
Heather Weerheim (01:27):
Older and wiser. Yes. Wiser. Well, awesome. I think today I wanna preface that today on our podcast. We’re gonna talk about restaurant design specifically in hospitality and Shea has really set the trend or has been the design firm to go to locally here for restaurants and maybe locally and nationally.
Kim Aune (01:47):
Yeah. Do both. Definitely. We worked in 33 states last year.
Heather Weerheim (01:52):
Wow. Yeah. And given the climate of last year, which we’ll touch on a little bit.
Heather Weerheim (01:57):
That’s amazing. And so but I’m curious to know how did Shea become that subject matter expert and restaurant and hospitality? How did that evolve?
Kim Aune (02:07):
Well, David Shea he always had really a passion for developing consumer experiences. So things that really were touched closely touched consumers. And so restaurant and dining is that on top of a passion for restaurants, a passion for food. And then that really rolled into our first restaurant here in Minneapolis many years ago was Leeann Chin.
Heather Weerheim (02:35):
Okay. Funny. And was that a chain at that time or was.
Kim Aune (02:38):
No, it developed into the chain but it really grew from there and, you know, restaurants and hospitality, it’s just a really fun industry. All of the projects are so unique and the breadth that said we love our workplace projects. We love our retail projects. I think we’re most known for a restaurant because people love eating out and dining and gathering and it’s social. And so I think there, we tend to be more known for it as well.
Heather Weerheim (03:10):
People love going out to eat. They love that experience. So when talking about restaurant and hospitality design and how it’s evolved, I wanna talk about how Shea has created spaces that people really want to spend time in because you guys have basically built out some of our, or designed some of our local restaurant staples and trendy hotspots. So anywhere from Spoon and Stable, Yum, the Hilltop Cove and Demi, just to name a few. So these are all places we know and love. Why do they work?
Kim Aune (03:45):
Well, each of those opportunities started out with a unique vision and a guest experience. Creating a hospitality experience isn’t just a layout with decor, but it starts with the basis of a business and a brand. I would say every one of those restaurants and more, really every inch of the space delivers on that guest experience. Kind of the no bad seat in the house approach. And that’s what we excel at is really how do you create the best consumer experience at every touch point in the process for your guest?
Heather Weerheim (04:32):
So how much are you allowing the restaurant owner? How much of their input are you taking in? What does that look like working with them? Is it side by side or is it, they tell you just a few things about themselves and you run with it. What does that look like?
Kim Aune (04:48):
It is very, we’re very collaborative. The best end result requires that collaboration. I mean, our clients come to us with different levels of a vision. Sometimes it’s really basic and we have to explore where that vision can go. But sometimes it’s a lot more focused. I always say that it’s your vision and it’s your business and when we’re done it’s yours. Right. But you don’t have the expert piece and the knowledge that we have to take your vision and turn it into a space that works, that functions that meets all the needs of the guests, of front of house, of the back of house that meets codes and is constructible and we can do it on a budget. And, so we layer in our expertise with our client’s vision.
Heather Weerheim (05:39):
Okay. You just said budget and I have to chime in, on that, just from our construction experience, working together, the budget, I feel like in most restaurant experiences, when you’re designing for a restaurant to a restaurant owner, would you say they’re usually shocked at the price or do you think depending on their experience, they, yeah, yeah.
Kim Aune (06:04):
Yep. You, you hit it. It depends on the experience. For many entrepreneurs that have a dream and a vision, budget is one of the biggest subjects and constraints. It’s a constraint in every project. I would say working with nationals, they just know because they do so many projects, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not a constraint. And, and that’s, you know, budget really relates closely to kind of our philosophy of projects is, you know, that basis we talk about budget on day one and it’s constantly, as we are designing a space, we’re trying to dial in we can do that to a level because of our, you know, extensive expertise, but it’s partnerships with like Greiner early on in the process who can really bring another level of depth to budgeting. Yeah.
Kim Aune (06:57):
And doing that in the design process to maintain design intent and maintain a sense of the budget. It takes that partnership. And I think that’s why one of our favorite things of working with Greiner is you guys are willing to do that and step in and be a part of that process, knowing, you know, that it’s gonna make your jobs easier when we get to the end and, you know, initiating construction,
Heather Weerheim (07:21):
I will give Tony kudos for that. And he is a wealth of knowledge and I, and it does take a certain finesse as a project manager to work in that restaurant industry. There’s just added layers, right. Of whether it’s inspections and kitchen design bars, so many details. Yeah. He seems to thrive on it though. I think he really enjoys it as I’m sure you can see.
Heather Weerheim (07:44):
So going back a little bit about some of your work here locally, and I guess, and nationally, how do you stay fresh and create a new experience with all of your clients’ restaurants? Is that tough?
Kim Aune (07:57):
It is, but I’m really proud of the way we do it. One thing I love is like scrolling through our website or if I’m flipping through case studies, every project is so unique and different. And you know, I say like, we do not have a Shea look. You know, when we’re designing we make spaces that appeal to a wide variety of customers. But that feeling and that vibe is different. Say from, you know, Yum to Khaluna. Our designers are phenomenal, phenomenal at really designing through the lens of the strategy and the concept.
Kim Aune (08:46):
I think so much so that I really feel like it would be hard to come to the same recommendation more than once. But yeah, I mean, at Shea it’s about setting clients up for success and really delivering a space and an experience that’s unique to them in their business.
Heather Weerheim (09:05):
I think. So I love the Minneapolis St. Paul magazine. They have restaurants and locals, it’s just a beautiful display of all the things that Minnesota has to offer. And I think Khaluna was on there because, is the chef female? Do I have that right? Yes. Local female chef. Yes. And I think in her household, because I think they did a spread of her at her home and she had lots of plants and I feel like that might have carried over into Khaluna. Is there a lot of foliage in that space?
Kim Aune (09:34):
It is a very much kind of escape, inspired by Southeast Asia and travel and a little bit of the tropics, definitely kind of a vacation getaway vibe, but just amazing food. Yes.
Heather Weerheim (09:52):
I need to go. And what I think what’s cool about that is that you really captured your team, really captured the chef, her personality. And I bet she was very pleased with that result.
Kim Aune (10:03):
This is our second restaurant with Anne and this, I would say more so than Lat 14, this is my personal opinion. I might not be true, but I think embodies Anne as a person really, really well and even more strongly than her other concepts. Anne had a very strong vision when she came to us. But again, it was our expertise that really helped refine that and turn that into a really amazing space.
Heather Weerheim (10:35):
That’s so awesome. And that was a brand, a new space. So now I wanna talk a little bit about an example of an existing space and we did exchange some notes about this, but I thought it was fascinating because Hilltop in Edina, which I think most people are aware of, or at least those in commercial real estate who do a lot of networking and often find themselves there. And that was an existing space with existing clientele, which I think would be really difficult to design and make sure that that existing clientele still loved it and yet get new clientele to that. So how, how did that go? Was that a success? And just tell me a little bit more about that project in the process.
Kim Aune (11:15):
Yes. I think Hilltop was a wild success starting with the foundation of a family, a longstanding family owned business that was beloved by the community. And thinking about in this reinvention how do we maintain what we’ve built and then how do we appeal to the next generation? And it was kind of a change in the leadership, you know, from father to son, to Brett. And so we had the perspective of, you know, long term ownership and then we had the next generation with Brett and it, you know, it came together beautifully. We had the brand identity refreshed really kind of, you know, make it more contemporary and lighter. You know, the space, they had a, they had a patio that converted to multiple seasons before many people. So that was there, you know, we kind of focused on the front of house, you know, creating a really compelling bar experience, but keeping that dining forward experience that all, you know, Hilltop or fifth avenue always was. For me the summary is it’s a comfortable everyday space.
Kim Aune (12:31):
So it’s a place that people want to go to time after time. And yes, the regulars, while I think a lot of them got really nervous and turned their nose up at change, have loved it. They embrace it. And the next generation is there. So huge success still beloved and yeah, a very strong hold of that neighborhood in Edina.
Heather Weerheim (12:54):
Oh, for sure. And yeah, there is a bar that’s very prominent, but at the same time you feel like if you’re there for breakfast and coffee, you don’t feel like you have to have a bloody Mary, but the option is there. Yeah.
Kim Aune (13:06):
And that was probably the biggest change. And the biggest kind of scary thing is like, we’re dining forward. We are booths and we are, you know, comfort and, you know, it’s, we’re not this slam and bar kind of big loud atmosphere. And I think it’s a perfect balance the way it came together.
Heather Weerheim (13:23):
I think so too, because I hear people, they do frequent there for happy hours to do their networking and it’s time, but it doesn’t turn into some sort of like club scene or anything.
Kim Aune (13:32):
No. Yeah. You’ve got people, you’ve got that generation of people networking for happy hours and then you have the early bird diners that have been going there for 30 years and they both coexist happily. It’s great.
Heather Weerheim (13:42):
Now that’s good design. That’s pretty amazing and awesome. Well congrats to you guys on that success. I will still continue to go there. Just, and I mean I have continued to go there and I, and I will move forward saying with Yum, but we’ll talk about that later or on our next episode. So these past few years have been very challenging for the restaurant industry. Can you comment on what some of your conversations were like with your restaurant and hospitality clients?
Kim Aune (14:10):
Yeah, I mean for the last few years we’ve really been a resource to our clients. I for the short term really being thoughtful on how they can evolve their space without being kind of knee jerk reactions. But we also worked with them to avoid making long term changes that wouldn’t work in the long term. Think about that to, to keep their head up and to keep on, you know, what’s next and where we’re going and, and how are we gonna be successful again for the duration, not just for the short knee jerk you know, constant change and volatility that was going on for the last couple of years.
Heather Weerheim (14:50):
So what is an example of that? Like an immediate need I felt like were the plastic shields and that, and I mean, which could be, which was temporary, right. Or that you could put in and easily take away. Is there anything else that you can think of? That’s a really interesting point of what they maybe wanted to do a knee jerk reaction and you’re like, hold on guys here, let’s just take a step back. Do you have an example of that?
Kim Aune (15:15):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean there was so the short term you know, the safety precautions came into play, but we didn’t get bogged down there. Again, knowing that it was a little bit more temporal keeping our eye on the long term we use the term smart pivots, I think probably in some of our blogs and some of our communications that we put out there. You know, starting with takeout and delivery, because that was an immediate additional or enhanced revenue stream when people were shut down.
Kim Aune (15:49):
One thing was adding in market spaces and adding in new revenue streams with retail and adding in you know, in addition to take out, adding in like retail items that could go with that you know, creating flexibility and dining spaces. That’s a rule of thumb for us all the time, but it became even more so and then the addition of outdoor space really to expand seating, expand seating capacity allow people to spread out, figure out how to get those to operate, you know, further into each season. And you know, creativity with sidewalks and parking spaces. Oh yeah. Yeah. And all of these things were, you know, we were, we were doing takeout windows and we were doing markets and we were doing, you know, multi-season patios before the pandemic, but the pandemic really brought it to the forefront and made it, it wasn’t optional anymore. People had to engage to be able to continue to operate.
Heather Weerheim (16:52):
Us Minnesotans were able to take on those patios, like, you know, we wanted, we wanted to be at the restaurants we wanted to be together. So I think those outdoor spaces are probably here to stay. Absolutely. Yeah. The ones that were in the bubble, I didn’t always understand because that didn’t, I didn’t seem safe at the time of what we were experiencing during home. Then like, wait, you put us all in this dome. However, I still think that they’re very cool. And I think we’ll work as we continue to just kind of have a fun experience in Minnesota.
Kim Aune (17:23):
It’s very novel. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I still, I haven’t actually dined in one I’ve been in them. So I can’t say, but yeah, you gave it a whirl. I don’t know a glass rooftop is probably more my thing.
Heather Weerheim (17:37):
I can get on board with it too, but, and I think it allows for some of these restaurants that I frequent that maybe have a smaller space, a smaller capacity if they’re able to use their parking lot as additional seating will that will inspectors allow that, will that be able to continue so they can host more diners? Or is that gonna change?
Kim Aune (17:56):
I think that was a temporary thing. I think it’s less maybe more so landlords allowing people to utilize parking spaces and, and the jurisdiction. But yes, we have clients that had parking lot patios. Yeah. And it is what helped keep them alive. So, but that mentality of creating those flexible outdoor dining spaces yeah.
Heather Weerheim (18:19):
And then the takeout takeout and delivery, how will that affect, I mean, it can only affect restaurants for the better, I would think more business opportunity. However well I, I’d be curious. What do you have to say about that and about how that’s gonna affect the design of these restaurants too?
Kim Aune (18:36):
Yeah. I mean, takeout has notoriously takeout areas and staging has notoriously been an afterthought in restaurants for many years and that’s not really an option anymore. Yeah. so I think really it’s about, you know, being thoughtful in how those spaces come together and really trying to, you know, have them integrated and keeping with the space. It has to be functional for the people engaging in the takeout and carryout, but then also as we’re coming back and dining in person, it can’t kind of impede that experience for the dine-in customer.
Heather Weerheim (19:09):
Yeah. Because I’ve seen in my experience when I’ve been sitting at the bar at a local restaurant and then there’s the delivery and take out the door dash people come in and the food gets left like on the bar. Cause there’s no designated space for it. Yeah. And so they’re coming in and out constantly finding their food, finding the ticket and it kind of put a damper on my experience a little bit. There’s just someone always there. So, I’ll be interested to see how that evolves.
Kim Aune (19:37):
And it it’s a difficult one to take up space for storing bags, but yes, it’s something that I think it’s been really, people have gotten comfortable with it and they’ll still come back and dine in, but it’s, it’s like, oh, well I’m used to, you know, Wednesday nights we, we do our takeout from wherever and it’s kind of, it’s gonna stick for a while.
Heather Weerheim (19:55):
Yeah. It’s fun to hang out in your pajamas and eat at home. I like that. And the wine’s cheaper at home too. Yeah. And then I don’t have to drive anywhere anyway.
Heather Weerheim (20:06):
All right. I wanna talk a little bit about labor shortage and wondering how in the restaurant industry we are dealing with labor shortage right now, does that affect design? Do we add more technology into the design? What are you seeing there?
Kim Aune (20:23):
Well unfortunately we are seeing that it seems like it’s gonna be not as short term as we had hoped. So first it’s you know, designing spaces that can operate with less people. You know, chefs are delivering food and bartenders are, you know, tending bar and they’re attending tables. The host is frankly, an elevated position. Now they’re like the ultimate multitasker of the front of house that play a lot bigger role in efficient operations. So yeah, it’s making spaces that are easy for operators to adapt and multitask. Seating and when still sticking by, like I said, that kind of rule of thumb for us is this creations of zones and flexibility so that, you know, people can ramp up and they can scale back not only for, you know, managing I guess proximity, but also, you know, creating good energy zones, you know on a quiet night in a restaurant. So yeah, I think that philosophy is, is you know, is a very big piece of it. Technology in the hospitality industry, it’s evolving, it’s improving, it’s going to maintain, especially in fast casual. I think there’s a lot of learning over the last couple of years and hopefully that learning is turning into kind of less cumbersome experiences when we’re engaging with technology. But definitely like in many, you know, full serve, you know, technology is maybe less, you know, guest forward technology, maybe less prominent. But it’s still going to be there to assist, especially in fast casual. Yeah. I think kitchens you had mentioned or had said, you know, we’re always working to create kind of efficient kitchens working with the chefs and the owners. And I don’t think kitchen design has really changed.
Kim Aune (22:28):
It’s still that balance of, you know, really making it an efficient space, but then making sure that it’s, you know, able to function for the menu and serve the dining-in guests as well as the takeout guests, because you know, you can get a push at dinner that is, you know, twice the size that used to be. Because it’s all the people dining in and all the people dining at home. Yes. Yep. So kitchen design is still important, but you know, not no major shifts there other than really efficiency.
Heather Weerheim (23:00):
Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. That definitely makes sense. So we’re at 25 minutes. Oh wow. You’ve got, can, we could go all day is awesome. I feel like there’s really good stuff to, for these guys to edit. So I’m gonna go to I’m gonna jump to some design advice cause I feel like we’ve wrapped up kind of we’ve talked about the design, how design has changed. So for those that maybe need your services but aren’t quite sure that they don’t realize they need your services yet. So what’s some design advice that you can give them who may not have the means to hire a savvy group like Shea?
Kim Aune (23:43):
Well, I would start with, you’re building a business and a brand you’re not selecting tables and chairs. It’s so much more than design from the beginning. It’s the right space, the right infrastructure, the right lease developing a budget, having appropriate financing that meets your pro forma. That’s the way we approach projects. That’s where we always start. So it’s that it’s laying that foundation for the business and the brand to be developed. And then from there it’s, you know, designing the space in all dimensions, all 3D you know, to deliver upon that pro forma, those business goals and brand.
Heather Weerheim (24:25):
That’s interesting. So you guys will guide a new restaurant owner through a pro forma and all of those details?
Kim Aune (24:32):
We don’t do the pro forma for them, but we will get involved in helping review and guide that. It’s definitely you know, how the pro forma ties into the, you know, at least the overall budget for sure. You know, looking forward and you know, there’s some quick math on, you know, what revenue has to be with your investment that we can do to know like, well for this space, this is, you know, if you invest X, you need to be generating this much. Okay. Revenue, you know, in one year. And yeah, we get involved in that because at the end of the day, our clients’ successes, our success. It’s not about the pattern on the wall covering and the, you know, decor, it’s about them operating successful businesses in the shell of the space that we’ve helped them create. And so if we don’t start with that, you know, kind of more of that, the business basis. Yeah. You know, we’re not setting them up for success.
Heather Weerheim (25:38):
Yeah. Oh, what a great, I, they would, anyone would be lucky to have you guys work with them, so you should very, you should consider it for sure, because that’s just, that’s – you’re right. Setting them up for success is key. And I think sometimes they, I don’t wanna offend restaurant owners. This is my problem with the podcast is I always edit myself cause I’m afraid I’m gonna offend someone. But like, I just don’t think that they’re wanting to serve food and create beautiful like artists, right? Yes. That, that is their passion. Yeah. That’s their passion. So sometimes that business side, they need help. Not all of ’em, but they need help with that.
Heather Weerheim (26:17):
And for you guys to be able to participate in that and help them be successful is really cool. So what does the future look like for the restaurant industry? Will Shea be busy and will restaurant owners be busy?
Kim Aune (26:26):
Yes. Well restaurateurs kind of like the last topic have hospitality in their blood. They have a vision and optimism for the future in the industry. Yeah. So what that means, they’re out looking at what’s next, what are the next new concepts? What is the next new space? What is next for their existing space? You know, consumers are eager to get out and so, you know, the prognosis is looking good. Yeah. how, what does that translate to for us we’re busy right now. And you know, projections look good through next year. And we’re super excited.
Heather Weerheim (27:09):
Oh, I’m happy to hear that. I’m very happy to hear that. Then along with that, any new hot local spots that you can name drop?
Kim Aune (27:16):
Oh yes. Always. Yes. Well of course Yum St. Paul, a collaboration with Greiner super exciting to bring that respected and long standing brand across the river. Partnering with Patti and Robbie after the first Yum. And the second Yum to, again, what’s next for us, what’s the next version of Yum and really seeing it come to life just beautifully in a super, you know, vibrant neighborhood space in St. Paul.
Heather Weerheim (27:46):
Really stay tuned because we’re gonna talk to Patti next and I can’t wait. I’m thrilled to have her on, but yes, I agreed.
Kim Aune (27:54):
Yes. Khaluna again, one of the, still one of the hottest reservations in town and that getaway vacation-esque experience who doesn’t need that right now here in Minnesota.
Heather Weerheim (28:07):
Do you get preferential treatment when working at Shea and along with these designs that you can get a reservation or does it not work that way?
Kim Aune (28:14):
I don’t know if it’s preferential treatment. We just know the secrets.
Heather Weerheim (28:18):
Okay, good. Enough said.
Kim Aune (28:20):
Go to Khaluna early. Okay. Sit at the bar. And then get a reservation too. So you can have the full experience. I love it. Snack shack coming out to the suburbs in Bloomington, bringing lobster and seafood boils out to the masses. Doing really well. That’s a great experience. Hazelwood. We’re excited about the Woodbury location, the fourth location another really strong local brand. It’s great to see them take a hold kind of throughout the twin cities. In neighborhood spots, some really maybe kind of lower on the radar, Petite Leon own Farmer’s market and bar. Green mill St. Paul a great reinvention there. They have a fabulous little market market it and take out area. It’s great. Yeah, I mean our passion, I mean we love our local, you know, entrepreneur, chef driven restaurants and we love being involved in them as much as our national work that takes us all over. We’re just, you know, always pleased to be able to be a part of the hotspots.
Heather Weerheim (29:28):
Well, so fun to hear, I’m hoping to visit some of them soon. So thank you for those. And in summary, you know, what we learned today is that good design, good restaurant design is not by accident. We frequent these restaurants like Spoon and Stable and Cove and Yum because we love them. So clearly you’re a collaborative firm, which is why you do so well in this market and why we’ve been good partners. Yes. So thank you so much, Kim for your time and have a wonderful day. Please join us again.
Kim Aune (29:55):
Yes. Thank you so much, Heather.