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Process: JJ's Red Hots - Pt.03 / Signage & Interiors

UPDATE: Part 4 is now available on my new site/blog

If you missed them, go check out Part 1 and Part 2.

One of the greatest parts of this project has been designing the signage and interior graphics. JJ's resides on East Boulevard in Charlotte, a stretch of road populated with lots of businesses begging for attention. We knew that we wanted to make a statement with the exterior signage. Signage code in this area is pretty strict, so we were somewhat limited in what we could do. I started by exploring concepts in rough sketches and in simple elevation form. We knew we wanted to include some neon as well, so I included some day vs night studies.


Pretty late in the process we hit on the big red arrow concept that ended up being the final. This wrapping element creates a strong presence at the main viewing angle as people go up and down East Boulevard.

Once the files were handed off to the fabricator, we went out early in the process to review materials and colors. Sign Connection in North Carolina did the fabrication and they did an amazing job. The final arrow sign is an internally lit aluminum cabinet, with raised aluminum letters and raised neon. They also suggested a textured coating that gave it a great vintage look. The care and detail they put into making them were amazing.

Review of lit sign at the shop

Signs arrive at the site, pre-install

For the take-out area, I got this great sketch from Jon as a starting point.I explored several options that I felt captured the spirit of the sketch and eventually landed on a final. We had to simplify it a bit due to it's smaller scale, but once again, the sign fabricators nailed it.

Approved vector elevation / neon study

For the interiors, we already had a great space in process. Charlotte architects, RBA Group had created a really warm and inviting space with a great palette of colors and materials. My main charge was to create the menu boards and bring the brand inside. 

As I was working on the menu boards, we'd print out individual panels and stick them on the wall to make sure we liked how they felt in the space and that the sizes of typography was right. The menu boards were originally going to be more complex, but due to delays in having them engineered we had to just frame them individually to have them up for an event. Once we saw these simplified boards, we actually thought they worked better in the space and decided to go with them and scrap the more complex design.

Earlier menu board design mock up

Testing out viewing distances and legibility

Final menu boards

As the space was nearing completion, one of the last minute thoughts was to do a large graphic wall. The kitchen and prep area had this bright red subway tile that was a real focal point. Without detracting from that, we wanted to pull some of that red out into the space to create some balance and add an energetic element.

Graphic wall install

Approved graphic wall elevation

I measured the wall, and created a large red, tone on tone graphic inspired by our deli paper pattern that served as a backdrop for our inspiration wall. These were photos taken by Jon of places around the USA that inspired the food and the emotion of JJ's. It was a large seamed graphic printed on an adhesive 3M product that was installed just in the nick of time for our friends and family event.

Big red wall, installed

Jon Luther at VIP event / photo by Brandy Newton

The site of JJ's was built in the 40's and was a walk up restaurant called "the Drum." Later it expanded and had inside seating. After that the site has been many restaurants. As a tribute to the heritage of this site, Jon had this concept of weaving cues to the Drum and to music in general throughout. He enlisted a friend at Ludwig Metals to construct this amazing drum light fixture. You can read lots more about that here. The round soffit around this centerpiece is the shape of the Drum's original outer walls. We positioned pieces from Jon's music poster collection around this entire area. We even researched and found a good quality scan of the original drum logo, which I redrew and we had installed in this area.

Drum fixture and music posters / Photo by Brandy Newton

The run up to the Grand opening on July 4th, has been and continues to be a pretty organic process. I spent a lot of time actually working in the JJ's space. I got to experience the first day of new recruits and witness the process of refining the menu and operations. It's given me a greater understanding of the brand at it's core and all the hard work it takes to open a restaurant.

The new recruits get to sample the product for the first time

Sampling the menu while working on the menu

We are also finding ways to include little details. We are creating some graphics and simple wayfinding direct printed on wood, that I'm going to go in and add some weathering and paint details to. These will hang throughout the space.

Mock-ups of direct print wood signs

There were also opportunities to do fun, unexpected things in the most mundane of places. I brought my kids in to help me paint the table numbers. I designed a really simple bent metal system that would be inexpensive to produce and would stack for storage. We bought stencils and painted them ourselves. We don't do so well with mundane tasks so we had some fun with our numbering system, throwing in some LOL's, BRB's and, well you'll just have to come in and see for yourself. It was a real pleasure to get them involved.

Whew...thanks for hanging with all of that. I know it was a lot and I hope you'll stick around for my wrap up in part 4.

I suggested grill fork door handles in an early meeting, Jon went and had it made...unbelievable

UPDATE: Part 4 is now available on my new site/blog


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    Matt Stevens // Creative Direction Design - WORK BLOG - Process: JJ's Red Hots - Pt.03 / Signage & Interiors

Reader Comments (8)

The details in this project are awesome, make a new restaurant feel like it is steeped in history. Also love the door graphic, it is so frustrating driving by businesses and you can't read or see the hours, won't be a problem at JJ's!

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Vander Meulen


Just going through this project, part-by-part and I can't even put words to how amazing you did. I work with a lot of small businesses similar to JJ's and seeing this only makes me beg the question: what kind of budget did JJ's set aside for this?

Of course, I totally understand if you cannot reveal that kind of information, but I'm dying to know! Even if it's just a ballpark - the work, the building, the promo items and print work. It's all spectacular!

Well done! And congratulations!

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Koyak

This work is just great, love seeing your whole process and the final products. Keep 'em coming!

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndy


This work is most definitely considered. You put so much thought and care into every detail and it shows. As a branding guy myself, I am really impressed with how solid your process is. Thank you for sharing.

Congrats on going solo.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAbe

I can really see the love and care in creating this system. It is wonderful to see the attention and imaginative detail of the project.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Grey

really cool and really well done. also pretty awesome to see that ted's in b-lo served as some inspiration. how nice it must be (then again, maybe not?) to work with a client who wants to be so involved with the project and also doesn't mind putting up the funds required to bring it to it's full potential. i hope you both get a good return on your investment.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdave

The plan was great and result was greater. I can see the consistency of following the entire plan.

Love that you honored The Drum, which was owned by a family member. I have memories of eating at the original Drum. The whole project is amazing.

May 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNate

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