A New Generation of Restaurants: How Shea gives new life to former dining spaces

It’s easy to be tempted to build a restaurant space completely from scratch. But creating a restaurant is costly, and most of those costs are hidden from guests—range hoods, venting, kitchen appliances. For a first-generation restaurant space, these items are, by far, a majority of the budget.

Because of this, finding a second-generation space makes the most business sense—but you need to do it with brand in mind. The key to designing in a second-generation restaurant space is knowing what to keep and what to lose—maintaining its bones and expensive infrastructure while wiping the slate clean of everything else. Shea has mastered transforming shuttered restaurants, utilizing existing electrical work, kitchen equipment, HVAC, plumbing, and more to give the restaurant its necessary infrastructure while creating a totally new experience for diners.

Outside of the Lucky Cricket in Westend by Shea Design

Lucky Cricket

Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern is famed for his travels around the world, tasting the most authentic and outlandish dishes and learning about their roots and geographic areas. He partnered with McDermott Restaurants to take those experiences and bring them home to the Midwest, creating his first full-service eatery. Shea was tasked with transforming a former Bonefish Grill space in an inline location of a lifestyle center into a fun, high-energy restaurant (with a dynamic storefront) that would communicate the same authenticity in its design as its dishes.

Interior design inside of The Lucky Cricket in St Louis Park by Shea Design
Interior design inside of The Lucky Cricket in St Louis Park by Shea Design

Splitting the restaurant into two distinct zones—a tiki bar and a main dining area—allowed for the merging of two important experiences. The 200-seat space was originally one large room. The bar design and construction was maintained, but completely refurbished with bamboo mats, a new bar pour, and, of course, the new tiki touches in the totems and grass awning. Giant mask-flanked slushie machines were fitted into the backbar design to drive the tropical vibes (influenced by Zimmern’s experiences growing up around the iconic Trader Vic’s tiki bar in San Francisco) and serve as a standout statement, as were the carefully collected tiki tchotchkes on display. In a similar vein, the banquettes and booths in the bar area were reused from the former restaurant, but with completely new, Polynesian-inspired finishes.

The true Lucky Cricket brand comes through in the added details, making the bar area completely unrecognizable from that of its predecessor—the  hand-painted dragon on the original concrete floor (hiding under the former restaurant’s flooring), the straight-from-Asia tuk tuk added to the bar area and available as a cozy spot for cocktails, the vintage Hawaiian record albums decorating high-top tables, and the found globe lights covered in netting and hung over the banquette.

Interior design inside of The Lucky Cricket in St Louis Park by Shea Design

Separated from the bar area by a feature graphic lifestyle wall, the dining room is also a creative exercise in reuse. The main dining area is inspired by China’s history of food, from fishing to farming. Key new standout features, such as the hanging installation of Chinese fishing traps over the signature center banquette and the bent bamboo latticework, are essential to the overall Lucky Cricket experience. The corner booths were maintained from the Bonefish space, but reupholstered and refinished in the new restaurant’s vibrant style. Down the hall (now hand-stamped with a custom cricket logo and highlighted in gold bamboo-like trim), the private dining rooms retained their original size and form, but got the Lucky Cricket finishing treatment, making for bold, standout spaces.

Interior design inside of The Lucky Cricket in St Louis Park by Shea Design
Interior design inside of The Lucky Cricket in St Louis Park by Shea Design

Many of the former restaurant’s functional elements were able to be maintained, with careful Shea touches to fit them into the Lucky Cricket experience. The acoustical materials in the ceiling were reused, and painted to better blend in with the new design. In the restrooms, fixtures were reused, but the spaces were totally transformed by the addition of wallcoverings featuring images of vintage China and bamboo-framed mirrors. And in the kitchen, the footprint was maintained—but the equipment was shifted, specialty items were brought in for signature Lucky Cricket dishes, and walls were resurfaced to give guests a view inside, emphasizing the exciting element of culinary theater that’s becoming paramount to the restaurant as a whole. By retaining several basic elements of the former restaurant in the Lucky Cricket space, Shea was able to economize for the client with reusing, adapting, and refinishing, while also bringing in special touches and impactful design ideas that totally transform the guest experience and make it a destination spot in the Twin Cities.

Lat 14

It’s particularly hard to create a new guest experience when a restaurant is taking over a space with a well-known everyday brand. Lat 14, Chef Ann Ahmed’s venture celebrating food from southeast Asia, overtook an existing Perkins restaurant in Golden Valley—meaning that it also inherited the classic Perkins design. When that’s the case, the alternative to reuse is to maintain the shell, but otherwise start from scratch (minus a couple of sinks and a walk-in cooler), which is exactly what the Shea team did to make each guest shocked to discover that the restaurant was once a casual-dining chain eatery.

The renovation was truly a top-to-bottom affair, keeping important structure in place—beginning with tearing out the ceiling to expose the metal truss roof and painting it a deep, elegant charcoal color, right down to stripping the floors to expose the original concrete and add thoughtful mosaic tile accents for a pop of color. Dividing walls were torn out to create one large space, and in the flexible private-dining space, rafters were stained a darker wood tone for added richness.

Adding focal features was also key in this space’s overhaul. The first order of business was to create different dining zones within the open space for different experiences, including a bar that would support the cocktail program and make for a lively atmosphere. Covered in sleek-but-rustic wood and topped by granite, it adds a sense of elegance that makes diners completely forget about the Tremendous Twelves formerly served in the space. The rest of the space is glam-meets comfort, with rich furnishings in woods, leather, and velvet, with bright throw pillows lining the banquettes and a hefty chef’s table just outside the open kitchen. Large-format artwork and vibrant pops of teal, lime green, and pale pink add an extra dose of fun and life to the space, while carefully chosen metallic details and chandeliers bring an element of luxury.

In terms of functionality, the former restaurant’s equipment and fixtures just weren’t up to snuff for a high-concept eatery. With the exposure of the kitchen (covered only by a half-wall stocked with carefully stacked dishes and larder), the equipment and layout needed an overhaul to stay sleek. The restrooms also benefitted from a total renovation, now flanked by chic wallcoverings and tiny tiles. Outside, the biggest transformation was in changing the instantly recognizable Perkins exterior into something with no relation or resemblance to the breakfast brand. The addition of patio seating, a coat of rich charcoal paint, and bold, clever signage disguise the building’s Magnificent Seven and pie-case roots—announcing its presence and bringing fresh new flavors to the ’burbs.