August 23, 2017

Worldwide Wonders: How Shea designs globally inspired restaurants

We’re always traveling the world to see and absorb everything that’s timeless and traditional, taking in what’s new and what’s genius in other parts of the globe—and we take that inspiration back to make Shea as knowledgeable as possible. We love incorporating authentic touches into restaurants that show the décor was thought through as well as the food has been, and slipping in nods to different cultures throughout design. But when cuisine and design match too closely, “inspired” can quickly slip into “theme,” and at Shea, we don’t do kitsch (at least, not without intention). So whether it’s the American Southwest, France, or Japan, we use strategic design to give guests a sense of place—minus the sombreros, berets, and Hello Kitty paraphernalia.

Roble Tacos + Tequila

It’s not easy to bring the warmth and fire that is the southwestern spirit to the heart of the Midwest, and Shea took on the challenge when we were approached by Lincoln Hospitality Group to create a woodfire hotspot in Eau Claire.

In developing Roble’s identity, we went bold and bright, echoing the southwestern aesthetics and vibe. The name itself, Spanish for “oak,” brings to mind the tradition of open-flame cooking and smoky, spicy flavor. A bright color palette focused on teal and yellow evokes the vibrancy of the region, implemented in every part of the experience, from the restaurant’s façade to the custom-made tap handles and beer list behind the bar.

Design details throughout the space bring about the hearty rusticity for which the Southwest is known, with a definite Shea spin, spicing up natural and authentic materials with the signature Roble brand. Brick walls and a wood bartop are painted with the restaurant’s bright emblems, while oak logs stacked in a geometric shelf bring together the Roble name and logo. A handful of eclectic light fixtures bring a casual nature to the space overall, reinforced by painted-barrel cocktail tables that welcome guests stopping in for a drink in a relaxed setting. It’s with this anything-goes hospitality that Roble embodies the warmth of the Southwest, reinforced by its bold, bucolic ambiance.


Creating a brand and space that embody the French lifestyle without invoking the striped-shirt-and-baguette cliché is no small task. When creating Bellecour in partnership with Chef Gavin and Linda Kaysen, the Shea team eschewed prototypical Paris photos and excessive use of Fleur de Lys in favor of a warm Provencal feel. The result is a space that makes diners feel as if they’ve been invited into Chef Kaysen’s French country home—without leaving the shores of Lake Minnetonka.

Inspired by the chef’s training in Lyon, Bellecour is grounded in its sense of hospitality, and its design is a reflection of that. A warm neutral color palette, with whitewashed oak floors and paneling, provides a backdrop for the details, such as custom wall sconces in the dining room and an intricate tile basketweave floor in the bakery and bar area.

While they’re not obvious, touches of Provence can be found throughout the design. Pops of blue, in the restroom doors and the larder shelf housing Chef Kaysen’s favorite books and ingredients, lend a fresh French feel to the space. And extensions of the Bellecour brand, such as Fleur de Lys shelf supports and maps of Lyon transformed into artwork, give the restaurant a definite sense of space. Meanwhile, the patio is a virtual escape to a French country courtyard. Featuring wood-topped café tables surrounded on all sides by greenery and living wall installations, it’s a true haven in the middle of a small city.


When it opened in 2011, Masu Sushi & Robata was conceived to bring a completely new kind of Japanese dining to Northeast Minneapolis. Focused on sustainable fish, the restaurant didn’t just make a statement with its mission and big-dog chef Tim McKee—it made a definite statement with Shea’s design, bringing Japanese pop culture to life. A Mall of America location followed before Masu Sushi & Noodle opened up shop in Apple Valley four years later.

The original Masu turns its back on serene minimalism in favor of bright green and red hues and bold patterns. We also shook up the traditional sushi stations by dropping them down so that diners can take in the action at the bar, rather than just staring at cold fish. And while there’s no shortage of pop culture paraphernalia in the space, none of it is kitsch. Authentic pieces such as pachinko machines, kewpie dolls, and sake bottle dispensers are punctuated by oft-Instagrammed wall-size murals and animé strips in the restrooms. The décor embodies the hectic, more-is-more aesthetic of Tokyo without crossing into caricature.

In Apple Valley, the robata grilled dishes iconic to the Northeast location are eschewed in favor of noodle-heavy dishes—and, similarly, some alterations are made to the design. The space still embraces bold color and pattern, but with a more Zen overall vibe in keeping with its suburban location. The bright green tile, characteristic murals, and Japanese tchotchkes remain, but in a less chaotic atmosphere. Shea also embraced the new menu by transforming ramen bowls into artwork via a minimalist wall installation that catches guests’ eyes right away.

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