Signage for Mellow Fellows

A new, Cincinnati-area restaurant features some groovy environmental graphics.
Mellow Mushroom 1.jpg

In 1974, three Georgia Tech students – Marc “Banks” Weinstein, Mike Nicholson and Earle Reeves – decided to satisfy their entrepreneurial desires while exploiting most college students’ inherent need for pizza and beer. The trio purchased a fixer-upper on Spring Street in Atlanta, near the Tech campus, and christened the restaurant The Mellow Mushroom, which, according to the company’s website, “reflected their own, eccentric philosophies, progressive values and relentless pursuit of quality.” Like the namesake fungus, the chain has spread far and wide through the years, and the Mellow Mushroom now operates restaurants in 17 states.

Of course, creating such a success requires more than good recipes and effective marketing. On-premise signage and graphics play a key role in creating an optimal dining experience. “Mel,” an anthropomorphic, ever-smiling mushroom, serves as the company mascot, and is branding everywhere from exterior monument signs through the dining room.

Mellow Mushroom recently opened a franchise in Wilder, KY, a Cincinnati suburb. Kevin Molony, its owner, was familiar with the chain from trips to visit his daughter while in college in North Carolina. He said the company offers some specifics for signage, but leaves ample free reign for franchise owners.
“Of course, they want Mel incorporated into graphics, but we’re free to choose how we want the logo to flow from the point of entry through the restaurant,” he said. ”But, we had a lot of freedom in how we developed a sign program.”

Molony hired Cincinnati-based United-Maier Signs to fabricate the sign program, which includes a digitally printed, entry-monument graphic, building-mounted channel letters and a sign for the property’s high-rise sign, among others. United-Maier’s Sally Land, who worked with Mellow Mushroom on the project, said, “We visited [Mellow Mushroom’s] website to get a feel for what other restaurants had done. We picked up on a very ‘70s, [psychedelic artist] Peter Max style. We were encouraged not to match the building letter’s typestyles with any of the building signs with the pylons. This was a fun project because we had so much involvement with creating the look.”

United-Maier’s design team developed the program using Adobe®’s Illustrator® and Photoshop®. Fabricators built the building-mounted channel letters using 0.125-in.-thick, aluminum faces, with 0.090-in. returns. Yellow US LED Pinnacle modules provide halo illumination through 3/16-in.-thick, clear Lexan® polycarbonate letter backs. The 3-in.-deep letters were installed over 1.5-in.-deep standoffs.

To create the Mellow Mushroom’s monument sign, United-Maier installed a wide-body, aluminum extrusion atop the general contractor’s furnished monument base. A 2-ft.-wide, 4-ft. deep caisson foundation embeds a 4-in.-diameter, steel pipe that secures the monument. United-Maier outsourced the printed graphics to Miratec Systems (St. Paul, MN). They comprise solvent-ink printed 3M Panagraphics 3 flexible-face material.
Because the restaurant sits in a valley well below traffic that passes by approximately 1,300 ft. away on Interstate 275 and 700 ft. away on Ky. Route 9, the restaurant required a pole sign. Land credited Wilder’s city government with a “lenient” code interpretation that allowed a 65-ft.-tall pole sign on the property. The sign, internally lit with France’s Sign Bright HID fixtures, features digitally printed, flex-face material – produced to emit optimum backlighting, Land said -- with an angle-iron frame and 0.063-in.-thick, aluminum-spreader cabinet. The pole sign’s signface measures 19 ft. x 9 ft. 6 in.

During the restaurant’s first week of business, Molony reported 30 to 40 minutes wait during peak dinner hours. He credits the on-premise signage with creating the restaurant’s appealing atmosphere: “United-Maier deserves so much credit for creating a strong identity for us. The Mellow Mushroom has a brand, but the signage enables us to create our own unique experience.”

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