Brady Titus likens his move from design-firm architect to Lemonade’s director of design and construction to “jumping onto a moving train.” This was in October 2014.
The Southern California-based casual dining restaurant had been around for six years at that point, but found itself in an unprecedented growth phase with capital backing.
“They suddenly had what amounted to a small chain of successful stores and a bunch of money and decided to do a more aggressive rollout than they had before,” Titus recalls.
Roughly two years later, and the company has twice the number of restaurants it did before Titus stepped in. He was more than willing to answer the call as he helped lead a period of steady and progressive growth. Two years later, and the company now has twice the number of restaurants it did before he took the reins as director of design and construction. In fact, prior to Titus’s arrival, the owners had been overseeing design and construction themselves using a “just get it done” strategy. That plan worked when the company was smaller, but the expansion required better coordination and control of details, lest things spin out of control. That’s why the owners created the position Titus came to fill.
“It wasn’t reasonable to operate in the same way anymore,” Titus explains. “As we grew, the old way of doing things could make us susceptible to liability issues. I believe that more is more when it comes to documentation. I impress on the architects I work with that coordination needs to be resolved before construction, and they need to put detail into the construction documents.”
Titus focuses on building those more robust construction sets, creating a feedback loop between design and construction. Now with each new project, he and his team put what they’ve learned in the field into the design documentation for the next project. Titus’s goal is to eventually build a brand book that anyone can utilize to learn how to build a Lemonade store.
One aspect of Lemonade’s growth has been moving gradually out of its Southern California home market and into other regions. This began with the opening of several stores in the Bay Area, a process that Titus says led to reflection among staff and ownership.
“Moving to the Bay Area was an opportunity for us to step back and reassess holistically what the look and feel of the brand should be and to work in some flexibility to make it less regional,” he says.
For the first five stores in the area, the company used more wood, opted for a more dynamic ceiling treatment, and softened the overall design palate. At the beginning of the year, Lemonade was scheduled to debut its sixth store, which Titus says may serve as a template for a global design change for the facilities.
“A brand is like a shark. You have to keep moving,” he says. “If you don’t refresh your brand, regardless of what you’re selling, people will think your product looks stale or dated.”
While he isn’t involved in real estate deals, Titus gets in the mix immediately with a new store, scrutinizing the lease to make sure there’s nothing in it that will cause a problem in design or construction. Once the lease has been approved and signed, he works with outside designers to set the look and feel of the store. He also helps secure permits and sets up the bidding process (prior to his arrival, Lemonade did not put projects out for bid).
Once a permit is in place and the project has been awarded, he oversees the construction. When all of the inspections are done and staff training begins, he will work with the operations team to do last-minute tweaking and refining, remedying any problems the staff encounters prior to opening.
When he joined Lemonade, Titus inherited a stable of vendors as well as a methodology status quo, where he spent his first year working from that base. In his second year, Titus has been able to make some changes that have helped him continue his success in the role.
“I’ve been able to build a new network of owner vendors who know me, know the brand, and know what I expect,” Titus says. “I rely on them heavily. The first year was really about learning about the brand. Now I feel part of the brand.”
Coming from the design-firm side, Titus remains fascinated by this process of working with a single brand versus jumping from client to client and project to project.
“I think it takes a while to wrap your mind around the nature of a brand,” he says. “It’s not enough to know the product and finishes and basic operational model. There’s something at the core of every good brand that is deeper than what is on the surface.”
Titus explains that his fascination with brands, along with the deeper personal relationships he’s been able to establish, are what keep him from going back to a firm.
“When you come to the owner side, things get so much more interesting,” he says. “You get involved in all departments, coordinating with operations, marketing, training, and finance. Your work is in service to a greater thing, rather than being a one-off project for somebody. The level of vested interest you have in the outcome goes up exponentially.”
But does working with one brand get stale in comparison to the variety of projects an architect sees at a design firm? Brady says there is no gap between the two because of the complexities involved with working on a single brand as well as the increased level of involvement in all aspects of the business. His work with Lemonade also allows him to practice his craft in a way that gives him a sense of mission.
“So many black-cape architects in the world have developed a style of design that’s recognizable. They’re identified with that, so they often do their clients a disservice by forcing their personality onto their clients’ projects,” he says. “I think the mark of a truly good architect is someone who can analyze the design problem and apply their expertise to the solution in a way that benefits the client, and in this case, my client is Lemonade.”