A Souped-Up Sit-Down Joint

Quaker Steak & Lube's crowded retro auto dŽecor is a careful study in controlled chaos

Quaker Steak & Lube locations are all car-themed, but each one has its own look and feel because many of the display vehicles are found locally.

At a Glance

Company headquarters
Sharon, PA

Construction/development employees

Average project duration
9 months

Current locations

With gas and street signs on the walls and bikes and race cars hanging from the ceiling, the motorsports-themed concept of the Quaker Steak & Lube chain is one of the family-dining industry’s most distinct and enthusiastic. Even automotive amateurs are able to find the fun in the bold decor of classic Cadillacs, Indy racing posters, and other bits of vehicular ephemera, and it’s this light-hearted nostalgia that has made Quaker Steak & Lube into the recognizable and sought-after brand it is today. The chain is now continuing to hone its atmosphere by encouraging controlled variety at its many locations.

“We really make ourselves unique,” says the vice president of facilities and development, David Miller. “The automotive theme is the core of the package. We try to keep an iconic look to the store. The energy is all about food, but there’s a fun side of it, too. It kind of takes you back.”

Quaker Steak & Lube was first established in an old gas station in Sharon, Pennsylvania, in 1974, and since then it has used its retro car aesthetic as a way to draw in guests and keep them coming back. “You walk in and there’s a ’57 Chevrolet on the wall, or a motorcycle, or NASCAR memorabilia,” Miller says. “There’s something you can tell your kids or grandkids about. We try to create a different niche with award-winning food, but the atmosphere also creates a lot of energy.”

Quaker Steak & Lube works with each of its franchise locations to maintain its brand standard while still allowing signature elements. Miller himself spends much of his time on the road, working with brokers to find, evaluate, and develop new sites. He also coordinates with the architects and designers who give each location its lively look.

A key part of Quaker Steak & Lube’s prototypical restaurant design is the “Backyard Buddy,” an auto lift that features a local classic car that’s swapped out every two or three months. Guests might find an old Thunderbird suspended during one visit and a souped-up Cutlass they next time they stop by. Locations also usually have two or three themed rooms: a “Vetteroom” with a featured Corvette; a “Brick Yard,” where Indy racing is the theme; a “Handlebar” motorcycle room; or a “Thunder Alley,” where NASCAR collectibles dominate the décor.

Quaker Steak & Lube will help its locations come up with different design packages based on their individual square footages and layouts. And fortunately, one of the crucial aspects of the brand’s consistent identity is, actually, inconsistency. Keeping the décor a little cluttered and unorganized, according to Miller, is part of what makes Quaker Steak & Lube so distinctive and original. “We call ourselves random and irreverent,” he says.

Although Quaker Steak & Lube restaurants have many of the same items, the brand makes an effort to include specialty elements in each location, too. It will work with different companies to bring in NASCAR cars, buy local vintage pieces, and find motorcycles on consignment.

“We’ve always been extremely community-minded,” Miller says. “It makes our restaurants not feel like corporate entities. We want to be identified as a great restaurant that feels like part of a community. We’ll work with local car clubs and dealerships, which enables our management team to get out in the community and build relationships. This is what our local marketing strategy is built on. I think it’s one of the best things we do.” ABQ

Meet David Miller

Where did you go to school?
I went to the University of South Carolina. My focus was really history and anthropology. I did some great things with anthropological sites, site surveys, and grid work, and the detail work helped a great deal when I got into construction.

What was your first construction job?
Building apartments in Columbia, South Carolina.

How did you wind up working for Quaker Steak & Lube?
I had been in the restaurant business for about 30 years. I had some operations background in the late ’70s and ’80s and really developed my construction background with a company called Champps Entertainment for about 14 years. I developed and managed their construction and facilities department. In March 2010, I joined Quaker Steak & Lube to manage the development and construction department as we expanded both company and franchise locations and [saw] growth in our heritage market as well as new areas of the country.

What personal goals do you have in your current role?
Our role is to serve our franchisees and our guests from a services and support level. Next year, we want to work on standardizing a lot of details for seamless project management, from finding a site through opening day. A lot of people don’t understand how time-consuming the process can be when you find a site: walking through issues with the city, the bidding process, procurement, construction, etc. We’re really trying to get everybody into a scheduled process. Our goal is to centralize the information and provide the best level of support possible for all of the franchisees and their respective teams.