Roles: Brand Strategist, Copywriter
Chipotle’s sister restaurant ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen opened in 2011 and steadily gained a foothold in the DC area. Before it could confidently move into markets such as Los Angeles, the brand needed refinement and its website needed a full responsive makeover. I established the voice, tone, and messaging strategy, while writing copy for key touchpoints.
ShopHouse shared Chipotle’s service format and food philosophy, but the similarities ended there. Chipotle is deeply established and beloved, its menu items are known and understood, and so it can use its copy rations to display its cleverness and self-assuredness. Few people know what steak laab is or what countries constitute Southeast Asia. We needed to dedicate our verbal energy to enticing people to try unfamiliar flavors, educating them about the inspiration for the food, explaining what a shophouse is—all in a voice that didn’t bore, or worse, exoticize.
So we set about exploring. I began by fiddling with how the brand could speak as well as how it might explain all that it is. There was a lot to cover, and I began to see how some of the key challenges could be converted into opportunities. I could introduce unfamiliar flavors and ingredients by appealing to a customer’s curiosity and the thrill of discovery. I could provide mouth-watering descriptions of Southeast Asian cuisine and present ShopHouse as a chance to experience it without getting on a plane.
Below are some early stabs at establishing tone through what we called “inspiration statements”. The following direction, which I titled “Traveling Locally”, goes like this:
Here’s another, which I called “First Bite”:
Ultimately, I composed an inspiration statement that hit the marks of aspirational, evocative, and welcoming. It uses sensory imagery (I was able to call on my own memories of traveling in Southeast Asia) as an entry into the restaurant’s offerings, format, and passion for food.
This inspiration statement skewed romantic, and wasn’t suitable for an About page, but served as a sort of guide as we moved forward. In promotional materials, there was room for a punchier, more playful style that would still be very distinct from Chipotle’s casual irreverence. We tried extending that voice to various materials. The following quick mock-ups of a free bowl card and magazine ad hit on some of the brand's key themes: fresh ingredients, striking flavors, customization, and traveling through the senses.
We were ready to move on to making a site as enticing as the food, and decided to provide an immediate impression of the richness of the culture the food originated from. Upon landing on the site, users saw a gif containing multiple colorful images from across Southeast Asia before landing on the following:
The inspiration statement got its little place in the sun, as we scattered excerpts around a page called Inspiration that’s filled with images that complement the romance of the language.
The rest of the site copy gets down to the business of educating on the food and menu format, while continuing to push the remarkable flavors and possibilities in store for every customer.
The Food page guides the user through all the choices they’ll encounter in the restaurant, and includes short and sweet descriptions of each item in order to further whet the appetite.
ShopHouse is, in a nutshell, “the Southeast Asian version of Chipotle”, but our goal was to let it stand on its own, and we spent a while considering the degree to which we should message the Chipotle connection. Chipotle is known for its commitment to sourcing and consistent quality, so its name lends credibility, but as we were quickly establishing, the restaurants have necessarily very different voices and vibes. We decided that ShopHouse could capitalize on Chipotle’s very effective social media machine, which could cross-promote and illuminate the connection, but in its own brand communications, it didn’t need to constantly namedrop Chipotle. If customers want to know more about the company, the About page (pictured below) mentions Chipotle and positions ShopHouse as a natural progression in Chipotle’s mission to make fast-casual more responsible and tasty.
My time working on ShopHouse didn’t end there, but I think this case study is quite long enough already. I’ll leave you with the following additional guidelines I wrote for our final brand strategy document, intended for the ShopHouse team to keep in mind as they expanded and created new content.