Reimagining a restaurant into an innovative gourmet oasis that combines “laid-back” and “premium”
The Surf Café from Dubai made its humble beginnings as a place for breakfast and creative food with a relaxed atmosphere. However, in time, its owner steered the meals more towards a gourmet offering. Word about this place started to spread across the city of Dubai and its reputation grew each day. And while the menu began to introduce dishes such as Japanese tataki salmon or Wagyu steak, the guests started to segment in the same, gourmet direction. The initial surfer identity started to melt, faster than cocktail ice cubes on a hot Arabic air.
More and more, higher-paying customers were dropping by, people who are used to a variety of international cuisine and premium food, typically available at fine dining restaurants. They liked the food offerings, top service, and the laid-back atmosphere. At this place, they didn’t have to make reservations or dress up to get high-quality ingredients and innovative dishes. And that was what was unique about this place. The guests now have a place where they can stop by on their way from the gym and enjoy five-star foods. They don’t have to wait for days and plan the visit. This restaurant gained so much popularity that, after Dubai, the owner decided to open another one in Abu Dhabi.
While they expected burgers, they got wagyu steaks instead
However, the visual identity of The Surf Café didn’t reflect the unique experience it provided. It wasn’t announcing its gourmet recipes in a relaxed atmosphere, or its warm and friendly staff. From the outside, it looked more like a simple restaurant. Guests who came in for the first time would expect sandwiches and burgers, but later they’d come out utterly thrilled with the unexpected offering they received. Leenders realized that its brand and audience had gotten the wires crossed.
That called for a complete rebranding, including a new strategy, a new local name, and a new visual identity.
For Zambelli Brand Design, this was not the first visit to the Middle East. This group has already done branding in the F&B (Food & Beverage) sector in Kuwait, for juice bars Bora Bora. Still, for Zambelli, it was a new challenge – how do we illustrate a restaurant that combines a relaxed atmosphere with five-star foods?
We started with the basics of the offering and set up a brand strategy that included several elements:
Brand story and philosophy
Starting from the owner’s personal story and experience, which many guests of the former “The Surf Café” can identify with, the new brand is based on a philosophy that reflects:
The idea behind the brand is to offer something that was missing in Dubai – a gourmet restaurant catering to casual people.
We have developed an identity that will announce a premium food experience created with passion, curiosity, and attention to detail, choosing only fresh and healthy ingredients. The visual should provide a sense of a warm, homely atmosphere, where the guest feels accepted as he is, without the need to pretend.
In addition to food, the brand should also communicate top service, which treats guests with warmth and attention. We teach guests about the origins of the ingredients in our food, use storytelling, and answer their questions, all of which create the feeling of a new and exciting discovery.
New brand name and new product category
The name “The Surf Café” carried a different feel from the one we established as the new direction, so we decided to change it to Leen’s. Here’s why:
• Given that people prefer to identify with people rather than brands, we have chosen restaurant owner Claudio Leenders as the central figure. We shortened his last name to a more memorable version.
• From an audio standpoint, the name Leen’s is reminiscent of the English word lean, which resonates well with the restaurant’s ideal audience, who are conscious about healthy eating.
• Finally, Leen has a geographical significance since it represents an Arabic female name, which means softness and gentleness – like the service that Leenders cherishes with its team. Also, the name signifies life prosperity, which relates well to the target audience.
Since the concept of the restaurant is entirely new, in comparison to typical restaurant types, we have developed a new category: casual-to-gourmet. It is characterized by a relaxed atmosphere, with no dress-code and five-star food.
If it were a living person, Leen’s Restaurant would be a cosmopolitan, innovative, and kind hero. Our client opted for this type of profile at our workshop, and we outlined the brand with new shapes and colors.
The logo “at a second glance”
The first thing to recognize on the logo is miniature illustrations of palm trees as typical elements of the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula. This “herbal element” reminds of a desert oasis, also alluding to a gourmet oasis in the middle of the city. The oasis is further enhanced by a soothing green color, contrasting with a warm and subtle pink that symbolizes the desired sense of tenderness and attention to guests.
At first glance, the letter S from the new brand name is emerging as dominant. However, a more extended observation reveals all the other letters from the restaurant name: L-E-E-N-S, which overlap and disappear in one another’s contours.
A gourmet oasis in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
The first result of the rebranding was the renaming and complete reconstruction of the Abu Dhabi location, which gained a lot of attention.
We believe that even more guests will come and that the new branding sends out a clear message that says: “This is not a simple restaurant but a completely fresh concept offering a unique experience.”