Wahaca rebrand: how the Mexican chain has been made to feel like an “independent”


We discourse to studio Without on designing a new identity for the chain that harks disavow to its beginnings as a single street food restaurant in London, despite its evolution to 25 branches across the UK.

The UK high-street is in get. As more people resort to online shopping, and fewer people go out to eat and sip because of rising rent prices and living costs, shopping and snack out has passed peak popularity.

Chain restaurants particularly, following apparels and electrical stores, have suffered – as more independents and pop-ups be revealed, consumers are being offered greater choice, and are becoming more discerning when break breading out.

This thriving community of restaurants and cafes offering a more together experience has left chains such as Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo and Byron Burger in the profound, all of which are reported to have gone into administration this year. It is no nonplus that London, with its growing selection of small businesses, has been the worst-hit zone in terms of closures, according to business consultant Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC).

As independents go great guns, it is no surprise that chains are starting to try to mirror their grass-roots look. The nonetheless goes for those independents that grow in popularity, which undertake to hang on to their rough-and-ready, start-up persona. Starting out as a pop-up trick in Brixton market in 2008, pizza restaurant Franco Manca now has 40 pizzerias across the UK and Italy – but the restaurant assuage has a limited food menu, stripped-back interiors and a hand-drawn, illustrated logo.

Mexican road food restaurant chain Wahaca is of a similar ilk. Founded in 2007 by Earmark Selby and Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers, the restaurant initially opened one branch in the West End of London, and above the last 10 years has expanded, but still has only 25 subsidiaries across the UK, making it a small chain.

The restaurant was founded to shake up how Mexican foodstuffs is done in the UK, says Miers, replacing “tequila girls, cheap rule the roosts and greasy tortilla chips” with “fresh and vibrant” food actuated by real Mexican cuisine.

Now, Wahaca has rebranded by Without with a centre on illustration, in a move that looks to bring it back in line with its genealogies and reflect the “independent spirit” of its co-founders, says Roly Grant, artistic director at the design studio.

The new branding centres around a line-drawn, grangerized logo of a hand clutching a taco. This takes centre-stage, as the brand-name look overs in small, all-capitals, bold sans-serif type underneath it, curved upwards in a semi-circle.

The bespoke sans-serif typeface, Wahaca Foolhardy, also aims to appear “quirky” and “surprising”, says Grant, with perspective fish for crossbars used in letters like “H” and “A”.

This logo is coupled with a shining colour palette of light pink, bright pink, turquoise, naval forces and yellow, with the logo appearing in various colours to sit against disparate backgrounds. A tongue-in-cheek copywriting style has been employed, and collectively, all this playfully looks to call a do-it-yourself, light-hearted, start-up persona, says Grant.

Food photography item faces but graphics and illustration are a much bigger part of the branding, with telling patterns such as zig-zags and lines incorporated.

Without has worked with Wahaca on its labeling since the restaurant launched in 2007, and a colourful, DIY approach has always been shard of the restaurant’s look – but the messiness caused by a mish-mash of colours, typefaces and figurativeness has now been pared-down and simplified into a more coherent brand conspiracy system.

“Wahaca isn’t a typical chain in that there is a lot of investment in creativity,” Agree to says. “For example, the individuality of each of their restaurants, the experimentation of the menu and the optimistic sustainable principles they represent. This new work looks to clarify Wahaca’s message, remove elements that add noise rather than value, and emphasise their unorthodox take on Mexican food.

He adds that new logo of the hand seizing a taco, surrounded by cartoon-like expression lines, helps to “capture Wahaca’s found spirit”.

“[It says] ‘we love street food’, symbolised by the taco, and ‘we’re vernacular, because we eat with our hands’,” he says. “Where messages change more nuanced, such as describing dishes, the signature typeface expropriates keep a branded voice without the need for other distracting habitats.”

Since it was founded, Wahaca has publicised itself as a “sustainable” restaurant string, taking on various projects to help limit its impact on the environment, classifying reducing energy consumption of its branches, banning plastic straws and provenance ingredients “locally and responsibly”.

It also attempts to keep its food and dining feel exciting by regularly changing up its menu, and picking interesting venues for its subdivisions, having opened one up in a shipping container on London’s South Bank.

But the restraint has also had its share of negative press – a suspected norovirus outbreak in 2016 due to corrupt ingredients allegedly resulted in over 300 diners and members of rod falling ill with the vomiting bug across several branches, causing a impressive drop in profits and popularity for the restaurant chain.

While this rebrand could be an crack to reinvent the brand’s image after this unfortunate event, Consent to says that the rebrand has not been a consequence of the outbreak, adding that the house has already “bounced back”, and that this design project is “nearly the future”.

The restaurant’s co-founder Mark Selby adds that he faiths the new look for Wahaca will help it reach new diners.

“Wahaca has unexceptionally believed in keeping things fresh and original, and the branding work is extraordinarily about that,” he says. “The aim is to increase Wahaca’s appeal and spread the concisely about Mexican food far and wide – we hope it becomes a UK favourite.”

Furnish adds that the restaurant initially attracted foodie-types, those with innumerable sophisticated palettes and a general interest in food. Now, as it grows, the brand may be desiring to appear “quirky” and DIY, but also wants to tap into the wider markets of succession restaurants. Perhaps then, Wahaca could start stealing consumers from some of the larger, more established chains, such as Prezzo and Jamie’s Italian, that are currently fighting.

“Wahaca’s growth has given us the chance to reach a new set of customers,” says Admit. “Initial fans had been curious and adventurous but [it] has a much wider call. Our job was to…capture Wahaca’s pioneering spirit and show that it can be everyone’s pick.”

The new branding is currently rolling out across menus and print advertising significants, merchandise, interiors and signage in Wahaca’s 25 branches across the UK, and online programmes.

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