What do you do when the design of your 10,000-square-foot restaurant doesn’t match the character of your food and beverage program?
That’s the question E&O Trading Company recently faced. The San Francisco restaurant, owned by Men’s Warehouse founder and CEO George Zimmer, closed April 15 for a month-long remodel. The renovation will cost nearly $1 million, will reinvent the lounge and bar, and will recast the brand as E&O Asian Kitchen.
Eric Arnold Wong, who came on as consulting chef three years ago, says E&O faced multiple inconsistencies heading into its remodel.
First was the food itself. E&O has shuffled through several chefs since opening 15 years ago, but never shed the tagline “Southeast Asian Cuisine”—even when Wong, who had never specialized in Southeast Asian food, came on board.
“It became a challenge over the past couple of years for servers or hostesses to answer, ‘How do you describe your food?’” Wong says. “You probably could get 10 different answers.”
As the discrepancy became more apparent, the leadership team discussed remodeling. “But, as you know, ’08, ’09, and even part of ’10 were really difficult years for restaurants,” Wong says. “So we stayed the course.”
In the meantime, Wong revitalized the menu and revamped the restaurant’s marketing. His PR efforts reinforced the clash in branding, focusing on the modernity of the food while the restaurant’s interior was cluttered with “tchotchke-looking things,” he says, that created a theatrical look rather than a stylish one.
The remodel will create a seamless design, Wong says, and also capitalize on the restaurant’s mezzanine space, which previously sat untouched on busy weeknights.
“Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you could walk in and be greeted by a host at 6 p.m. and have a tremendous wait,” Wong says. E&O now plans to move reserved seating upstairs and allow more room for walk-ins, who can wait in the updated lounge and bar.
The lounge will kick start a new motif for E&O Asian Kitchen: nightlife.
Along with extended hours and live music in the lounge, Wong plans to test steamed custards, raw oysters, and various Asian bar bites. He also tapped Carlos Yturria, a well-known mixologist in San Francisco, to curate the beverage program.
Wong says the concierges in the area are wonderful to E&O, often sending tourists toward the restaurant, but the brand ultimately failed customers in the beverage category.
“I think where we’ve fallen short, as their go-to place, is when people are staying at various large hotels in the area and say, ‘Where can we go for a drink and maybe a bite?’” Wong says. “We should be one of those. We should’ve always been one of those. But the design of the restaurant 15 years ago wasn’t geared toward that.”
E&O Asian Kitchen will reopen for business May 18.
Edit: E&O's remodel has been delayed due to permit issues and the building's historical value. The restaurant will now close after Memorial Day and plans to open in early July.
By Sonya Chudgar