The pizza chain is updating in-store touch points, evolving its digital experience, and testing a new service model.

Mellow Mushroom kicked off its largest-ever rebrand in November.

The Atlanta-based chain, known for its hand-tossed and stone-baked pizza, is overhauling its logo, refreshing its visuals, introducing new color schemes, evolving its Mel O. Mushroom character with a more modern look, and updating both the in-store and online experience ahead of its 50th anniversary in 2024. 

The initiative is over a year in the making, says Anne Mejia, vice president of brand development. It started last fall with a consumer study that revealed confusion around Mellow’s identity. While all 160 stores share a psychedelic theme with trippy decor inspired by art and music, Mejia says every location was built as a distinct entity, and the research showed a lack of cohesion across the system. Some customers didn’t even know the brand had a logo, let alone a presence in 18 states. 

“There aren’t too many ‘typical’ Mellow Mushrooms out there, because each one is so unique,” Mejia says. “No two restaurants ever look alike. They’re all locally owned and operated. We really leaned into that individuality, and we probably didn’t lean into the brand as much, so a lot of our guests actually believed their local Mellow Mushroom was one of a kind.”

There’s also the fact that many customers—especially younger and newer guests—aren’t experiencing Mellow in person. Off-premises orders accounted for less than 10 percent of sales prior to the pandemic. Now, over 35 percent of the business flows through digital channels. That means more people are interacting with the pizza chain as a branded entity online instead of through its distinctly local restaurants. 

“We needed to create a more cohesive look that goes across all customer touchpoints so that we can strengthen the brand and tie the business together for guests that are experiencing Mellow Mushroom in different ways, whether it’s ordering online or sitting in the dining room,” Mejia says. 

That cohesion is taking shape in a couple of ways. Mellow is revamping in-store touch points to create more continuity across its system, starting with things that are easily changed, like table tents, uniforms, pizza boxes, and menu covers. 

There also are some bigger updates, like to-go counters, interior murals, and exterior signage, but the company isn’t setting a deadline for franchisees to make those changes. 

“We didn’t want to burden franchisees with doing that right out of the gate,” Mejia says. “There are a couple of folks that have already incorporated the new branding, signage, and murals, but it’s more of a rolling target. So, while we’re not going to lose the uniqueness that each of our restaurants have, you’ll find that over time, as we build new restaurants and remodel existing restaurants, everything is going to become much more consistent.”

The company also is tweaking its menu offerings to simplify back-of-house processes. The biggest updates are a handful of ingredient deletions on the build-your-own pizza platform and a switch from half-pound burgers to smash-style burgers, which Mejia says take less time to cook and are more aligned with consumer preferences. 

On the digital front, Mellow merged its online ordering capabilities with its brand website to improve wayfinding and create a more streamlined digital presence. The updated website comes with more ways to pay, like Apple Pay and Google Pay, plus a new online catering channel. 

“The number one reason people went to our brand site was to find out how to get to our separate ordering site, so we decided to bring those together to make things easier for online guests,” Mejia says.

The new site is delivering a better experience with faster load times, and it already has brought about an increase in web traffic since going live a few weeks ago, she adds. 

Mellow hopes improvements to online ordering, combined with more consistent branding, will increase awareness and relevancy among younger consumers. It’s a key goal that informed every aspect of the rebrand. To that end, the company is embarking on its first-ever connected TV campaign dubbed “Enter the Mellowverse.” The advertising push promotes what the brand calls a “higher order of pizza” on streaming platforms like Hulu, Apple TV, and Paramount Plus. 

Mejia says Mellow has dabbled in TV advertising in the past, but the new campaign marks a big departure from those previous efforts. It allows the company to be more strategic when conveying a unified message. 

“The great thing about connected TV, from a digital standpoint, is that it’s so efficient,” she says. “With broadcast, you’d have to pick a geographic area and hope that you’re hitting your target audience. With connected TV, you can buy what you need around each restaurant, and you can really target the kind of guests you want to attract and put into the funnel.” 

Mellow’s makeover includes a new prototype set to open next summer in Atlanta. It was designed from the bottom up to reflect the new look and will serve as a testing ground for a number of initiatives. 

The goal is to take the concept and make it more compact and efficient without sacrificing the “fabulous pizza” and “counterculture essence” Mellow is known for, Mejia says. That starts with the footprint and the service model. At approximately 3,400 square feet, the prototype is significantly smaller than a traditional location, and it will mark the full-service brand’s first venture into a counter-service ordering experience. 

The company also is reevaluating the menu at the new store with an eye toward removing labor-intensive SKUs. 

“Because we do a lot of things by hand, there’s a lot of prep that goes on in the kitchen,” Mejia says. “Can we find similar taste profiles or even different taste profiles and make the labor more efficient by eliminating two or three prep steps that maybe aren’t as necessary?”

The new prototype will feature a streamlined bar, too. Most locations have 32 taps for beer, but when the company looked at what really sells, it boiled down to around 10 options. So, the store in Atlanta will only have six to eight taps. 

Mellow also is updating its tech stack to ensure it has the right systems and processes in place, both at the new store and at traditional restaurants. It will use the prototype to evaluate back-of-house technologies, like kitchen display systems and inventory management tools, along with front-of-house upgrades, like new sound systems and music programs. 

“This is part of the homework of growing a brand,” Mejia says. “We want to find out from guests if we can still deliver the Mellow Mushroom experience in a smaller footprint with a different menu and a different service model. We’re going to be looking for a lot of feedback from customers, conducting a lot of focus groups, and of course, looking at sales and construction costs. Have we been able to eliminate some of the buildout costs? Have we been able to improve the margin?” 

Eventually, the chain wants to expand well beyond its current size, and the answers to those questions will shape its growth strategy going forward. Mejia expects Mellow will take insights and observations from the new store in Atlanta and apply them to a second prototype as it continues evolving and refining a new model for the future. 

“You learn things every time you do this,” she says. “I think we’ll look to build a few more to get it just right, and then we’d hope to enter a whole new growth phase for Mellow Mushroom after that.”

Chain Restaurants, Feature, Marketing & Promotions, Mellow Mushroom