Ruby’s Diner is rebranding with a new design that borrows from the “post-Sputnik, pre-acid” 1960s after more than three decades with a 1940s “swing era” theme.
The 38-unit chain’s new prototype taps design elements from the Googie-inspired architecture of Los Angeles coffee shops that dominated the region when founder Doug Cavanaugh was growing up.
“I’m morphing it into the pleasant memories of my childhood,” he said.
Founded 31 years ago, Cavanaugh, who is also CEO of the Irvine, Calif.-based chain’s parent company The Ruby Restaurant Group, was inspired by his 91-year-old mother’s 1940s youth. Units feature red vinyl booths and white Formica table tops. The logo includes the iconic “Ruby girl” waitress in a short red pin-striped uniform and a jingle that urges guests to “shooby dooby down to Ruby’s where the food is great.”
The updated Ruby’s will bring the brand into Cavanaugh’s era — a time of surfing and rock-and-roll.
The mid-century modern motif will include amoeba-shaped cutouts and circle patterns, marmoleum — a natural linoleum — flooring, and tiles and laminate designs of the 1950s.
Three formats for growth will be introduced. A “Ruby’s Dinette” model will debut later this summer in a Westfield mall food court in San Diego.
“Ruby’s Deluxe,” a fast-casual variant of about 2,500 square feet, is scheduled to open in Costa Mesa, Calif., before the end of the year. Ruby’s has a number of limited-menu restaurants in airports, but this format is designed for growth as a freestanding location, Cavanaugh said.
The fast-casual restaurants will also feature a new Ruby’s-branded hard-packed ice cream that will be made fresh in restaurants, Cavanaugh said.
The third model, the traditional Ruby’s Diner, will include a full-service, 4,000-square-foot restaurant, similar to Ruby’s current core format but with the new design. The first full-service restaurant to open with the 1960s look is scheduled for Laguna Hills, Calif., early next year.
The menu will also get an upgrade, including a new artisan “Next Generation” burger with an updated bun and a new sauce, alongside the traditional Ruby’s burger. The Next Generation burger is available at all Ruby’s locations as a limited-time offer for $7.99.
The menu overall will still stick with Ruby’s tradition of offering retro American comfort food, but dishes will be tweaked to recognize increasingly sophisticated sensibilities.
“I think everybody has become a bit of a foodie or gourmand,” Cavanaugh said.
The new formats are available for franchise growth, Cavanaugh said. About half of Ruby’s 38 locations are franchised.
In recent months, however, Ruby’s has closed three locations as leases expired, Cavanaugh said. Among them was a Ruby’s location on the Malibu, Calif., pier that closed in 2011, which suffered from seasonal dips in winter.
With the new look, however, Ruby’s is ready to get back to growth, Cavanaugh said. But the chain is not looking to shake off its past entirely.
Though some current units may be remodeled with the new design, most existing restaurants will maintain the current 1940s theme, at least until the chain gets a sense of how the new prototype performs.
“We’re going to wait and see,” Cavanaugh said. “Hopefully it will prove itself.”