Dolly's Cafe feels like home

With a cozy fireplace and other assets, Dolly’s Cafe provides a comfy space for diners to settle in.

dollys cafe interior

We really try to make our customers feel like they’re in a family room when they come to eat,” says Howard Rich, vice president of corporate relations at Rich’s, a food supplier based in Buffalo, N.Y. With a headquarters that features a sprawling high-ceilinged atrium and cafe that’s easier said than done, but Rich’s thoughts were in line with a new restaurateur trend: Switching out the modern, industrial look for something more like home. To achieve this casual vibe, design teams are scouring local antique shops for individual touches and switching banquettes for sofas and coffee tables.

Barbara Gisel of Barbara Gisel Design was tasked with designing the remodel of Rich’s atrium and cafe (known as Dolly’s), part of an $18.5 million overhaul of the company’s Innovation Center.  “Basically, our thought process with Dolly’s was to have people come into the atrium, but not necessarily feel like they were in a big space,” says Gisel. Here are four strategies used to achieve that goal—which took about six weeks to complete.

1. Provide warmth with lighting

“For people sitting and working, we have large lamps. With lighting, you want different levels of light,” Gisel says. “You don’t want it all coming from above.” Gisel also sourced dollop-shaped pendant lights that reminded her of one of Rich’s signature products, a nondairy whipped topping.

2. Try flexible seating

A mix of seating—sofas, tables, lounge chairs—make a space feel more like a home. At Dolly’s, which feeds between 300 and 500 employees daily, communal counter-height wood tables with a natural edge are both eye-catching and functional. “We have a very high retention rate to have our associates here, so the flexibility in the seating and the coziness—it’s inviting,” says William Kreiner, general manager and executive chef of Rich’s Campus Foodservice Group.

3. Texture is key

“The materials we have are really important because they’re very textural,” Gisel says. “Brick on the fireplace, a wood wall where we have lots of photographs framed of people that are in the company [add ambiance].” It’s hard to beat the practicality of hard flooring such as tile, but too much can feel clinical and amplify noise in such a large, open space. “It shouldn’t be too loud or too quiet, as you need energy and some noise,” Gisel says. Using carpet in the atrium area helps absorb noise, and tile that resembles weathered wood also was used for a warmer feel.

4. Create a focal point

At 40 feet high (and made from 20,000 bricks reclaimed from an 1800s Chicago warehouse), the two-sided fireplace serves as a centerpiece. “It can be seen from everywhere in the space. You can lounge near it, you can eat near it, you can meet near it,” Gisel says. It’s also a selling point for special events, says Kreiner.

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