Cafe Fiona is a themed restaurant designed hypothetically for the Cincinnati Zoo as part of my Masters thesis in interdisciplinary design. Inspired by the Zoo’s famous hippo, Fiona, this eatery allows guests to eat “with” Fiona while learning about human/nature impact and about symbiotic relationships. Conceptualized as an outdoor eatery with the lower jaw serving as a bar, the Cafe Fiona project included elements of exhibit design, illustration (concept art), mockups, branding, and print design.
Inspired by the young hippo which first drew thousands of fans to the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017, Café Fiona is a themed outdoor restaurant designed to resemble a supersized version of the beloved animal. Appearing in every sense as a hyper real and friendly hippo and designed with placement at the Cincinnati Zoo in mind, Café Fiona therefore exists both as an example of narrative placemaking and as an interactive character simultaneously. Guests of the eatery are encouraged to approach the “animal” and eat around her lower jaw as if it were a bar, all the while sitting on stools designed to give the appearance of oxpecker birds. Oxpeckers share a symbiotic relationship with hippopotamuses and so the design of the Café Fiona experience invites guests to enter into this relationship. This is in keeping with the Cincinnati Zoo’s goals to encourage an intimate understanding of the animal kingdom.
For the project, I created original concept art representing the structure of the restaurant itself, of the employee uniforms, of the menu, and of certain food offerings. These designs represented both the illustrative dimension of my work and the dimension of exhibit design, as the latter was needed on this project to inform the former. The structure itself was designed with a simple metal skeleton and fiberglass exterior in mind, hypothetically affording the Cincinnati Zoo a relatively cost-effective build and providing the staff with the working space of a large food truck. The restaurant was designed to resemble Fiona, with her lower jaw serving as the bar space, her interior mouth serving as the staff space, and the inner recesses of her throat (hidden interiorly by a curtain and exteriorly by the lake in which she is “swimming”) as the kitchen.
Branding and Print
I further designed the brand for Café Fiona, including a logo, font choices, color palettes, patterns and sub-branding elements, thereby representing the branding dimension of my graduate education. Designed to look both exotic and rustic, elegant and child-friendly, the brand’s elements utilize simple forms based on a hippo’s natural environment of water and aquatic plants.
Next, I laid out the menu using the custom designed branding elements, representing as I did so the print design dimension of my studies. Created to resemble a rustic block print in keeping with the restaurant’s overall aesthetic, the design is cheerful, colorful, and simplistic. Menu choices were selected according to four main criteria: first, due to the confined preparation space and presumably high demand, all meals had to be batch producible. Second and inspired by the river-based habitat in which hippos are found, meals were to be similarly inspired by river cultures, with a particular bias towards authentic and respectfully represented South African cuisines like bunny chow (a popular curry sandwich) and koeksisters (small braided donuts). Third and in contrast with the second criterion, meal options had to be at least moderately child friendly. While regionally and exotically authentic recipes were paramount, the final products had to be at least reminiscent of foods with which young guests would be familiar. This meant that foods like ramen (“noodles”) and po’boys (“sandwiches”) were acceptable, but less common fare like calamari or alligator were not. Fourth, meals had to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions and healthy eating habits, contrasting with the fast food-style fare common at zoos.
Ultimately, all these resources were compiled into a mockup representing how the whole design could be used as an onsite (in-zoo) advertising campaign for the restaurant itself. The project therefore represents a culmination of graduate-level design studies applied to the subject of educating, entertaining, and inspiring through a themed entertainment-based dining experience.