Months after Springfield Diner owner Omer Onder and branding agency Longitude LLC met for a design walk-through session, visible progress has been largely stagnant.
Unexpected expenses, indecision, vacation time and most recently, a back injury for Onder, have slowed changes at the East Republic Road restaurant.
During an early November visit to Dallas, Texas, with wife Goknur Akarca, Onder had the misfortune to be thrown from a horse. Although nothing was broken, soreness quickly followed, making it a challenge to serve as primary chef at the diner – a job that keeps him on his feet for eight hours a day.
“I couldn’t even walk for a day or so afterwards,” he said, noting his wife actually took a photo as the horse tossed him airborne. “It was terrible.”
Before the physical setback, there was a financial one at the diner, as he said the air-conditioning unit broke down over a month ago. It required a replacement to the tune of $5,000, he said.
Waiting for a sign
During the meeting with Longitude in September, signage options were discussed, including the possibility of installing one with a classic neon look. Onder said the air-conditioner replacement has delayed a new sign purchase until at least early 2020.
“Because of that A/C, we still have to wait,” he said. “We won’t see anything yet.”
Darren Pearce, president and CEO of Pinnacle Sign Group Inc., said his company has designed and presented five sign options to Onder. He hasn’t received confirmation on what, if any, are favored.
He learned via Longitude co-owner Jeremy Wells that Onder wouldn’t be able to afford a lighted sign.
“It sounds like the signage alone is going to deplete most of the money he was going to be investing,” Wells said. “It’s kind of a tough situation but not uncommon in the restaurant industry.”
Onder confirmed the neon sign isn’t part of his plans.
“It’s not a light-up sign anymore,” Onder said, adding a new wooden sign would cost around $4,000.
Additionally, Onder’s concerned he’ll have to replace a malfunctioning water heater. It hasn’t broken down yet, but he expects that repairs will be necessary, eating into his $5,000-$7,000 renovation budget.
So far, he’s just spent $600 on interior work toward 25 wooden chairs from Arctic Food Equipment to replace booths that were uncomfortable for customers.
There is other interior activity on the horizon.
Family members of employee Marsha Goehring are making a new server station to be installed by month’s end, Onder said. It will hold the coffee machine, plates, utensils and condiments, among other items. Additionally, a new register counter will be going in around the same time, with faux brick wallpaper on the wall behind it. He estimates those projects will cost around $3,000.
“We’re also going to add some lighting in here instead of fluorescents,” he said, adding he expects to utilize chandeliers.
Onder intends to install the lights himself once his back is better.
Painting the walls in a lighter color from its current gray is also in the plans, although he and the staff haven’t agreed on a color.
Longitude officials say they’ve had limited contact with Onder over the past several weeks. They understand the limited budget is putting him in a situation where some of the changes are going to be rolled out gradually rather than all at once, as they originally recommended.
“They want everything to happen right away,” Onder said of Longitude. “It’s not happening right away.”
Wells said the agency hasn’t put a clock on Onder to make recommended changes.
“My biggest concern for Omer is it’s a rubber meets the road scenario and worry that he’ll wait too long to implement changes,” Wells said.
Co-owner Dustin Myers said with past restaurant clients, there’s typically a transition period from when they make their rebranding recommendations to implementation.
“It’s been about a three-month period of them working out changes. This is a pretty drastic rebrand,” he said of the eatery’s changes, which include a new name – Klasik Diner – a positioning statement, logos and signage.
Wells said the sooner Onder can make changes, the better.
“We’re here and willing to help,” he said. “It’s just kind of him needing to take the initiative. It’s in his court.”
Aside from interior plans, a new addition to the diner is desserts that Onder and business partner Mel Yalin make, including Turkish delights, walnut rolls, figs and chocolate-covered chickpeas.
The sweets began being sold at the restaurant in mid-November, with many in prepackaged bags ranging from $3.95-$6.95.
Yalin began selling the candy in early October at a Battlefield Mall kiosk under the name Well Street Gourmet, Onder said. The two spent around $5,000 for a short-term lease for mall space between Dillard’s and Forever 21. It’s a financial investment Onder admits turned out to be less-than-ideal timing.
“It’s just for the end of December, after Christmas,” he said of the new venture. “After that, I don’t know.”
As the end of the year approaches, Onder projects to finish with a slim profit, but he declined to disclose revenue figures.
In an interview this summer, he said gross sales had ranged between $13,000 and $17,000 per month, and after expenses, the restaurant was breaking even. Onder indicated sales have improved in the second half of the year.
He sees the candy’s presence at the mall and diner as cross promotions. Kiosk visitors are given a card with a QR code that gives people a 10% discount at the diner.
“We just wanted to try,” he said. “That brings new customers who might want to try Mediterranean dishes. It’s kind of marketing us.”
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