Consider the plight of an architect working with a brand that’s starting to franchise. On one hand is the founder. “They’ve put their heart and soul and passion into creating the brand and the culture,” says Greg Terry, design director at Studio Four Design in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop design

Finding the “soul” of a brand while still allowing operators to make money is the challenge for Greg Terry, Studio Four Design.

On the other is the franchisee. “Their No. 1 goal is to make money. Where do you find that balance between keeping the soul of the brand and still rolling out multiple units?” Where, indeed, and we asked Terry to let us peek at his drawing board, and explain how his firm approached four different concepts.
At Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, founders Meredith and Scott Layton pulled together recipes from their grandmothers and pies they made when they were kids. “That shone through in all the things that they did,” Terry said.

Searching for Southern roots

“So when we started working with them, we really enjoyed just sitting down over a cup of coffee and letting them talk as much as they wanted about growing up, and the things their grandmothers did, and the way they learned the art of baking.”

The resulting design is like “a modern twist on a Southern shotgun house.” It has the typical big windows and a porch swing out front, and a footprint of just 900 to 1,000 square feet. “It’s the mentality of Southern living, Southern hospitality, sort of a Garden & Guns lifestyle,” Terry said, referring to the magazine.

Beyond a hometown

Petro’s Chili & Chips made its debut at the World’s Fair in 1982 in Knoxville. The theme that year was “energy turns the world,” so Petro’s was based on the idea of petroleum as fuel. “The owners had this idea of cutting off the top of the bag of chips and putting ‘fuel’ in it, or food—and the walking taco was born.

“Everybody in Knoxville has known about it for years,” Terry said, but the challenge was broadening the appeal to those who “don’t even know what the brand is all about, or even care,” Terry said. “So it’s playing up the benefit of the product and how portable and easy it is to eat. It’s quick, easy and delicious.”

So Studio Four Design began thinking about how to translate that to a building. In some prototypes the back of the house is shaped like an abstract bowl, or part of the building has a curved edge. “We don’t want to create a literal bowl…but we try to keep it away from purely a box,” Terry said.

Buttermilk Sky

Buttermilk Sky’s design is a “modern twist on a Southern shotgun house,” as Greg Terry describes it.

Back to the future

Hardee’s, the legacy burger chain, is a big company with its own design team. But Studio Four Design was called in for a design exercise as Hardee’s worked to refresh their new prototype.

“They had to challenge themselves to find someone from the outside to bring a fresh idea or create an inspiration. It was just, what would somebody else do? You can get that blinders-on mentality.”

The studio did a six-week study, including a “precedent analysis” dating back to the original store to study the character and quality of the features. “The change in architecture really started to reflect the change of the times themselves. Our looking forward was kind of a look back at some of the original spirit,” Terry said.

Many buildings the team studied were from the 1950s and ‘60s. “That era was very much about being progressive, and the space age mentality,” he said. “In car design as well you had cars with lots of flair and bold gestures.”

As they charted the buildings, they got more boxed and closed in. “We started to bring back the expressive gestures and we sort of abstracted their logo with the stroke at the bottom,” he said. “It wasn’t a retro look; it had new experiences, too, but there was a hint of the roots of the brand.”

Creative, not costlyButtermilk Sky

Altar’d States is a faith-based women’s fashion retailer started in 2009 in Knoxville that now has 75 stores. It is not franchised, but its design approach begs for inclusion in this article.

All of their employees have paid time off to volunteer in their communities. They have a program called Mission Mondays, where a percentage of proceeds go back to local charities.

“One of the things the owner and I talk about is using creativity, not capital,” Terry said. “I can spend a bunch of money on these materials, and it creates a nice experience, but somebody else can spend even more money. It was using a creative opportunity to showcase something that she as a customer couldn’t see anywhere else.”

The brand is know for lacy decorative patterns, and those patterns began to be expressed in the design elements as well. Studio Four Design commissioned a local metal fabricator to forge “this enormous metal sculpture that attached to the face of the building,” backlit with LED lights. “It is stunning,” he said.