As a reflection of New York City's famous cultural diversity, The Emerald Planet intends to carve out an international, upscale niche between fast food and expensive restaurants.
Although many community cafes and deli restaurants cater to a local crowd with strong affinity for familiar neighborhood charm, The Emerald Planet speaks to a wider audience. This modern global cafe markets a multicultural menu in the form of tortilla wraps and smoothies to a sophisticated market of 20- and 30-something students and urban professionals.
Emerald Planet president Clay Walker and co-founder Scott Fletcher cooked up the idea two years ago while riding a chairlift at the Alta ski resort in Utah. At the time, both men were holding down corporate jobs on the West Coast. Both were, and still are, ethnic-food fanatics who, says Walker, have been "disappointed for years by the lack of good, cheap Mexican burritos, especially on the East Coast."
By the time the two friends reached the mountain's peak, they had worked themselves into a frenzy over the current state of burrito food concepts and vowed to make a change. Their resolve became the Emerald Planet in the East Village, three blocks north of SoHo in New York City.
In developing the concept, the original burrito-based plan evolved into wraps with fillings based on ethnic recipes from around the world. "We looked at the way restaurants like thePizza Kitchen (CPK) have altered conventional foods and realized we could do the same thing with burritos," Walker says. "CPK, for example, uses toppings like barbecued chicken and Thai peanut chicken as pizza toppings. We decided to do the same thing with tortilla wraps."
With the help of a culinary consultant, Walker and Fletcher developed innovative filling recipes. "The Kingston," for example, includes charbroiled chicken with a spicy Jamaican jerk sauce, mango salsa, caramelized onions, cilantro, green onions and jasmine rice in a tomato tortilla. The restaurant also features "The Bangkok," with charbroiled chicken, spicy Thai peanut sauce, ginger slaw, cucumber, red onions, cilantro and jasmine rice in a spinach tortilla.
All of the wraps as well as the fruit shake smoothies carry trademarked city names that reflect the recipes' international origins.
The menu led to an innovative market positioning. "There's a void between fast food and fine dining, especially on the East Coast," says Walker. "The Emerald Planet fills that void by combining fine dining quality food with high value and quick service. We can provide healthy, fresh, multi-ethnic hot food for less than $10 in five minutes."
Emerald Planet's Greenwich Village location lies right next to a section of the city called Silicon Alley, which Walker describes as the high-tech capital of the East Coast. In addition to the young techies, Emerald Planet's marketing area includes students and faculty from nearby New York University, a host of young music-industry executives, driven media types, fashion design hopefuls and rising retailers.
With that customer base, the restaurant environment had to be as varied and imaginative as its international menu. New York-based Ronnette Riley Architect designed the 1,700 sq. ft. space with a variety of natural colors and materials, culminating in a floor plan that symbolizes the globe or planet. Other materials that contribute to Emerald Planet's worldly feel include glass store frontage, natural and aubergine-stained cherry wood millwork, concrete flooring, stainless steel fixturing, and decor appointed with rebar and white metal accents.
"We selected colors by taking cues from the name, Emerald Planet, and from the healthy foods on the menu," Riley says. "The colors include aubergine (an eggplant color), wheat colors and several rich shades of green."
The restaurant sits on the corner of Great Jones Alley and Great Jones Street. Customers enter through the east end of the building and step onto a green concrete floor sectioned off with zinc terrazzo divider strips. The design creates a subtle curving pattern that hints at the latitude-longitude or meridian lines of a globe.
Customers move around the exhibition service counter and watch as their food is prepared, listening to the hard rock music that pours from the sound system. Eventually, the counter turns to the north and runs to the rear of the store, along a subtle curve that repeats the meridian contours of the zinc flooring dividers.
"The service counter is made of aniline-dyed cherry wood, while a belly bar made of rebar accents the area and protects the woodwork from being scratched," says Riley, adding that, behind the counter, the work areas, fixtures and hood are all fabricated in stainless steel. "We used more stainless steel than necessary on the hood, to make it a feature item."
Along the glass front or south wall, green wood stools with gunmetal legs sit in front of a counter supported by rebar legs. Above the stools, a series of 2-ft.-long goose-neck lamps with orange shades add splashes of bright color and accent the basic color scheme.
Along the west wall, a banquette, a built-in seating area, again repeats the meridian theme curve and provides seating, while the general floor space offers tables and chairs.
"At the far end of the banquette, a translucent, pewter-stained alkyd mica screen defines the end of the public space and marks a change in ceiling height," Riley says. "The eating and service areas have 17-ft.-high ceilings. When you go into the rest rooms behind the banquette or the kitchen area, the ceiling drops down, creating a less public, more private feeling."
Riley developed a bright lighting scheme for the store, using natural light from the south-facing front windows as well as from frosted windows set in the east side wall along Great Jones Alley. "We wanted the light, but we didn't want people to see the junk in the alley; so we frosted those windows," Riley says.
Riley used several track runs of MR-16 lamps to light the rest of the interior. Above the service bar, a slightly curved row of pendent lamps follow the contour of that section of fixturing and repeat the architectural theme line. The bright lighting highlights the rich color palette, while green-shaded banners hang above the service bar and display store identification.
Walker particularly likes the colorful graphic elements in the store design. "There are 12 graphic squares set above the banquette," he says. "Each square contains an image related to the restaurant. There are photos of fresh fruit, grain, ethnic art, abstract maps, aerial shots of landscape and other images."
The Emerald Planet began producing profits within six months of the grand opening. Walker says revenues have climbed to an annualized level of more than $1 million, which is in line with business goals.
Hoping to build on the early success, Walker is currently raising capital to open three more stores in Manhattan over the next 12 months. If this next stage of brand development goes well, Emerald Planets may eventually be discovered on city streets across the rest of planet Earth.
The Emerald Planet 2 Great Jones St. New York, N.Y. 10012
Architect: Ronnette Riley Architect (New York); Ronnette Riley, FAIA, principal
Project Manager: Norine W.Bagate Project Team: Roberto Bajandas and Melissa Dymock
Graphic Designers: Lisa Mazur and Esther Bridavsky
General Contractor: Metro Eastern(New York)
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: Chestnut Technical Services (Philadelphia)
Lighting: Lighting Collaborative (New York)
Tile Flooring: L.M. Scofield Co. (New York)
Fixtures: Design Fabricators (Cranston, R.I.)
Stone Countertops: Worldwide Marble & Granite (Brooklyn, N.Y.)