Centering a restaurant around a popular movie or television show is not a new concept. Versions of Tom's Restaurant (Seinfeld), Central Perk (Friends) and even the Krusty Krab (Spongebob Squarepants) are open to customers, for example, just to name a few. But when the public got wind of plans for Rue La Rue Café, a restaurant devoted to The Golden Girls, the buzz appropriately sizzled like Blanche Devereaux after a new man. The café, which Michael J. LaRue opened with Mark Bish as a tribute to Bish's mother, Rue McClanahan, only recently opened its doors to customers. If the restaurant succeeds, it undoubtedly will be because it got one business concept very, very right, demonstrating emotional branding at its best.
The beloved series in a nutshell
The Golden Girls was a comedic television series that aired from 1985 to 1992. It centered around four characters--Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), the Southern belle, Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), the sarcastic voice of logic, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), the fiery Sicilian and mother of Dorothy, and Rose Nylund (Betty White), the sweet-tempered farm girl with a few peanuts missing from the mental jar. The members of the quartet survived all manner of crazy plots together, but it was the honesty, support and genuine friendship they shared that made the show a hit. They weren't just roommates. They were family who loved and understood each other.
Why the show was a hit (and gives the café an amazing chance)
As described by Isaac Oliver of The New York Times, the new Golden Girls café is filled with show memorabilia and decorated to mimic the set. Episodes play steadily and are turned up when live entertainers take breaks. The menu is filled with foods reminiscent of the show or shared by the cast. In other words, at every turn, there's a taste, a color, a sound, something that can spark an emotional memory related to the show.
And why is that likely to work more effectively at Rue LaRue Café than at other theme restaurants? Because as hilarious as The Golden Girls was, it dealt with extremely serious issues, confronting harsh personal realities, fears and dilemmas. "It taps into something that we all share as human beings," LaRue says, "a fear that, as we age, we're going to become irrelevant and alone. The show is a tonic for that fear. It says you can still look good and have sex and have a very full life, with friends."
And as fans of the show are quick to point out, The Golden Girls was highly progressive and feminist in nature, taking on topics such as gay marriage, race and prejudice, the visibility of the disabled, poverty and more. In an interview with Out Magazine, the show's creator, Susan Harris, said, "We liked to tackle -- not outrageous issues -- but important issues. Things that I knew that people went through that hadn't been addressed on television."
Subsequently, when people walk into Rue LaRue Café, they're not just reliving the show's past. They're reliving their own past (and perhaps, even their present). They feel understood and at home, free to be themselves. Unspoken anxieties somehow are out in the open, even if no one says a word. That's the ultimate goal of any type of emotional branding, to make buyers feel connected, safe and supported. In this sense, the restaurant is an exceptional model for just about any company.
And of course, the fact there's cheesecake--the food the beloved characters bonded over countless times--doesn't hurt.