It's not often the spotlight shines on the individuals whose endeavors in the world of food and beverage involve marketing instead of cooking. But Ty Largo, creative director and founder of Awe Collective, is as involved in the restaurant industry as any chef or general manager.
Largo says the path to becoming a PR and marketing consultant wasn't direct. He went to ASU in 1999 to study music, but dropped out — ("Yeah, I'm a dropout," he says half-proudly). In addition to becoming an electrical engineering analyst, Largo also completed a stint as a graphic designer and, later, as director of communications with D.C.-based EdOptions. With a shrug, he says he "got bored fast with careers."
After working as a freelance consultant, Largo launched a company named Salt in 2010. Salt catered largely to restaurant businesses, and some of his earliest clients included chef Nobuo Fukuda when he was with Sea Saw and Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale. Wanting to appeal to a larger demographic than the food and beverage industry, Largo rebranded Salt as Awe Collective in 2013 to bring in a wider range of clients, he says.
The roster of clients Largo and his team have worked with is extensive, including Fox Restaurant Concepts, Virtu, Crepe Bar, and others. You can figure you've already seen Awe's work around town, and Largo tells us some of his ideas include the "Come Together" lettering on the entry doors of Beckett's Table.
Awe Collective does a little bit of everything, Largo says, from designing ad campaigns, brainstorming creative branding, interior design, copywriting billboards, and setting up interviews for his clients with publications like Food and Wine magazine. Largo says Awe Collective guides and advises clients through myriad solutions to diverse issues. Often someone with a new business idea will come to him asking for help fine-tuning a concept, envisioning an ideal space, or even deciding what the name should be. Although they're not his only clients, Largo says the restaurants he works with are among his favorites.
Successfully marketing a restaurant is about creating the full "brain experience," Largo says. "What will you read about it in New Times? When you call to make a reservation, what's the hostess' script? What music is played in the space?" Largo even thinks about the minutia of the menu, from the stock of the paper to the placement of menu items. "It's all about hitting the five senses," he says. "What's the signature smell?"
Working with chef-owners is particularly interesting for Largo. Often owning a business is new territory for chefs whose careers have largely been in the kitchen. But Largo says he feels in tune with the high stress environments of restaurants. He understands how thin margins can be, and how deadlines can add a lot of pressure to already high-stakes work.
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Largo says hard-headed chefs aren't always the easiest to work with, however. Some seem to know what they want already, and while Largo may attempt to counsel them away from bad ideas, there's sometimes a lack of the flexibility he would hope for. Because of this, Largo says Awe Collective is picky when taking on clients. "We only take about one out of three who walk through that door." Largo says he's loved working with notable chefs such as Silvana Salcido Esparza, Gio Osso, and Christopher Gross.
Right now, Largo and the Awe Collective team are working on the redesign of Someburros, which turns 30 this year. Largo shared the design board they've been putting together, which shows photos of the new logo, menu, to-go boxes, apparel, and color schemes. They needed to replace the "old, dusty look," he says, and are adding creative features to all the Someburros locations, such as painted trees outside the entrances.
Other projects keeping Awe Collective busy include a forthcoming restaurant in Flagstaff called Shift, which will combine modern restaurant design with the rural, forested atmosphere of the city. Largo has worked extensively on the branding and interior design of the space already, and shows us the logo nearly ready for release. The menu design features letterpress cross sections of tree cores, and will change seasonally along with the food offerings.
Largo keeps up with his large work load by relying on his team of co-workers at Awe Collective, who include designers, marketing consultants, and publicists. Their office is clean and bright, and features a full bar complete with an in-house menu. Clearly, the team works hard and plays hard, and their clients reap the ultimate benefits.