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Culintro and Hospitality Design (HD) magazine bring you the minds behind restaurant design. Each month, HD offers a Q&A with America's leading architects and designers on new and upcoming restaurant projects. Know restaurant design: what works, what lacks, and what's in store for the future.

Cass Calder Smith (CCS)

San Francisco and New York City


Cass Calder Smith (CCS)



For the past two decades, Cass Calder Smith has made an undeniable mark in the restaurant industry, designing a multitude of restaurants across the country. Starting with an office in San Francisco, CCS Architecture now boasts an office in New York City and 30 people between the two. He chats about how the industry has changed since he started out, faring in this economy, and where you will find him dining when he is on the East Coast.


HD: Your original office is in San Francisco and then you opened one in New York City as well. Why was it important to you to be in the Big Apple?

CCS: I am from New York and always have spent lots of time there. It's the place I find most inspiring in all kinds of ways. With the work we are doing—especially West Coast restaurants—I felt it was important to do more of this from other places, not just San Francisco. We also started to work for national clients like Hyatt and so this allowed us to better service them and others across the country. CCSNY does New York work, but also quite a bit of national work, and a little international. We are currently working on a project in South Africa. From an adventure standpoint, I felt I should merge work and pleasure—so having a New York office became this.

HD: Tell us about the office. How many people? Corporate culture? Location?

CCS: It has about six to eight people; a casual design studio office like CCSSF. It's clean and modern with great lights and views. It's in West Soho on 180 Varick Street with many other architects. And it is four blocks from my loft so I walk.

HD: What is your favorite neighborhood in Manhattan?

CCS: I love this West Soho area; it's sometime called Hudson Square. I grew up in the West Village on Perry Street, which I still think may be the best, but I am very happy in West Soho.

HD: What is one of your favorite restaurants in New York City for food? For design?

CCS: For design it is the Modern at the MOMA by Bentel and Bentel. I think they really got that one right. And the food and service are very good thanks to Danny Meyer. For food, I have a few favorites: Blue Hill, Masa, and Pearl Oyster Bar.

HD: Favorite place to grab a drink?

CCS: I don't really drink much, but a beer at the Ear Inn is always nice.

HD: Speaking of New York City establishments, you recently did a BLT Steak and artisanal bar concept for the W Atlanta. Can you tell us about those projects?

CCS: They are in the new W in downtown Atlanta. This is the first BLT Steak we have done, which was about staying with their look and feel, but fine tuning it a bit based on their needs and some things we brought to the table. We are now working on others for them. The bar on the second floor of the W lobby is called ‘Drink Shop' and is a loungey place with specialty handcrafted cocktails—many of which are made with ice that is chipped off a huge block that is part of the visual of the bar. We worked with the concept team at Starwood/W to bring this to life. It's a small and intimate place that also has a community cocktail table the length of the lounge area.

HD: Had you worked in Atlanta before?

CCS: Yes, about a year before this, we had started working with Hyatt on the renovation of the original Hyatt atrium hotel, the first one by John Portman. It went on hold but is now back, so we are re-creating the three restaurants and bars within the lobby, and also working on the lobby itself.

HD: Is there a city on your wish list to work in?

CCS: London, Rome, and maybe Dubai. I would also like to do some work in Beijing and Shanghai.

HD: Is there a city you are watching in terms of growth and design?

CCS: I seem to find what's happening in London most intriguing. It's got some of the best architects practicing in the world, and all kinds of great neighborhoods, and such a vast range of chefs and restaurants, plus markets.

HD: Have to ask, in these tough economic times, how are you faring? What are you doing to ride out the storm?

CCS: I think we are faring pretty well. Business is down about 25 percent from our peak a year ago, and we were able to reduce staff a little to reflect the decreased load. We design a diverse range of project types, and so I think that is helping us stay busy. Since we do lots of custom residential work that is mainly new homes. That work has luckily been very strong. Those clients know it's a good time to build, which is true. Restaurants are still happening, but the deals seem to be taking longer and the budgets are lower—which sometimes leads to better results. We also have been doing retail and other commercial work that has helped. We recently completed the Telsa Motors showroom in Los Angeles.

HD: Your latest project the Plant is designed to LEED standards. How was it working on such an eco-friendly project? You seem to use very natural materials to begin with in your projects, so I am guessing this wasn't much of a stretch for you.

CCS: Yes, it is being submitted for certification. We do quite a bit of this type of work now, and so it wasn't anything out of the ordinary for us. It is the first time we put solar panels on a restaurant. For this and many other projects, we use as much reclaimed wood as possible.

HD: What do you think about the LEED system?

CCS: The system is pretty straightforward to follow and we will see how the certification goes on the Plant.

HD: With CCS celebrating 20 years next year, what has been the biggest change in the industry?

CCS: Three changes in 20 years: 1. A nice swing from post modernism to the diverse range of modernism being practiced today. 2. A Strong shift to sustainability 3. Related to restaurants, incredible public interest in food, which has fueled restaurant design to levels and quantities not imaginable.

HD: What is your favorite thing about the restaurant business?

CCS: Eating and that I see them as public settings in action.

HD: Most challenging part?

CCS: Functionality they are always challenging. As far as ‘feel,' getting the design to have the right feel/vibe when its done and occupied.

HD: Favorite chef you have worked with?

CCS: Mark Gordon who is the chef at Terzo in San Francisco.

HD: When designing a restaurant, what is the most important thing? Second most important thing?

CCS: First it to clarify the concept, so the architecture and design can be in sync and support the concept. Then its about bringing food, people, and design together in the right ratio.

HD: When you dine out, can you simply enjoy yourself or are you always critiquing?

CCS: It is easy for me to dine at restaurants I haven't designed, but it's a bit distracting at the ones I have worked on.

HD: What's next for you?

CCS: A vacation to some new destinations for inspiration and dining.

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