You don’t really walk into Chick and Ruth’s Delly (yes, that’s the way it’s spelled), you kind of sidle or crabwalk your way in, mumbling “scuse me, ‘scuse me” to the folks dining at the little cafe tables cluttering up the entrance. Welcome to a brand experience extraordinaire, courtesy of the little red-haired guy in the black vest and newsboy cap.
Uncle Teddy, as everyone knows him, is a brandmaster who could teach us all a thing or two. By understanding his brand inside and out, and living it to the hilt every day, he’s created an Annapolis institution. Indeed, on a weekend morning, it’s hard to avoid being stopped on Main street by tourists with the question, “Is there a Chicken Ruth’s on the street somewhere?”
The brand experience starts with the food, of course, a diner style cornucopia of hearty breakfasts; delly sandwiches with local politicians’ names (The Sen. Barbara Mikulski is tuna and melted cheese, served open face on a bagel); wraps; salads; soups; pizzas, burgers; appetizers…well, you get the idea, it’s just about anything you could imagine, most of it straight off the griddle. To be honest, the food is not why most people are here, though it is hearty and Adam Richman from Man Vs. Food did come here to challenge the Colossal Burger and Shake.
No, the food isn’t great (sorry Uncle Teddy), but the experience is one you can only get here. Let’s call it an Annapolis/American dining experience as seen through the looking glass. Remember, the place is only a block away from the oldest Statehouse in continuous operation in the nation, just a couple blocks from the U.S. Naval Academy, and up the street from Ego Alley, a little Chesapeake port where cruising sailors from all over the world dock their boats. So the clientele is varied, to say the least — suited politicians, uniformed midshipmen, bermuda shorted tourists, boater-shod townies, grizzled sailors. What Uncle Teddy serves up is The Pledge of Allegiance, announced over a megaphone every morning at precisely 7:30, old school waitresses in old school black and white uniforms who will call you “hon”, walls completely papered with yellowing photos and newspaper articles, the smell of sizzling grease and the hum of happy customers. Out front may sit Uncle Teddy’s 19312 “Faces of Valor” Buick, which he created with his own two hands. As a brand experience it is the equivalent of stepping into Uncle Teddy’s own excessive, imaginative, inclusive, American brain. it just happens to be in “delly” form.
I’m writing about Chick and Ruth’s to make a simple point. Great brands aren’t necessarily great big. They aren’t even necessarily well-designed; Chick and Ruth’s is hideous really, a designers worst nightmare, except for the fact it’s oddly beautiful. But to understand what makes a brand consistent and special, one need only walk into Chick and Ruth’s with an open and enquiring mind and to realize that sometimes restraint is not such a good thing. If you are starting from a consistent vision, maybe it’s best to let ALL of your ideas out, to let all of them have their day in the sun. Maybe that’s what can make a brand truly alive, the way Chick and Ruth’s is alive.
Thanks Uncle Teddy.