The Great Hall Welcomes Paula Scher & Erik Oberholtzer in @BIC's Breaking Brand

11/19/2018 Unknown 0 Comments

As part of its year-long 5th anniversary celebration, BIC held a blockbuster @BIC lecture on November 6th in CCNY's Great Hall featuring legendary designer Paula Scher of Pentagram in conversation with her client, Tender Greens co-founder Erik Oberholzter.  "Breaking Brand -- How Good Design is Great for Business" was moderated by Ina Saltz, Professor and former director of CCNY's Electronic Media & Design program.  

Scher began with a presentation outlining the design rationale behind a few of the iconic brands she helped shape over the years, including Citibank, The Public Theater, Microsoft, The Metropolitan Opera, and Shake Shack. 
Scher and Oberholtzer then got right to the topic at hand: how a brand like Tender Greens is defined and the ways in which the design process elevates that identity. Oberholtzer had decided to rebrand his California-centric fast-casual restaurant chain before embarking on an East Coast expansion. He was introduced to Scher by celebrated restauranteur Danny Meyer with this bold statement: "Paula is the best in the world. She’s in the design hall of fame. You and I are not. Trust her. She’s going to make you uncomfortable, but trust her. Let her take you somewhere amazing.”

Oberholtzer chuckled as he described Scher's visit to Los Angeles. "She visited five Tender Greens L.A. restaurants and spent most of the day insulting us; telling us how folksy and awful we were. But at the end she was able to extract those qualities that made us unique. Not in terms of design but in what we did; that every one of our restaurants has a fine dining chef and the menu changes daily at every restaurant based on the local ingredients available."

These two key differentiators inspired Scher as a designer. "Tender Greens is a lot like my design for Pentagram. It's a place for a chef to work. Each restaurant is not the same; it's based on the individual chef, who they're buying fresh market things from. It's not the same every day. The menu's going to change and the food is amazing. What was strange was the logo made Tender Greens look like a vegetarian place - which was confusing - and the restaurants seemed a little hippie. It didn't seem like something a New York audience would get culturally." 
For the new logo, Scher centered on the chef instead of the greens part of Tender Greens. "The new mark is a pot and a pan with the idea being you're talking about specials which change every day. The notion of getting back to the chef was the heart of what was driving this graphically and then the modernity and the clean-ness was stylistic, nuanced and right for the period but it was driven by what the place is. That's pretty much the way we work."
How did Oberholtzer feel about the design shift from greens to chef? "It let us put the focus on tender as well as greens. It let us highlight the emotion of the brand. How each restaurant IS its chef; how we work with foster youth or daily practices of mindfulness woven into our organization. We really are a heartfelt, heart-centered business in that sense. So it really helped us change the narrative."

The Tender Greens rebrand launched a a year ago. Saltz wondered if the rebrand had been controversial and whether Scher's good design has been good for business. Oberholtzer admitted he knew there'd be criticism and risk - especially with employees and customers who were with the company from the beginning. "It's emotional. People don't like change. But Paula warned me some people would react and that it would be OK. Truth is, I struggled with it. I sat in Paula's office and needed therapy. But as she said, the important thing to remember was we were designing for the future, not for the past."

The success of the company speaks for itself. When it opened 12 years ago, the first restaurant had lines out the door. Tender Greens now operates 28 locations -  including on the east coast. And Oberholtzer plans to double the number of restaurants by 2020.

See more photos of the event in the Gallery.

This @BIC event is the third in a series of high profile lectures celebrating BIC's 5th anniversary. In September, BIC hosted "The Future in Five" a panel discussion with IPG leaders from Golin, Weber Shandwick, McCann, and Facebook which was moderated by IPG Chair Michael Roth. Last month, Barri Rafferty presented "Notes from Davos," which provided insider insights on the global economic leadership conference. 

Over the years, @BIC Lecture Series has provided a platform for industry thought leaders, including Rob Schwartz, Rob Norman, George Lois, and Michael Farmer


Paula Scher is one of the most influential graphic designers in the world. Described as the master conjurer of the instantly familiar who straddles the line between pop culture and pop art, she has won every major design award on the planet. Scher began her career as an art director in the 1970s and early 80s, when her eclectic approach to typography became highly influential. In 1991, she became a partner in the New York office of Pentagram. Iconic, smart, and accessible, her images have entered into the American vernacular.

Erik Oberholtzer is co-founder and Executive Chairman of Tender Greens that started in 2006 with the goal of serving fresh, high-end food at affordable prices — a place that would take inspiration from the Golden State’s haute food temples such as Chez Panisse and democratize it for the masses. Oberholtzer's passion for food policy has made him a strong advocate for reform in food policy issues, which "serves his higher purpose.”

The event was sponsored by BRANDING + INTEGRATED COMMUNICATIONS (BIC), Electronic Design and Multimedia BFA Program, and The One Club for Creativity. Special thanks to Ina Saltz, Jennifer Bowles, and Mark Addison Smith for helping to bring our rock star guests to campus.