5 + 8
A creative and branding agency in Houston, Texas

Words + Internet

A Mom & Pop Bagel Shop Made Me Question if Branding Matters

Gabe eats there for breakfast and lunch regularly. It's within walking distance from our office. I was the last one to pay The Hot Bagel Shop a visit. Yesterday, I decided to pick up some for the office. It went something like this.

My team is generally on top of their stuff, but the haste and focus of these replies were out of the ordinary.

The line was out the door. My first thought, This is dumb, I'm leaving. Yet, I was intrigued. They recently expanded and moved into a new space but it felt as if it has been there, unchanged, for fifty years. The menu is clumsily scratched on chalkboards and all signage is clearly from Word Docs (yuck). The only decor is six poorly hung letters reminding us why we are there in the first place.  The staff is uniformless and toes the line between aloof and helpful. It is the ugliest restaurant interior I have seen in years.

The Hot Bagel Shop is spectacularly unremarkableIt's as if they've gone out of their way to be the least exciting spot in Houston.

I was confused and a bit irked. As the owner of an advertising and branding agency, this bagel shop was undermining everything. They haven't given a second thought about their brand, their colors, their story or anything else we deem critical to an organization's success. Furthermore, who even eats bagels anymore? Bagels are doughy devils! I thought we ate gluten-free frittata bites now?

Am I a fraud? Maybe I should just spin this 5 + 8 thing into an English Muffin Café and cut my losses.

Of course, The Hot Bagel Shop bagels are awesome. When I told my wife I finally stopped by, she talked of their bagel dogs with zeal and was visibly disappointed when I informed her I didn't order one.

Is that all it takes: make an awesome product and the customers will follow? Maybe, but I bet there are a lot of restauranteurs and small business owners that would argue that is an insulting over-simplification.

After my digesting my bagel, here's my take:

  1. Branding means bupkis if your product is a bummer (Crystal Pepsi)
  2. Everyone loves a hole-in-the-wall restaurant
  3. A brand is more than a sign or a logo

The quintessential Ad man, David Ogilvy defines brand as, “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.”

The Hot Bagel Shop's brand is no brand. That's what everyone loves about it; that's what I love about it. So, why don't we all put up a poster board sign, scribble "hot food" on it and call it a campaign? Because ultimately, that's not our brand. That's their brand and it is 100% authentically theirs alone. No matter how much research, expert design and clever copy I compose, I would never be able to make The Hot English Muffin Shop successful. Crappy copycats will and deserve to fail. Branding, just like about everything else, only works when it's genuine.

Except for Skechers. Those sketchy sons of britches have built an entire brand on copying others' ideas. Unless... unless... copying everyone else is their brand? If authenticity is essential to a brand, can a brand be an authentic copycat?

I don't know. This post is over 500 words. That's enough from me.