By Al Barbarino
When architect Glen Coben looks at a restaurant, he sees a triangle.
“The triangle has three sides and the sides are made up of food, service and design,” he said. “If one of those legs breaks down, the structural integrity of the triangle is lost.”
So before the founder of Glen and Co. jumps into any new project, he makes sure his side of the triangle is break-proof. That means sitting with the developer of the property and the design team to understand both the service model and the critical aspects of the brand before any aesthetic details are worked out.
“How do you get the food from the kitchen to the dining room? And as important, how do you get the dirty dishes and the dirty glasses from the dining room seamlessly back into the kitchen?” he said. “If we can’t make it function, then whatever we do in terms of the way we make it look is not necessarily going to solve the problem.”
After the logistical phase, Coben shifts into storytelling mode. Each project tells its own unique story, he said, and “when you have a story, the decisions become less random.”
The formula is working. Coben has designed at least 59 eateries and — on a grander scale — nine hotels since launching his company in April 2000. Among the successful ventures are eateries like Del Posto, Riingo, Yumcha, and Brother Jimmy’s; and his hotel projects include Flatotel, The Edison Ballroom and Fashion 26.
When he designed the Fashion 26 Hotel in 2008 — in the heart of the Garment District at 152 West 26th Street — Coben told the story of America’s garment industry. It was designed to reflect the “spirit of its location,” he said.
The carpeting employs traditional weaves, with exaggerated hounds-tooth stitching; the pinstriped guest rooms feature photography of American weaves and patterns; the wall-hanging in the lobby is crafted using spools of thread; while the front desk was inspired by a sewing machine table and a cutting room studio desk.
“Look at how American garments were fabricated over the years and look at, say, Brooks Brothers versus an Italian shoe or garment,” he said. “They’re not as streamlined – and those were some of the lines and some of the philosophies that we used throughout.”
The TRYP Hotel in Times Square tells the story of an open marketplace — what Coben called a “Plaza Central.” TRYP, a European brand anchored in Spain, was purchased by Windham about a year and a half ago and caters to the European traveler, Coben said.
His task was creating an American brand that fit in with the TRYP DNA, he said. The wide open lobby features pockets of areas — a library, booths and banquets, for instance — where it’s a bit quieter but guests still feel as though they are part of the bigger experience, just as they would in a city’s central plaza.
“In Europe, a lot of the activities within a small city or town focus on public places and plazas,” he said. “Extending it to an American sensibility, Times Square was really the social nexus, or hub of a town. The grocer was there. The bank was there. All the different businesses were aligned around this small plaza or small town square.”
The TRYP officially opened on Feb. 1 and Coben looks forward to designing more eateries and hotels – and telling more stories – in 2012.
He is currently working out the details of the lobby at 32 Pearl Street, which will be a Hampton Inn and is set to open later this year. His most recent eateries include the $245 a plate Romera Restaurant in downtown’s Dream Hotel and Ursino, at Kean University.