Talking With: Steve Starr, President of starrdesign

Steve Starr, the restaurant and retail designer, has been confused with Stephen Starr, the restaurateur. In fact, there are two funny stories you can ask him about. He likes to talk. The starrdesign President spoke with Modern Restaurant Management magazine about the design process, challenges facing the restaurant industry and why he calls Charlotte, NC home.

Starr and his team have a client list that includes Mellow Mushroom, Panera Bread Company and Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, among others. They work to establish uniquely compelling brand identities through the design process.

Steve Starr
Steve Starr

“I’m hyper-focused on setting up the proper expectations of a brand design for a restaurant. The experience is not just about the food. It’s about the vibe. The dining experience as a form of entertainment with high-quality food is really driving the market.

He thrives on both the creative process and by surrounding himself with innovative people, who “fill up his gas tank” with energy and creativity.

“I’m really thrilled by what we do and seek out great people,” Starr said. “It breeds innovation in operations and allows for a very interactive dialogue in the process. I don’t care who came up with an idea. You can take a good idea, flip it, tweak it and go to amazing places.”

A new concept can’t wait three years for a new development.

The real estate landscape continues to be a main challenge for the restaurant industry, according to Starr.

“There is a lack of supply of Class A restaurant space, not enough supply for demand across the nation. Some markets are more aggressively building new space than others primarily because we are still feeling the effects of the recession. There’s just not enough out there.”

He believes this has a fortunate upside of creating pockets of dining destinations with concepts actively seeking to revitalize B and B+ properties.

“It’s brilliant, really smart development that caught my eye. They are trading lower rent for higher concept. In the process, they are creating the ‘Wow’ factor and adding vibrancy and vitality to the locations that had been overshadowed by newer developments. A new concept can’t wait three years for a new development.”

Starr takes a pro-Millennial stance.

“Not enough attention is being paid to millennials. They will have a staggering effect on spending and their influence will continue to grow over the next five to ten years.”

Though he has lived in other parts of the nation, Starr chose to base his operations in Charlotte because he appreciated the city’s openness and “character of the sense of opportunity.”

“Here, you are always welcome to the table and if you have something interesting to say, people will listen.”