Eddie and Scott have forgotten more about their industries than we could ever hope to know, so we worked directly with them on research, conceptual framing and positioning of this community-calibrated concept.
First and foremost, Hoss had to be a place for the people of Nora. Indianapolis proper has enjoyed a recent explosion of bars, restaurants, breweries and food artisans that rivals any city in the country. However, much of this activity has occurred within our core metro area, leaving sleepier suburban communities like Nora with a prohibitive 20 minute drive between itself and all the action. This is not to say that Hoss Canteen (later to become Big Lug; we’ll get to that) was conceived in an attempt to make Nora seem “cool” or anything so ambitious, rather that the place needed to serve as the type of comfortable, one-of-a-kind neighborhood craft beer hangout that the local community could easily adopt as its own.
An integral part of the Hoss conceptual process was embracing Nora as a sort of “stomping grounds,” and accepting the community for what it is. It’s not a place for the young, swill-pounding Butler University Bros who descend every weekend upon Broad Ripple, a village community about eight minutes to the south. It’s not a place for the intentionally shabby aesthetic of the fashionable Mass Ave or Fountain Square hot spots. No, far from it. Nora is a realm of aging vinyl homes, quality schooling options, and 37-year-old accountants in need of a few beers following an intense lawn-mowing sesh. It’s a place known for being safe, but not so much for being “hip” or “with it.” (I think this is what the kids say).
If Hoss Canteen couldn’t ape the style of the typical beer geek dungeon in good faith, then how exactly was it supposed to look? Eddie and Scott were adamant in their ‘high-quality with no frills’ approach to beer and food. Traditional, quaffable beer, approachable “gastro pub-esque” food presented honestly, without defaulting to buzzwords like “artisanal this,” or “locally grown that.” And this idea would permeate the entire Hoss brand: a small, focused selection of quality offerings. Straight-forward and to the point. This no-nonsense approach toward food and beer folded seamlessly with the visual design of the restaurant brand. Clean, simple, sort of industrial-ish design, but not really. Sort of IKEA-ish, but not quite. Cooler than a chain restaurant, but not so cool that your Aunt wouldn’t feel welcome eating there. It’s not a difficult balance to strike, and after overthinking it for a while, we became resolute to avoid overthinking it.
Finally, there was the passion of Eddie and Scott as creative individuals and entrepreneurs to consider. Both of these guys are young, hard-working, successful people. They both have playful senses of humor. Eddie’s the type of dude who hates to let the conversation die, and so he talks, and talks aplenty. Scott is in many ways the opposite — reactive, quiet and thoughtful. They both like to laugh, and they both have warm, witty, not-so-serious personalities. If the branding didn’t land as a bit goofy, a bit fun, and a bit like when your dad wears a pair of just-too-short shorts only because he knows it embarrasses you, it wouldn’t reflect who these guys are. And it wouldn’t capture the essence of what made them excited about Hoss in the first place.
With these ideas in the bank, we headed into the most crucial part of our branding process — using mood boards as a collaborative art direction tool. Up until now, each of these ideas was just that, an idea. A collection of words, thoughts and insights. Now, we had to come down from the conceptual clouds and make the leap to concrete visuals. We do this by gathering and curating images, hundreds of images, from logo sketches to examples of photos, textures, typography, color palettes and beyond. These are combined to form large collages, or “mood boards,” that in turn guide our creative decision making. These mood boards are crucial to prioritizing messaging and ultimately shape the final brand strategy and positioning.
We shared these boards with the Hoss team and together discussed the merits of each idea as well as the problems, ripped them apart and ultimately built a final board that best represented their vision for what the Hoss Canteen brand experience should look and feel like.
This final board resulted in a blend of Scott and Eddie’s individual personalities, their tendency toward straight forwardness and simplicity, and just a smidgen of Nora’s suburban aesthetic of strip malls and reasonable mid-sized sedans. Their ultimate vision breathed rife with bright, poppy colors and fun illustration paired with stainless steel, corrugated aluminum and various other material nods to the sleek industrial side of brewing.
Great Divide, A Roadblock
At this point, we were all thrown a curve ball. It turns out that Great Divide, a well-known and firmly established brewery out of Colorado has a rye lager called “Hoss.” God. Damnit. Shortly after Eddie’s team reached out to politely request Great Divide’s blessing in the usage of “Hoss” Canteen, Great Divide sent a polite but resolute “Nope” in response. And since they distribute to Indiana, they were in the right to protect their trademark.
For what it’s worth, Great Divide was cordial, but that doesn’t take the sting out of losing a name you’ve had your heart set on ever since dreaming up the concept.
Just kidding. While the name needed to change, the brand essence and positioning work still held true. This gave us a wealth of ideas to wade through for developing another fitting name. To be honest, the next week was a blur and we ended up tripping into finding ‘Big Lug’ more than arriving there by any scientific method. But we found it, and it was available. And everyone loved it. While it’s easy to look back at what’s been created and say it worked out well, we do believe this ended up being a more approachable, novel and appropriate name than what we were originally working with.