Giving New Life to an Older Restaurant in a Great Location: Papagus to Reel Club

Reconcepting restaurant spaces is an important business survival decision at any time but particularly in this economy. If the owner of an older restaurant is no longer enjoying the same success as in previous years, reconcepting can revitalize the establishment into a strong new venue at a controlled cost. This second story in the Infinite Ideas reconcepting series is a great example of taking such an existing restaurant with a less relevant theme and creating a new modern concept.

After: Reel Club in Oak Brook, exterior
Click HERE for before & after shots

The key to keeping the cost down is maintaining the high ticket areas in the same location. The kitchen, toilet rooms and bar areas are typically the most expensive parts of a restaurant with costs that the patron doesn’t see – mechanical, electrical, plumbing and equipment.  Naturally, equipment needs to be modified as necessary for the new menu; however, ideally in the same location.

It is important to create a substantial change and to fully execute the new concept.  High impact design elements should be evaluated to provide the greatest “bang for the buck.”  Exterior façade, main entry, lighting and back bar are a few examples of focus areas where owners can direct their budget to maximize the value of their construction costs.

Depending on budget and proforma, reconcepting may also be an opportunity to expand a restaurant space to obtain more seats, create private dining areas or enlarge the bar area in a prime location.

After: Reel Club, dining room
Click HERE for before & after shots

Last year we worked with Rich Melman and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises to reconcept the former Papagus (a Greek taverna) to the new Reel Club (an upscale seafood restaurant).  In 1996 we designed Papagus which was a remodel of a former El Torito with LEYE.  After 11 years, LEYE decided that Papagus had run its course and a new concept was developed. 

Mark Tormey and Matt Mulvihill (the managing partners of Reel Club) wanted to take advantage of the rehab to expand the former Papagus space in this very strong Oak Brook Shopping Center location.  We demolished the old façade and created a new exterior wall beyond the existing storefront to add 1,272 SF to the space while providing a totally new identity.  The new restaurant has 114 seats in the dining area and 5 private rooms totaling 76 additional seats that could be used for general dining or private parties.

After: Reel Club, bar
Click HERE for before & after shots

The expanded bar has 92 seats bringing the total seating to 282.  The interior and exterior of Reel Club is clean and modern compared to the former rustic Greek taverna look of Papagus.  Reel Club’s bar is a warm, glowing liquor display which adds a marketing element to the bar experience. Two new exterior patios (one of which is raised) provide great al fresco dining and drinking.

Review the before and after photos on this page to see the dramatic design change that was necessary to create this new, vibrant concept which has been well-received by the area.

Aria Group Architects, Inc. is a full service, 55 person architectural and interior design firm. For more information about Aria Group, go to or call (708) 445-8400.