Previously this full-service sign company had generated some standout sign work for franchisees Marc and Leann Kieffer at their Mellow Mushroom location in the Myers Park neighborhood of nearby Charlotte.
Mellow Mushroom is a national pizza bakery/restaurant franchise that avoids the “cookie-cutter” feel of other same-old-same-old chains by actively encouraging each of its eateries to tailor their locale to their own vision. They only ask for an “immersive experience of color, art, music, and light” to “escape from the mundane.”
Well one thing you’d never call Rite Lite Signs is “mundane,” so the Kieffers brought them to the attention of Mellow Mushroom corporate, which in turn led to work at another of its restaurants in Anderson, South Carolina.
So when the Kieffers decided to open a new Mellow Mushroom at an upscale outdoor shopping center in the Ballantyne neighborhood of Charlotte, they invited Rite Lite onboard.
Cornelius took photos and measurements of the then-vacant, two-story building for sign design ideas. For additional inspiration, he also looked at the Villa Antonio Restaurant’s illuminated sign at the same complex they’d worked on a few years earlier.
Since this Mellow Mushroom was located on the corner of a busy intersection, this meant the need for two signs!
Rite Lite Designer Jim Jenkins custom-designed a 4-foot-tall-by-15-foot-long identity sign illuminated with LEDs to be placed over the 29¼-foot-long curved front entrance. He also drew up a set of contoured panels featuring exposed neon and open-face channel letters for placement along the side elevation of the restaurant. One measured nearly 17 feet in length and the other 23 feet, 3½ inches.
Interestingly Mellow Mushroom has no corporate specs regulating its restaurant’s sign designs.
(Note: Signage only needs corporate approval before build-and-install.) This freedom allowed Rite Lite to get even more creative.
“Mellow Mushroom corporate wants something cool, something interesting, and something that sticks out,” says Cornelius, “so [Jenkins] had free rein.”
Today’s Special: Front Entrance Sign
The colorful front entrance sign was actually crafted in two sections: top (the mushroom cap and stem) and bottom (letters, rocks, and grass).
The mushroom cap and stem, grass, and rocks are all carved from Sign•Foam HDU. Carving was accomplished via CNC routers, hand files, and saws.
The underside of the mushroom is a clear acrylic lens decorated with a vinyl digital print.
The “Mellow Mushroom” copy is a combination of Sign•Foam HDU and ½-inch acrylic, push-thru channel letters. Second surface 3M 3630-43 Light Tomato Red vinyl was added to the push-thrus.
The sign is multi-layered. The purple grass and yellow-green stones are on top of a black pan that crosses the entire background of the sign letters, while a secondary pan works in conjunction with that one to create the mushroom itself.
“We made the mushroom cap more than just a hump,” explains Vice President of Operations John Sullivan. “We carved dimensional creases into it and, through the use of stand-offs, it comes out eight inches off the panel. This makes it look bigger than it really is.”
Lead Fabricator/Structural Designer Eric Wray envisioned a pyramid when creating these rough shapes and carvings. He began by using a CNC router to fabricate the outside shape in a tiered format. He started with the base of the cap, then came in a couple of inches and created the next layer and then the next layer. Later he came back and started carving. Wray was able to quickly fab everything so that all the layers and pieces would be able to line up properly in construction and installation.
Rite Lite Signs spray-painted the mushroom cap using Akzo Nobel Magenta Pearl with Purple Pearl Accents and the stem with Akzo Nobel Light Yellow Pearl with Yellow Pearl Accents. The yellowish-greenish warts on the mushroom appear courtesy of Akzo Nobel Green Pearl.
For the grass, Rite Lite used Akzo Nobel Purple Pearl with Light Purple Pearl Accents. They painted the rocks with Akzo Nobel Green Pearl with Light Green Pearl Accents.
The letters were spray-painted using Akzo Nobel Black and Yellow Pearl and the background Akzo Nobel Black.
“We used pearlescents to create a little more depth and a little more character,” details Sullivan. “Combined with the clearcoats, this gives a nice sheen to the sign when the sun hits it.”
Side Order: Side Elevation Sign
The side elevation sign is a just-as-colorful combination of neon, spherical shapes, and “Mellow Mushroom” copy. It features a two-inch pan, four-inch open-face channel letters, five-inch open-face border channels, and an aluminum background panel.
One reason for the use of bright, bold neon was simply to be noticed. “We wanted this sign to be a landmark,” says Cornelius, “so when people ask, ‘Where’s such-and-such a place?’ then someone can respond, ‘When you see the Mellow Mushroom sign…’”
Here Rite Lite Signs had to carefully determine how to lay out the loads for the transformers. “We had to get creative as to where to start and stop units, in order to match up footage for achieving the best efficiency on the load,” remarks Sullivan. “A five-foot circle has a fifteen-foot circumference, which adds up glass real quick.”
Rite Lite painted the face of the two-inch pan with Akzo Nobel Silver with Yellow Border and its returns with Akzo Nobel Yellow. For the open-faced channel, they painted its channel and returns with Akzo Nobel Purple and the letters with Akzo Nobel Red.
Order Pick-up: Reaction!
The straightforward installation took about a week (and very close to the grand opening date). Installer Tim Shaffer and his team used cranes and boom trucks to guide the side elevation sign to the wall. The bottom of the sign is situated nearly fifteen feet off the ground just underneath the second floor deck. Shaffer aligned the left edge of the sign with the left-most window mullion.
Since the front entrance sign faced a courtyard area, Rite Lite employed cranes and a scissor lift to put it in place.
Reaction has been phenomenal—and not just from corporate and the Kieffers. “Several of the neighbor tenants have even made comments about this new sign and how it’s drawing attention to them as well,” says Cornelius.
Photos courtesy of Rite Lite Signs.