Posted April 06, 2016

Author: Karin Connelly Rice

When Scott Richardson graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1991 with a degree in interior design, and again when he spent 15 years as an instructor at the school, he found that Cleveland design firms just didn’t offer the kind of conceptual design work he wanted to do.

I went to Columbus to work for Fitch,” he recalls of his time with the retail design firm. “I wanted to move back to Cleveland so I started freelancing and teaching at CIA. Then 12 years into teaching I saw all this talent leaving the town. [My students] were saying, ‘I’d love to stay but no one is doing what I want to do.”

So Richardson took matters into his own hands and started Richardson Design in January 1994. The conceptual design firm has thrived by providing interior design for consumer hospitality environments, primarily restaurants.

In its 22 years, Richardson Design has grown to 12 employees – many of them CIA graduates – and has created the look inside several of Cleveland’s popular dining destinations, from the red-hot Music Box Supper Club to the inventive concession area makeover last year at FirstEnergy Stadium. The company has built a name nationally and works on accounts across the country.

“We’re very different for Cleveland,” says Richardson. “We’re interior designers, but we approach projects very much from a brand consultation standpoint. We build brands people can scale.”

With FirstEnergy Stadium, Richardson brought in a local theme with Cleveland chefs and local elements. “In the old days you’d go into a stadium and all the food and concessions looked the same,” Richardson explains. “Now it’s all encompassing, it’s completely transformed. You go there and taste some of the best food in Cleveland.”

With the newly-opened Bomba Tacos and Rum in Rocky River, a sister restaurant to Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar, Richardson wanted to create an atmosphere similar to Paladar but with a lively rum bar atmosphere.

But the firm's most recent and highly anticipated project is that of Michael Symon’s 100-seat Mabel’s BBQ, which is scheduled to open on East 4th Street next week.

Richardson has designed many of Symon’s other restaurants, including 13 B Spot locations in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, and Bar Symon locations in Pittsburgh and Washington Dulles airports. “We’ve worked with Michael Symon for eight years,” Richardson says. “We did the original B Spot concept with Michael.”

But the Mabel’s concept is completely different. With Symon’s first foray into the barbecue restaurant world, Richardson says the venerable chef wanted to emphasize that this is about Cleveland barbecue.

“He wanted to put his own sticker on it with ‘this is Cleveland barbecue,’” explains Richardson, adding that the theme pays homage to the West Side Market, backyard and driveway barbecues and tailgating with exposed brick, picnic tables and folding chairs.

According to Symon, Richardson's firm made the mark.

"When I set out to create Mabel’s, I wanted to combine the feel of a rustic smokehouse with the relaxed, convivial vibe of a backyard cookout,” says Symon. “Richardson totally brought that vibe to life.”

It's simply about the concept and vision, Richardson says of his designs. “We’re just there to support the food,” he says. “The food and the feel support one another.”

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