A Toledo institution and destination dining establishment, Tony Packo’s has an 85-year history of serving its famous Hungarian hot dogs and original recipe comfort food to patrons who appreciate the restaurant’s quirky traditions—including displays of foam replica hot dog buns signed by celebrities. People love the simple, authentic food and the Tony Packo’s story. And, you’re every bit a part of that story when sharing a meal at the original Front Street location in Toledo’s East Side Hungarian neighborhood. It’s a flashback to the past when the restaurant started in the early days of the Depression and Tony Packo’s could still treat patrons with its 5-cent Hungarian hot dogs. It’s also a walk through the ages, with the hot dog “hall of fame” a montage of signatures from celebrities, singers, presidents, athletes and other prominent guests. In fact, Tony Packo’s made the national spotlight when it was mentioned six times in M.A.S.H. by Toledo-born actor Jamie Farr. (You’ll find the cast’s photos and signed hot dog buns on the wall.)
Having been in business for 85 years, the team behind Tony Packo's had a mind to continue the Tony Packo’s fame and its unique experience while updating the concept. Tony Packo’s was planning the opening of a new location: a 2,800 square foot space that seats about 50 and is located on Secor Road, close to University of Toledo. The restaurant group enlisted in Richardson Design to rebrand Tony Packo’s and reinvigorate the concept to move it forward so the tradition will last another generation.
The challenge: refresh the quirky, authentic, familiar environment of Tony Packo’s, while maintaining its flavor, and creating an experience that would appeal to customers of all ages. What would excite young diners about experiencing Packo’s? What features do loyal customers and visitors from out of town who want a Packo’s meal expect? And, how can an updated concept honor the Packo’s Eastern European history and its eclectic style?
First, we focused on key historical features that defined the Packo’s experience: aspects of the dining environment that needed to stay in order for Packo’s to be what it is; a completely different casual dining offering than what other modern concepts provide. Packo’s is truly unique. The new concept needed to include those only-Packo’s highlights that patrons expect to find: the Tiffany lamps, the presentation of food at a service counter, a hot dog bun hall of fame, a retail department and an overall flavor of being inside an institution, someplace that has lasted through the ages. The common thread weaving together Packo’s past and its refreshed brand is its quirky authenticity. Packo’s was not meant to be modernized; rather it needed to be edited to feel just as fresh and lively as it was in the early years, when the restaurant was bustling with guests. The new concept needed to be relatable.
Designing a Fresh Tradition
In creating the new Packo’s design, the Richardson team reviewed artifacts from Tony Packo’s history, digging through an attic of the restaurant’s keepsakes. Borrowing style cues from the old union halls, the new concept includes subway tiled walls and a houndstooth flooring pattern. Playing with the patterns and scale provides a fresh appeal, including scaling up (the floor pattern), and creating patterns inspired by traditional Hungarian design. To introduce a feel of authenticity and comfort, much like the menu at Packo’s, residential touches reminiscent of dinner at grandma’s house were introduced in a modern fashion. Inspired by a traditional Hungarian tablecloth that grandma would use at family dinners, the service counter is a white quartz with traditional Hungarian pattern detailing. Hand-painted signage is simple, timeless and a reminder of painted murals throughout Toledo. As for furniture, the booths and chairs tie back to that union hall concept. Overall, the updated materials and modernized take-offs of authentic patterns in the interior, exterior, and graphic design create a relevant yet time-honored experience.
A retail component in the new restaurant includes merchandise and Packo’s proprietary goods. This, too, is designed with a residential feel using armoires and hutches with mixed-material millwork painted teal. The bright finish gives these displays a pop of color without appearing overly bold or trendy. Instead, the retail space feels like an opportunity to explore a closet of treasures.
The building’s exterior also includes traditional Hungarian pattern in the brick design. The feel of quality craftsmanship differentiates the façade and indicates to those driving by that this is a unique establishment.
A New Era for Packo’s
A significant part of tying together this fresh take on Packo’s was reconsidering its name. Rather than Tony Packo’s, this new establishment is called Packo’s Eastern European Kitchen, though the menu and food are the same. The signage supports this new name, a departure from the original typography that could have been misconstrued. The timeless logo was designed to wrap up the fun and variety of the Tony Packo’s brand, and needed to be highly legible and have a feeling of permanence, reflecting Packo’s as an establishment and destination in Toledo. The clean, bold logo was inspired by hand-painted signage and typography found throughout the city.
Guests who visit the new Packo’s near the university campus will experience the quirky-fun flavor of their favorite spot by finding the features they expect. (Yes, the foam hot dogs are certainly displayed.) Yet, they’ll also feel energized by the fresh takes on tradition, which also will appeal to a younger audience who might be pulling up a seat at the Packo’s table for the first time.
A new generation Packo’s location recently opened in Maumee, Ohio, featuring the same refreshed design, drive-thru service and patio dining.
Photography: John Spaulding Photography