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Ralph's Café - Philadelphia

Dec 7, 2009

By Danine Alati, Photography by Eric Laignel, Peter Paige, and Zave Smith

Ralphs Comcast CenterPerhaps for many, the word "cafeteria" conjures up memories of childhood days spent in a dark lunchroom with ladies in hairnets slinging slop onto plates, and thoughts of high design and quality nutrition never come to mind. Comcast set out to change this staid perception of the old-school cafeteria with Ralph's Café, the employee eatery set in the company's stunning new 51-story headquarters, designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern as a "friendly skyscraper" in center city Philadelphia. Locally based Daroff Design in collaboration with Gensler completed the interiors of the $750-million vertical campus, including Ralph's Café, which occupies floors 43 and 44, and has the distinction of being the city's highest company cafeteria.

"Our chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts set the vision," explains Karen Dougherty Buchholz, vice president of administration at Comcast. "He wanted a restaurant-quality space that would serve as a central gathering spot for all Comcasters. He hoped the café would have a timeless design and would be warm and welcoming, but also modern."

Named in honor of company founder and the current CEO's father, Ralph J. Roberts, Ralph's Café is the heart of the Comcast Center, serving 2,900 employees. "We wanted to create a departure from the workplace environment," notes Karen Daroff of her namesake firm, citing that no Comcast branding can be found in the bi-level eatery, even though Ralph's indeed reflects and celebrates the brand.

"The goal was to create a variety of menu and dining options, while reflecting distinctly Philadelphia experiences," Daroff explains. The design centers around three key Philadelphia concepts: the city's parks, squares, or piazzas, reflected in the café's coffee bar and break space; the different communities within the city, interpreted in the variety of cuisine stations from pizza to the Pacific Rim Asian fare to a Mexican Taqueria; and Philadelphia's famous Reading Marketplace, which inspired the Italian market style servery on the lower level. "This project was a true collaboration between the design team and food service providers," Buchholz says. "Every decision was thoroughly evaluated to ensure that the resulting design would be consistent with the goals for the dining experience."

An exposed staircase constructed of glass, maple, and stainless steel unites the two-story café, providing a means of circulating vertically. As a focal point of Ralph's Café, this staircase emerges out of the piazza part of the space, the coffee bar that acts as the central gathering spot. Sandwiched between four executive floors and a conference room floor above and Comcast University (a training center) and other workspaces below, Ralph's Café becomes the unifying element of the vertical campus. An interior color palette of red, orange, green, and blue is employed throughout the Comcast Center, but executed differently depending on locale—the executive level sports a more muted palette, while Comcast University is the most bold, and Ralph's strikes a balance between the two.

Eye-popping red and orange tile appropriately delineate the Taqueria, while blue and green tie in with theme of the Pacific Rim area. Custom-designed, internally illuminated service counters throughout the café highlight the food. The main double-height dining room not only exudes an upscale restaurant experience with more subtle colors, anigre wood, crisp white-leather upholstered chairs and black leather banquettes, glass, and stainless steel, but also features floor-to-ceiling glazing offering sweeping views of Philadelphia. "Panoramic views of the city are the artwork for the space," Buchholz notes.

Daroff says that she approached the project with the idea of designing a wow space for Comcast employees, and the fact that Ralph's has hosted civic functions has further validated the success of her efforts. Buchholz says, "What I enjoy most about this space—other than watching Comcasters enjoy it on a daily basis—is that I receive calls from organizations that want to host events at Ralph's, which gives us all a great sense of pride."

Project: Ralph’s Café at the Comcast Center. Client: Comcast Corporation. Interior designer: Daroff Design Inc. in collaboration with Gensler. Architect of Record: Gensler. Structural engineer: David Chou & Associates. Mechanical/electrical engineer: Wick Fisher White. Construction Manager: L.F. Driscoll Co. Food service consultant: Post & Grossbard, Inc., FLIK. Restaurant supply contractor: John Brennan, Inc. Lighting designer: Domingo Gonzalez Associates and Focus Lighting. Acoustician: Shen Milsom & Wilke. Furniture dealer: Resource Partnership, Evenson Best. Plant Consultant: Parker Interior Plantscape, Inc. Furniture Procurement Consultants: Macro Consultants. Photographer: Peter Paige, Zave Smith, Eric Laignel.

Wallcoverings: JM Lynne, Wolf-Gordon. Paint: Sherman-Williams. Dry wall: Wyatt Incorporated. Flooring: Roman Mosaic, Metropolitan, DalTile, James Flooring. Carpet/carpet tile: Constantine. Carpet fiber: Solutia Ultron, Antron. Carpet backing: 100% Closed Cell Vinyl Composite with Fiberglass Inter-Liner. Ceiling: Ecophon.
Lighting fixtures: Color Kinetics, Shaper, Prescolite. Doors: Wyatt Incorporated. Door hardware: Tru-fit. Glass: Ultro Glass Inc., Fusion Glass, McGrory, National Glass. Window frames: Allegany Millwork (custom lacquer wood grid). Window treatments: MechoShade. Railings/screens/grill work: Livers, Shedaker Metal Arts. Millwork: Alleghany, Premier. Solid Surface: Caesar Stone, Corian. Stone: Stone Source. Tile: DalTile, Diamondtech Glass, Original Styles, Stone Source, Walker Zanger. Resin panels: 3 Form. Lighting control: Crestron. Dining chairs: Knoll Studio, Allermuir Limited, Fritz Hansen, ICF Group, Offecct, Sandler Seating. Dining tables: Table Topics, Aceray LLC, Wood Goods Industries, LB Furniture Industries, Panelite, Miller Blaker. Lounge/cocktail seating: Fritz Hansen, Knoll Studio, Offecct. Cocktail tables: Knoll Studio. Banquette/built-in seating: Chairmasters, Allegany Millwork. Upholstery: Maharam, Valley Forge Fabrics, Ultra Fabrics, Luna Textiles. Window treatment: MechoShade. Other occasional furniture: Offecct. Architectural woodworking: Allegheny Millwork, Lumber Co., Premier. Cabinetmaking: Allegheny Millwork, Lumber Co., Premier. Planters: Architectural Brass. Signage: NW Sign Industry. HVAC: Trane. Fire safety: Conceal-lite. Building management system: Hybrid Niagara Backbone with Protocol. Agnostic System with Trane and Distech Controllers. Cooking range: Blodgett, Jade Range, Rational. Refrigerator/freezer: Hobart, Hoshizaki.

Location: Comcast Center, Philadelphia, PA. Total floor area: 37,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: 2. Average floor size: 18,500 sq. ft. Total capacity guests: 435
—Nielsen Business Media

hdtalks: the interviews

During HD Expo 2014, Hospitality Design’s Michael Adams sat down with HBA’s Michael Bedner to talk about his half-century in the hospitality design industry. View the video.



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