Zulu Alpha Kilo’s Joy Ride: A Harley Davidson Cafe

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HARLEY-DAVIDSON had an image problem. While younger riders respected the iconic brand, they didn’t see themselves as the stereotypical tattooed bikers of yesteryear. Walking into a dealership was an intimidating experience for first-time buyers. Plus, the brand had no dealership presence in Toronto’s downtown core where many new riders live and work.

Zulu Alpha Kilo aimed to build a welcoming space that focused on the brand’s old-world craftsmanship and authenticity, and where tech-weary millennials could engage with Harley on an emotional level.The result was 1903 | A Harley Davidson Café—a nod to 1960s café racer culture, when riders would race stripped-down, lightweight bikes from one café to another. Zulu Alpha Kilo conceived and designed every inch of the temporary café to pay homage to the brand’s craft heritage. They even developed ink made from the actual coffee the café served, giving posters and cup stamps the texture and scent of real coffee.

Zulu Alpha Kilo

And it all happened fast: The initial briefing took place in January 2016, and by June 16, they had a fully functioning, 4,000-square-foot motorcycle café—no small feat considering the craft and detail that went into the project. “We looked at every touchpoint, from exterior signage, to staff uniforms, to hand-stamped packaging,” says Ryan Booth, design director.

The café concept has been held up globally by Harley-Davidson as an effective way to engage a new generation of riders, and plans are underway to bring that vision to other markets across the world. “The café was such a success that partway through our run, our client asked to keep the café as a permanent venture and attempted to extend our lease for a full year into summer of 2017,” Booth says. “Unfortunately, at that point the space had already been rented by another tenant. A sad but great problem to have when your idea is so successful, the client wants to turn it into a permanent installation.”

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Technical challenges included running a 1600cc motorcycle in a functioning café. An enclosure called “The Garage” was created with custom venting and a glass partition. Within this environment, customers could experience the feeling of riding and could be seen by other patrons, but with minimized disruption to those enjoying a latte up front.

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Title 1903 | A Harley-Davidson Café | Design Firm Zulu Alpha Kilo, Toronto; www.zulualphakilo.com | Creative Team Zak Mroueh, chief creative officer; Allen Oke, executive creative director; Ryan Booth, design director/designer; Andrew Caie, associate creative director/writer; Noel Fenn, associate creative director/art director/designer; Curtis Denomme, art director/social; Michael Headford, Jason Baker, Goldmond Fong, Laura Friedmann, Patrick Nichols, Dan Lim, photographers; George Ault, writer; Joel Felker, writer/social; Greg Heptinstall, Brandon Dyson, Ashleigh O’Brien, Andrew Martin, Amanda Braun, studio artists; and others | Printers Flash Reproductions, Toronto Ink Company | Client Harley-Davidson Canada