JJ’s Red Hots: A Logo Design Case Study

Editor’s Note: The following case study is excerpted from LogoLounge 9.  [Find LogoLounge 9 in MyDesignShop.] For more examples of great logo design, check out past winners of the HOW Logo Design Awards, and be sure to enter your work by Early-Bird deadline Oct. 7th, 2016. (That’s tonight!)

Jonathan Luther grew up outside of Buffalo, New York, where eating Red Hots hot dogs was a rite of passage. So when he was looking to start a restaurant with his dad in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, hot dogs were top of mind. “I couldn’t find a good hot dog in town, so I decided to open my own place.” He hit the road with a “camera and fork” going to all the major hot dog markets in the country, taking copious notes on the flavors and décor of every place he dined. When he returned from his travels, he was ready to get down to business, so he contacted designer Matt Stevens to discuss the brand direction for JJ’s Red Hots.

Stevens has been a designer for twenty years, doing a mix of branding and identity work as well as illustration. Luther discovered Stevens’s work on a website and really liked his style. He was even happier when he found out Stevens was local. “Jon had a lot of brand attributes already down on paper and had a working menu put together,” Stevens says. “He had traveled the country taking photos of some of the most classic, revered and well-known hot dog joints. We spent a lot of time just reviewing that reference together. The mascot direction was something we knew we wanted to explore, but it was only one direction out of several presented.”

“We wanted the logo to have a bit of a diner feel,
but not lose that roadside hot dog stand feeling as well.
—Matt Stevens

Matt Steven's logo design process for JJ's Red Hots

This logo design captures just the right personality of JJ’s Red Hots, working in tandem with the typography.

Stevens’s early iterations of the hot dog mascot had a devilish connotation—even holding a pitchfork. Luther liked the spirit and humor of the mark, but wanted to tone down the devilish qualities. “Getting the mischievous facial expression was key. It wasn’t specifically in the brief, but that attitude was definitely there all along,” Stevens notes. The pitchfork was replaced with a proper grill fork and grill marks on the body communicated how the product is prepared and what differentiates it from other hot dog restaurants. “Our Red Hots are always grilled, never boiled,” Luther says.

“We weren’t trying to capture something in a time capsule, but wanted
it to feel like it 
had been influenced by all these classic things.”
—Matt Stevens

Early iterations of the JJ’s mascot were devilish and didn’t have grill marks. Stevens worked closely with Luther to achieve just the right personality for the character—fun and irreverent.

Early iterations of the JJ’s mascot were devilish and didn’t have grill marks. Stevens worked closely with Luther to achieve just the right personality for the character—fun and irreverent.

The logo had to strike a balance between classic and modern influences. So he paired the logo with a modified version of the font Outage, which complements the hot dog’s form and isn’t too clean. Stevens says, “It looked like a face that has been around for a while, which is how Jon wanted JJ’s portrayed.” It has definite roadside appeal when used for signage on the exterior of the building.

JJ’s Red Hots is a classic culmination of the best hot dogs from around the United States, featuring nine signature dogs. Each dog has its own logo featured on the menu. For instance, Joliet Jake, a Chicago-style hot dog, features the Windy City’s skyline, and the Dirty Jerz has a distinct Jersey aesthetic. “Jon came up with the names and that’s what inspired the graphics,” Stevens says. JJ’s patrons were encouraged to collect logo pins for their favorite dogs as part of a rewards program in the restaurant rollout.

Since opening its first store in Charlotte, JJ’s has opened two new locations, and Stevens continues to collaborate with Luther. “Matt has been instrumental in helping us with the brand and everything associated with it. We have a great relationship that continues to this day,” Luther says.

Matt Stevens' logo design process for JJ's Red Hots

Early studies included more handmade looks, ranging to diner signage all the way to cleaner, more midcentury inspired designs. The final logo needed to be a combination of the clean diner look, yet retain the character of a mom-and-pop shop. The chosen type had that clean diner feel and the inclusion of the character kept the desired personality.

Matt Stevens' logo design process for JJ's Red Hots

For each of JJ’s nine signature hot dogs, Stevens designed a representative logo. These logos are featured in the menu and on pins that were given away to customers.



Matt Stevens' logo design process for JJ's Red Hots

This fun pattern is featured on the food basket liners, working in concert with condiment drippings and all.

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