The Making of Julia & Henry's

Camila Maduro
October 04, 2023 · 11 min
Inside Creative Brains

Julia & Henry’s opened up June 3,2023 in the heart of downtown Miami. Our client Stambul, a Miami-based development company, reached out to work with us on a new project. Guillermo Ramirez, Gluttonomy’s Creative Director and Gabriel DaSilva, Chief Technology Officer, walk us through their experience while working on the project that began in 2019.

Nidal gave Guillermo and Gabriel a call and planted the project of creating a food hall that aims to become downtown Miami’s revival. The project entailed creating the concept, naming, curatorship, and branding. The initial goals of the project revolved around creating something really big; for anyone to visit Miami and say “I need to go to Julia & Henry’s”. To create a spot that everyone knows.

CAMI: Let’s take it back to the day that you were briefed on this project. Could you both share what the initial discussions and goals were like?

GUILLE : Personally it was a challenge, not because of the scope of work, mostly due to the fact that the team was working from different locations. Nidal and Daniela Vicentini were in Miami, Gabo in Spain and I was in Margarita,Venezuela with bad internet.

By then, Gluttonomy had only three years in business. We were still adapting and researching the market to figure out what we were going to be. We worked on a lot of social media at that time and mainly mid to small-size projects that revolved primarily around building websites for restaurants. However, we were faced with what turned out to be a five-year project from one day to another.

It was around April -  May 2019 when the first brainstorming meeting took place.

GABO:  I remember I was in my grandpa’s house sitting at a table surrounded by trees and dogs.

We realized there were so many things we needed to do. At that point, UX was not in our expertise. We didn’t have the level of detail that we have right now. This project challenged us to build something new and learn throughout the process.

I have personally worked on big projects in the past. Projects with probably 60,000 users that had to be live, working and able to handle the traffic, but this was ahead of my expertise. I wasn’t a designer or a marketing expert. Today, I’ve built these skills, but I didn’t have them then.

Moving forward with the research stages for Julia & Henry’s. They began researching more about Miami’s timeline. Big episodes like: Al Capone, Miami Vice, Cuban migration, the alcohol prohibition and such. They went deep into Miami’s core identity to see where the value lies and which chapter of these stories they wanted to tell.

GUILLE : We met up with the client over zoom to line up ideas for the concept, and they envisioned Miami but in a very non-stereotypical way- no flamingos and palm trees.

I wasn’t able to go to the US at that moment, so I did everything I could to familiarize myself with Miami. As I researched, I realized there was a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about it too. Miami has a very rich story. People don’t know that what  Jolene is today, used to be Al Capone’s hideout. This connection was the idea.

Guillermo came across Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler, Miami’s founders. Julia, known as ‘The mother of Miami’, worked tirelessly to revitalize Miami. It used to be very isolated and Julia noticed great potential for this land. Henry was known as ‘The father of Miami’ for his decision to extend his railroad from Palm Beach to Miami. They both invested in the early developments of the city, therefore heavily inspired the name for it. 

Regarding the visual identity, they decided to move forward with art deco inspired by the mid to late 1920’s  without including its geometric lines and typographies. The colors and the choices derived from the sublimity of the very beginning of art deco in Miami. 

GABO : The initial idea was to rescue that heritage. Guille’s findings made us realize that Miami used to be something different. The other important aspect was the state downtown around 2019.

It was pretty messy, insecure, and basically destroyed.How will we be able to revive this? 

How can we bring that spirit to rebuild downtown? This question led to a campaign we created called “Witness the new downtown”.

The “Witness the New Downtown” campaign  involved both a tangible aspect and a digital one. The tangible part was grabbing a sticker, a pen and writing what you want downtown to become. Then, you stick it on the building walls.
For digital, there was a “witness the new downtown” website where you could type in and customize your sticker. After the stickers were sent out,the team took everything and put it on a digital board where everyone could see it.

GUILLE :  The idea of going to a dangerous place to enjoy something was very challenging. The campaign was born with the intention to clean out downtown and create awareness for it. We wanted to open a window to the future of what downtown was going to become.

GABO : The campaign was really strong and we had a very positive response.

MC : Did the campaign mold in any way what you had envisioned for the concept for J&H’s?

GUILLE : The campaign gave us the main street. The idea and the vision was there but the moment we directly communicated with people in the area, it was easier to come up with everything that we needed to do to accomplish the goal.

Events in Downtown were a major part of the campaign. For example, post the Miami marathon, you could visit the building and grab drinks, rest a bit and  listen to music. With every event we tried to give everyone a glimpse of what downtown could be like.

After the campaign ended, we had to align this research to the visual identity of Julia & Henry’s. At the beginning, we were more focused on selling the project than in having a graphic system. We were still in discussions with the client of what direction we were going towards when we began the design process.

GABO : I remember Guille you sat down one day and began designing and building a design system that could be used with everything, with different colors that wouldn’t compromise the actual communications, structures and layouts.

Once there was a clear understanding with the client regarding the direction we were headed towards, we pushed to include the illustrations as a part of the visual identity. 

It was very difficult to come to a point where we could integrate the logo and color palette into something we didn’t have yet. It was a lot of trial and error.

GUILLE : As a part of the branding, the tagline “Feast Miami'' is something I want to touch on as it really plays an important role in the communications of J&H’s. This tagline had several iterations that we changed over and over but stuck with this one. “Feast Miami” means “eating miami” in the metaphorical and literal terms of everything that is happening in one place that reflects Miami’s community and rich history.

After creating the small app for the campaign, the idea was to build the first website for the reveal stage. They used the campaign insights on different levels to define the branding and communication. From that point in time they needed to build up this reveal. How was the project going to be presented to the city of Miami? How will they see the benefit of Julia & Henry’s for the community?

They were aiming to be a catalyst for change and showcase the actual business and idea behind it, so other possible tenants would be interested.

CAMI : Now Gabo, how is this integrated  in terms of user experience?

GABO : In terms of how the user will navigate this, the goal was pretty much to build up awareness of the project. We ran an in-depth research of the users evaluating competitors and seeing what other food halls have done in previous years. We gathered valuable insights about the target audience.

We drove the experience through showcasing what’s happening on the first floor, second floor and  third floor. We built up the first prototype around this idea.

For a website, you need the basic info like the about us, contact us, the team, FAQ, etc. However beyond that, the website is also a tool that attracts people that would ultimately like to work with you.

The goal revolved around driving the audience from digital platforms to the business. Initially, we had an idea for building the site, yet we pivoted along the way and prioritized other pieces of content. 

CAMI : What has been a big learning lesson for you as individuals and for the agency?

GABO :  There’s always going to be a challenge and I think the most important thing we learned is that “we have a voice”.

There needs to be more trust from our side to the client side that they hired us because they believe in our work. 

CAMI :  I think it’s a very important lesson to have learned. There were many challenges and setbacks that only made you both grow personally and as professionals. For the agency it's learning first how to value our own work so others can learn to value it too.

CAMI: Now that J&H’s opened up and seeing downtown now actually becoming what every person wrote on those stickers, how does that feel for you both?

GABO:  I was in Miami at this time for Lengua Conference. The site went live. I walked over to Nidal and I gave him a hug. “We did it.”

I felt relieved because it was a heavy weight project. Status after status, passing the project one year to the next and then finally seeing the result.

At the end of the day, you see everything working, you see people enjoying it, and you say,  “okay, we have done something. We changed a little bit of some people’s lives and this is why we do this.”

Design, development, and creating products in general it’s about making people happy. It sounds idealistic and all, but if you release a product and you change someone's  life, you’re hitting the goal.

It was cool. A sense of relief and that feeling of accomplishment to know we were a part of this.

GUILLE :  For me it was like going through the stages of grief. Julia & Henry’s opened up coincidentally on my birthday and it took me back to my little self in Margarita, without any signal just doing something from a distance that maintained itself in a certain way.

When it opened up, it felt like a pat on the back to have had this opportunity and had given it my all. At the same time, I would’ve wished some aspects of it to have turned out differently.

There is a lot of positive feedback and yet I still believe there are always so many things that can improve once the project starts running.

GABO : That is very true and one thing at Gluttonomy that we have also discussed internally is how hard we are on ourselves. This has helped us grow and yet it has pushed us to “it can be better.”

GUILLE :  I see J&H’s as Gluttonomy’s thesis that took us from a company that was very new in terms of our expertise and now to a company that masters UX/technology platforms, branding, marketing and curatorship.

It provided us with the credibility that we can do this. Gluttonomy is just starting. The team keeps growing and we’re always looking for better ways of doing our work but always maintaining our core identity as an agency.

Read more about Julia & Henry's curatorship here.

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