A Chinese restaurant chain ran into some unusual design problems when it set out to create a unique entryway icon for its establishments.
P.F. Chang's China Bistro Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., opened its first restaurant in July 1993. Restaurants in the chain, which features traditional Chinese cuisine in a contemporary setting, feature replicas of huge ancient horses.
Creative designer Kelly Fleming originally envisioned the horse placement, which the firm used first in Newport Beach, Calif., in 1994 at its second location. Her husband, Paul M. Fleming, founded the business.
Pairs of horses for the first nine bistros were carved from polyurethane foam but, in this application, the polymer material lacked sufficient structural integrity to withstand a hurricane, fire or vandalism.
``We had to think how to reinvent the horses,'' said Brian Stubstad, corporate director of design and architecture.
In 1999, P.F. Chang's commissioned English sculptor Derek Howath to carve a horse maquette and, once the model was approved, two bodies and four opposite-facing heads.
The horses symbolize China's original Forbidden City, which was built for Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who reigned from 246-210 B.C. The original horses were sculpted of 3-inch-thick terra-cotta clay.
Once Howath's creations were complete, Chang had them delivered to specialized fiberglass fabricator William Kreysler & Associates Inc. in American Canyon, Calif. The main challenge was ``choosing a cost-effective method of making the silicon rubber molds,'' Kreysler said.
Materials include fiberglass-reinforced polyester composites. A post-applied polymer concrete surface is sandblasted and finished with acrylic stains to achieve the antique appearance.
P.F. Chang's has paid dearly for the museum-quality horses, but likes the style. Installation of a pair of 11-foot-high horses, their pedestals and lighting costs $40,000-$50,000 per location. Virtually all of the 67 bistros have entryway installations. About two-thirds have the 11-foot-high, 990-pound version of the horse. Others are 71/2 feet high and weigh 380 pounds each.
``The horses have become a strong statement for us,'' Stubstad said.
Some customers note that when they see the horses riding on a flatbed truck from Kreysler's shop, they know P.F. Chang is going to open a new restaurant.
Initially, Kreysler's rural setting and seemingly informal approach worried Stubstad, who was embarking on a million-dollar transaction. Subsequently, Kreysler has introduced Stubstad to ``an elite group of artists'' such as Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, he said.
P.F. Chang's, which trades on Nasdaq, reported 2001 sales of $318.8 million.