Published in October 2008

Food, Fun And AV
By Dawn Allcot

Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill serves up signage and more in downtown Toronto.

This video “chandelier” in the first floor main dining area of the John Street restaurant features three tiers of four 32-inch, 26-inch and 22-inch displays stacked on a custom-built mount.

When patrons walk through the first-floor entrance of Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill on John Street in downtown Toronto, an LCD chandelier featuring 24 displays of three different sizes may be the first thing to catch their eyes. Or it might be the two, six-screen-high video towers visible from the first floor dining rooms and second-floor bars.

Visitors may pause to absorb the short snippets of video—custom-programmed clips branded “Jack-TV”—or to watch a yo-yo roll up and down the height of the video towers. They may nod in recognition at a Honeymooners clip on one of the wall-mounted monitors, or giggle as cute, colorful animals pop up in the corners of the towers.

Creativity Works

If any of these things happens, then the Jack Astor’s team, including CEO Peter Fowler or Steve Fletcher, vice president of development for SIR Corp., the restaurant chain’s parent company, has done its creative job. Likewise for the design and installation team at Toronto, Canada-based ET Group, which included senior system designer Frank Koka, partner/vice president Dirk Propfe and lead technician Rennie Nickson, who all worked closely with the client to implement a high-tech creative vision incorporating high-quality audio systems with innovative digital signage and control solutions.

“Peter Fowler, our CEO, is the driving force behind the audiovisual focus of this company,” Steve Fletcher told Sound & Communications. Fletcher was familiar with ET Group’s work through other restaurants he had worked for in the past, and knew the company would be a good fit in the Jack Astor’s chain, with its focus on AV technology to create an atmosphere. “It was a very cooperative relationship,” Fletcher said.

ET Group has installed and designed systems in seven Jack Astor’s locations to date, including the John Street restaurant and a newly revamped Square One location (see sidebar).
Of the John Street project, Fletcher told us, “We had strong design ideas about the space, and the team at ET Group knew that. They rarely said, ‘No, that can’t be done.’ They found a way to do it.”

The project includes 72 LCD screens, three projectors and 60 speakers routed to 11 different audio zones. All AV is controlled by a user-friendly Crestron system, and digital signage content is managed through a Dynamic Messaging System from ADFLOW Networks.

Focus On Fun

Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill is owner SIR Corp.’s largest restaurant chain, with 27 locations across the United States and Canada. Described as an “upper casual” bar and grill, the chain differentiates itself from competitors with quality food and service, and a fun atmosphere enhanced by AV.

“If you were to distill our concept down to one word, it would be ‘fun’,” Fletcher said. “It’s reflected in the media material we use on the television screens, the music, the specials and the parties we have. Even the t-shirts our servers wear are a little irreverent, funny, a bit edgy.”

The new 14,000-square-foot John Street location, which draws a young, hip demographic of club-goers and theater patrons in downtown Toronto, is one of three flagship restaurants in the chain. All three flagship venues are within 15 minutes walking distance of one another within Toronto’s downtown core, but each has unique characteristics and caters to a specific demographic.

The John Street restaurant was constructed from three large, adjacent, warehouse-style buildings originally erected in the late 1800s or early 1900s that, according to Fletcher, “were knitted together with a variety of architectural features that warranted more exploitation than they’d had before. There was a good opportunity to do something different with the space.”

Design Challenges

The building’s architecture posed some design challenges to convert the space into a 21st century eatery, complete with technology to keep diners entertained while they enjoy food and beverages or wait for a table. “The building, originally, was quite broken up,” Fletcher explained. “One of the ideas was to open it up so, when you walked in, you got a sense of everything that was there, even though there would be some surprises around corners.”

Patrons enter through the center doorway and can go straight ahead through the dining area, where they will encounter a hanging LCD chandelier, or turn to the right to find a large, open dining area. To the left of the entryway sit a series of interwoven dining areas, separated by arched openings, and a larger, more private dining room that boasts a skylight.

A large staircase also resides to the left of the entrance, leading to the smaller second floor, the location of two bars with a connecting bridge between them. The bridge has openings on each side looking down to the first floor, connecting the space vertically. Four impressive, 6x2 video towers comprised of 42-inch NEC LCD displays sit on either side of the bridge, spanning both floors of the venue.

Fletcher painted a verbal picture of the scene: “If you’re standing on the bridge, looking in either direction, you’re looking at these towers, two on each side. If you’re downstairs, the video tower draws your eye up; if you’re upstairs, it draws your eye down.”

Additional “eye candy” is provided by a series of 46-inch NEC wall-hanging monitors, which alternate with artwork on the dining room walls and broadcast fun images from “Jack-TV.”

The Jack Astor’s Square One main bar videowall array is in a 3x3 configuration, with five 40-inch displays on each wing.

Video Challenges

Frank Koka, of ET Group, cited the video chandelier, with three tiers of eight displays each, facing in all four directions, as one of the key challenges to the video system design and implementation, simply because it had never been done before. “With three tiers of displays ranging in size from 22 to 32 inches, we had to find three displays with the same aesthetic look,” Koka commented. “On top of that, we had to conceptualize how we were going to make the hardware and hang it safely.”

NEC monitors were selected for their clean, simple look and square bezel, which allows the monitors to fit together neatly in both the chandelier and the videowalls.

Four video source inputs from the ADFLOW Networks Dynamic Messaging System are routed through a Xantech MS1 IR distribution amp and the Crestron CP2E system, and sent to the 24 displays. Jack Astor’s staff can update the ADFLOW programming via LAN from any laptop on the Jack Astor’s network.

Fletcher said that it was important to be able to upload and change content remotely. The content was designed by Artisan Complete, a Markham, Ontario, Canada-based firm that provides strategic direction, creative development, in-house production, fulfillment and management of original signage, display and digital signage solutions.

The same system is used to feed content to the videowalls. With a budget of $250,000 for AV, ET Group worked with the client to devise some cost-cutting measures. Fletcher noted, “As a restaurant business, we like to do things in a big way, but we also like to do them as inexpensively as possible.” Koka added, “We had to balance cost, complexity and flexibility with the digital signage system.”

Originally, the client wanted to be able to integrate the images across the videowalls horizontally, as well as vertically, so a single image would span the two towers on each side.

Functional Solution

By combining the distribution amp with the DMS videowall processor and the Crestron system, and integrating the images vertically only, the integrator was able to forgo a more expensive videowall processing unit. “They needed a box with six outputs for the six screens, and then we just DA it out to the other three videowall locations, so one processor is being replicated four times,” ET Group’s Propfe explained.

Through the Crestron system, the screens can also display unique content from any source, including sporting events through the HD network. “They can bring up a big sporting event in any combination on those displays and, with the press of one button, flip it back to digital signage,” Koka said.

The client reused an older projector to display images on a brick wall for more “eye candy” on the first floor.

The second-floor bar features multiple 46-inch displays from Commercial 1, which hang throughout the bar area and receive content from any source through the Crestron system.
Although cutting costs was important, the client did not compromise on the use of HD throughout the venue. High-definition bandwidth signal is delivered over Cat5 to each display. “When you invest the type of money the client was spending, you want to make sure you’re future proof,” Propfe said. “They’re not a sports bar, per se, but they play a lot of sports, and they have the HD signal.”

High-Quality Audio Throughout

A tight budget and the need for high-quality audio characterized the main challenges in the audio portion of the installation, along with acoustical challenges on the lower level, which is separated into distinct, yet interconnected, dining areas. “The directive was to give the client even coverage and a nice full sound through ceiling speakers,” Koka said. “They want to be able to take it up to the rock ‘n’ roll level.”

The Crestron system divides the space into 11 different audio zones, each of which can be balanced independently. Multiple JBL 226C/T ceiling speakers were specified for the dining areas, with a suspended ceiling and generous space above. On the other side of the first-floor dining area, which has limited space above the ceiling, smaller JBL Control 26CTs and 26CT/Micros were installed, spread across the area for even coverage.

Tannoy iW62 TS in-wall subs were used in the dining area, where ceiling space was also limited, for low-end sound.

The upstairs bars feature a combination of Control 26CTs and 26CT Micros, placed in the corners around the perimeter of the bars for the best coverage. JBL Control SB210s provide added low-end upstairs.

“The bar area system is more like a large PA dance system,” Koka said. “We have much higher SPL and large, exposed speakers with subwoofers.”

Control System

Rounding out the client’s needs for a high-tech, yet user-friendly, AV network is the Crestron system, which uses a CP2E controller, a CNRFGWA R wireless RF transmitter, CNANT RF antenna, two TPS-4000L touchpanels and a WPR-48 waterproof remote to give the manager-on-duty control of all video sources and audio sources and volume. “Even though these are highly complex systems,” Propfe said, “our mandate is to make it easy to use.”

The integrator provided training on the customized control system for Jack Astor’s personnel. Propfe said, “Though we provide the user manual, people rarely refer to it. You just stand in front of the control panel and it’s very straightforward.”

Fletcher is pleased with the control system, and the fact that it is similar across venues, so personnel can be cross-trained to work at any of the chain’s locations outfitted with the system. “There are probably six or seven people in each restaurant capable of running the show,” he said. “The interface is graphically simple and intuitive; it represents the restaurant in a way anyone can recognize.”

Fletcher added that he was pleased with the training and after-the-sale support provided by ET Group. The complete design and implementation of the audiovisual, digital signage and control systems took about three months to complete, and Jack Astor’s John Street location celebrated its grand opening in July 2008. “I was aware of ET Group’s capabilities because I had worked with the company in the past,” Fletcher said. “When I came to SIR Corp. and Jack Astor’s, and saw what focus was placed on audiovisual, I knew ET Group would be capable of doing what we needed.”
 

Same Chain, Different Concept: Jack Astor’s Square One

During the same timeframe that construction and installation were being completed at Jack Astor’s John Street, the ET Group crew also completed a renovation of the audiovisual systems at Jack Astor’s Square One location in Mississauga (City Centre), Ontario, a suburban area.
“They are both radically different concepts in restaurants,” said ET Group’s Koka. “Aside from the fact that we are delivering high-definition video signals to a variety of locations, the layout of the systems was completely different.”

In spite of the eateries being part of the same chain, the design concepts were quite different. The budget for the single-story, 7000-square-foot Square One location was $175,000, and as much equipment as possible was re-used.

Because Square One was an operating restaurant at the time of the redesign, much of the work was completed at night over the course of two months. The restaurant closed for only 10 days, celebrating its grand reopening on July 9, 2008. Time constraints, combined with the need to use as much of the old equipment as possible in order to cut costs, were the primary challenges at the Square One venue.

The atmosphere in Square One is more typical of what one might expect in an upper casual eatery in a regional shopping mall area, with a dining room to the front and left of the main entrance, and a bar to the right. But the emphasis on “eye candy” and AV that adds to the atmosphere remains.

One of the restaurant’s distinguishing AV features is a 3x3 video display wall behind the bar, with five additional screens coming off each side of the main display, like wings, for a total of 19 NEC 4020-2-AV 40-inch professional LCD screens in that fixture alone. ET Group designed the custom curved metalwork to mount the LCDs. Four additional 40-inch NEC ceiling-mounted LCDs hang at either end of the bar. Another 2x2 videowall sits at the entryway.

Finally, the dining room boasts 10 video towers, each with two Samsung 17-inch LCD monitors. Jack-TV programming is “checkerboarded” across the room on these towers. The video towers were a feature in Square One prior to the renovation, but old 13-inch CRT monitors were switched out for the new LCDs.

The audio system was also revamped, with Tannoy CMS501 compact ceiling speakers and CMS801 subs. Crown CTs4200a four-channel amps power the system.

Perhaps the most significant upgrade in Square One is the addition of a Crestron control system. “The client chose to revamp the location because the technology wasn’t up to par with the new sites we’ve been completing,” ET Group’s Propfe explained. “Nothing was automated, and there were lots of separate remote controls. Now everything is controlled through Crestron touchpanels located strategically throughout the restaurant.”

The Crestron controller and a Kramer VP 8X8 matrix switcher allow the client to switch the 3x3 videowall from individual images to full-screen display with the touch of one button.
“After having to operate a system that involved lots of remotes and switches, the staff at Square One can’t believe how easy the new system is,” Propfe said.
 

ET Group
Toronto, Canada-based ET Group has been in business for more than 30 years, designing, supplying and installing AV solutions throughout North America and overseas, spanning as far as the Dominican Republic, Belgium, Norway and Australia.

SIR Corp., the parent company of Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill along with Canyon Creek Chophouse and Alice Fazooli’s Italian Grill, is a regular client of the full-service AV design and installation firm. Return customers and strong word-of-mouth sales have contributed significantly to ET Group’s success throughout the company’s history. “Our priority is in meeting the business needs of the client,” Propfe said of ET Group’s customer service philosophy. “Even though we’re designing the system, we have to design it around what’s most important to them.”

ET Group’s client list includes high-end audio integration and videoconferencing in the corporate market, well-known names in hospitality such as the Marriott and Hyatt hotel chains, as well as hospitals, fitness centers, retail locations and more.

Recent projects include a complete audiovisual design and installation for boardrooms, conference rooms and theaters in Teknion’s new world headquarters based in Toronto, and the installation of AV systems, employee communication systems and videoconference systems in Xstrata’s Canadian Head Office.

ET Group currently has 24 employees, and is a member of InfoComm and AES. The AV design, installation, sales, service and rental firm is currently headquartered on Front Street in Toronto, but is looking at plans for expansion in 2009.

For more information, go to www.etideas.com.
 

Equipment

JOHN STREET

Video (First Floor)
2 NEC ASPV46-AVT 46" LCD displays (dining rooms)
2 Samsung LN32A450 32" LCD displays (dining rooms)
6 Samsung 17" SyncMaster 720n LCD monitors (dining rooms)

Video Chandelier
8 Samsung LN22A450 22" LCD displays
8 Samsung LN26A450 26" LCD displays
8 Samsung LN32A450 32" LCD displays (2nd/3rd ceiling vaults)
1 Samsung LN52A530P1FXZC 52" LCD display (private dining room)

Audio (First Floor)
12 JBL Control 26CT ceiling speakers (dining room 1)
8 JBL Control 226C/T ceiling speakers (dining 2, 3)
2 JBL Control 26CT ceiling speakers (dining 4)
2 JBL Control 25 2-way 5" speaker surface mounts (dining 5)
4 JBL Control 28 2-way 8" speaker surface mounts (lower bar)
4 JBL Control 24CT/Micro ceiling speakers (washrooms/vestibule)
2 Tannoy iw62 TS in-wall subs (bulkhead)
10 Tannoy i8AW all-weather speakers (patio)

Video (Second Floor)
12 Commercial 1 C14606 46" LCD displays (main bar)
3 Commercial 1 C14606 46" LCD displays (lounge)
1 Draper Targa 120" motorized projection screen
1 Mitsubishi WL639 widescreen video/data projector
24 NEC LCD46 20-2-IT 46" pro LCD displays

Audio (Second Floor)
4 JBL Control 29AV full range speakers (bar)
4 JBL Control SB210 subwoofers (lounge and bar)
4 JBL 4215 2-way speakers (lounge)
10 Tannoy i8AW all-weather speakers (patio)

Main Rack Video Processing
16 Aten VS94 VGA DAs
7 Audio Authority video scalers
2 Kramer VP8x8 VGA routers
1 Kramer VS-801xlm composite video preview switcher
12 Minicom Advanced broadcaster 1x8 Cat5 modulators
63 Minicom Advanced remote Cat5 receivers
2 TASCAM DV-D01U pro DVD players

Main Rack Audio Processing
2 Biamp Nexia SC digital audio processors
1 Crown CTS-3000 power amp
1 Crown CTS-2000 power amp
1 Crown CTS-600 power amp
1 Crown CTS8200 power amp
1 QSC RMX-1450 power amp

Control
2 Crestron TPS-4000L 10" color LCD touchpanels
1 Crestron CP2E room control processor
1 Crestron WPR-48 waterproof remote
1 Crestron CNRFGWA R wireless receiver
1 D-Link WiFi wireless router
1 Samsung 15" LCD monitor
4 Xantech 789-44 IR distribution amps
54 Xantech 282M IR emitters
Rack
2 Middle Atlantic ERK-4425 rack w/accessories

SQUARE ONE

Displays (Bar)
23 NEC LCD4020-2-IT 40" pro LCD displays w/mounting brackets

Displays (Dining Room)
4 NEC LCD4620-2-IT 46" LCD displays w/wallmount brackets
20 Samsung 17" SyncMaster 720n LCD monitors
w/mounting brackets
5 Samsung LN26A530 26" LCD displays w/wallmount brackets

Video Processing
8 Aten VS94 4-port VGA video splitters
7 Audio Authority 1365 PC/HDTV video converters
2 Kramer VP-8x8 8x8 computer graphics video matrix switchers
1 Kramer VS-801xlm 8x1 composite video, stereo audio switcher
12 Minicom Advanced broadcaster 1x8 Cat5 modulators
50 Minicom Advanced remote Cat5 receivers
1 TASCAM DV-D01U pro DVD player

Audio Processing
1 Biamp Nexia SC digital audio processor
1 Crown CTs4200a 4-ch./200W/70V power amp
(main dining, patio)
Provo speaker wire
1 Shure SLX24/SM58 wireless mic
12 Tannoy CMS501 DC PI ceiling speakers w/back cans
2 Tannoy CMS801 ceiling speaker subwoofers
4 Tannoy CVS4 4" ceiling speakers

Control
1 Crestron TPS-4000L 10" color LCD touchpanel w/rack mount
1 Crestron CP2E room control processor
1 Crestron WPR-48 waterproof remote
1 Crestron CNRFGWA R wireless receiver
1 D-Link WiFi wireless router
1 Samsung 15" LCD monitor
1 Xantech 282M IR emitter
36 Xantech 789-44 IR distribution amps

Rack
1 Middle Atlantic ERK-4425-AV equipment rack bundle

List is edited from information supplied by ET Group.



Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer specializing in the audiovisual and health and fitness industries.


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