working with clients in the food service industry often means taking a leap of faith. If you are building a restaurant from the ground up, giving their concept an identity and telling their story visually and viscerally through the branding are key to attracting and keeping customers. When our client brought us his idea for a spiritually-themed restaurant that reflected Spanish culture, with a nod to Saint Lawrence (patron saint of restaurant owners and workers) we took that leap of faith and the result has been a stunning cantina with a personality unrivaled in our city.

The church and its iconography really go naturally hand-in-hand with a Mexican-themed restaurant. The Hispanic culture is steeped in Catholicism, with approximately 82 percent of the Mexican population considered practicing Catholics. The concept of family and religion forms much of its cultural identity. A number of religious and secular occasions – from Dia de la Candelaria to Dia de los Muertos, Christmas to Mexican Independence Day – are marked by feasts during which special dishes are served.

Further, each Latin American country has its own patron saint or virgin that they celebrate, with physical images of them on items from prayer candles to colorful wall prints.

We took a cue from these facets of Hispanic culture and our branding grew from these symbols of religion and custom, beginning with the name: Agave Maria.

“Agave Maria” is a mashup of the popular hymn Ave Maria and “agave,” the plant from which the base ingredient of tequila is derived. Right away, we have provided clues as to what kind of experience customers can expect before they even step foot into this restaurant.

Working with Graham Reese Design Group, the interior evolved into our client’s vision of “Tijuana Chic” in which Mexican street food is elevated to an exceptional dining experience in a funky yet authentic atmosphere. Tufted leather, handmade pendant lights from Mexico, splashes of fucsia, a taxidermied bull named La Furia (The Fury) — every detail ensures Agave Maria is clearly a bona fide restaurant, a class apart from your typical Mexican eatery where cacti and sombreros are de rigueur.

The heart of Agave Maria’s branding, however, is our collection of patron saints. While tossing around the idea of having patron saints, we found that one practically exists for anything you can imagine. Patron Saint of Tequila? Yep. Patron Saint of Chefs? Yep. Patron Saint of lumberjacks, shepherds and sensitive knees? Yep times three. It was at this point in the conversation our client had that “Aha!” moment: Why not look toward the art and culture of our city by canonizing famous Memphians — and our city has produced quite a few — and create artwork to celebrate them?

The task at that point was to narrow our initial group of Agave Maria Patron Saints to seven (a number arrived at basically because of limited wall space) while keeping a list of alternates. The idea is to later auction off our original artwork for charity to make space for rotating in new saints. Narrowing our inaugural class of saints down to seven was hard – Elvis, Isaac Hayes, BB King, Rev. Al Green, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lawler and Aretha Franklin made the cut – but we have an ever-growing roster waiting in the wings. The artwork, created in-house from iconic images of each personality that captures them in a space and time during which they were at the height of their celebrity, naturally extends into merchandising – from prints to prayer candles to T-shirts – and these have proven to be a draw for the restaurant as well as great sellers. We are also able to use the merchandise as incentives/rewards for the restaurant’s Tequila Club members.

Ultimately, we have developed a strong brand for our client in which we were able to fulfill his vision while telling a story, from decor to menu design. The beauty of Agave Maria’s branding is that it is not only expandable but is flexible geographically. We can take this concept to any city and mine their celebrity base for imagery, so here’s a shout out to Saint Bernardino of Siena and Saint Homobonus – patron saints of marketing and business. Amen.