Harley-Davidson licenses new cafe

THE 'HOG' TAKES ON MANHATTAN

June 30, 1993|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,New York Bureau

NEW YORK -- Coming this fall, the memorabilia-filled tourist bastions in midtown Manhattan will have a new competitor: the Hog.

Harley-Davidson, the easy-riding motorcycle company whose rumbling "hog" motorcycles were once synonymous with tire-squealing rebellion, is planning its latest foray into Mainstream America by licensing a cafe.

A cafe?

"We felt it was a non-threatening way to introduce our name to customers. Many were familiar with our name but maybe wouldn't have wanted to try us," said Art Gompers, who heads marketing and licensing at Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc.

Harley already licenses items like clothes, coffee and pins, but this is its first foray into restaurants.

Like the nearby Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood tourist attractions, the Harley-Davidson Cafe will be filled with nostalgia-invoking totems, such as old motorcycles, huge U.S. flags, eagles and pictures of movie stars who have ridden Harleys. A gift shop will offer an array of Harley goods.

A new twist will be "interactive" gadgets, such as a Harley simulator that will give patrons the sensation that they are cruising Route 66. Video screens will tell the company's 90-year history, while an hourly movie and light show will entertain.

"We plan TV specials and Disneyesque theatrical approaches. I want to create the buzz on the street that you can go inside and sit on a Harley," said Tom Cantone, the cafe's marketing director.

With a prime midtown location at West 56th Street and 6th Avenue, the restaurant will accommodate 450 people and feature traditional "road food," such as chili and hamburgers, as well as slightly more sophisticated blue-plate specials, said Marc Packer, the restaurateur awarded the licensing agreement.

Mr. Packer, who also runs Wolf's Sixth Avenue Delicatessen one block away from the new cafe, said he has hired top talent in both cooking and special effects.

A Harley rider himself, Mr. Packer said he approached Harley-Davidson two years ago after he noticed that the company was "going mainstream" and had successfully turned the corner financially after being threatened by Japanese competition. The company agreed to license the name and logo to him and provide him with memorabilia and advice, but does not own or operate it. Harley-Davidson will receive a fee, but declined to say how much.

The cafe is another step in this race to respectability. Despite publicity in movies like "Easy Rider," in which Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda raced their bikes across counter-culture America, the company found that it could best survive as an upscale company.

Dave Speights, editor of the Silver Spring-based demographics magazine American Marketplace, said he noticed the change when taking a bus tour of Hollywood two years ago.

"The tour guide told us that we were going to see bikers but not to be afraid, they were yuppie bikers who had spent thousands on their bikes and were on Melrose Avenue to be seen," Mr. Speights said.

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