Chicago Scenic joined forces again recently with long-time design partner JRA to reimagine the new Bush’s® Beans Visitor Center in the rolling hills of Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.
The result is a popular and entertaining experience that newly celebrates the history of the family-owned company, beginning with its first cannery opening in 1908.
JRA designed the Center’s interior to resemble a vintage store; large black and white “A.J. Bush & Co. General Merchandise” signs are affixed to the building exterior and the wrap-around porch welcomes visitors.
The Center’s interior features graphics and simple interactives designed to engage visitors of all ages as they learn a bit of company history and enjoy a behind-the-scenes video tour of the process. Visitors can also take a break in the Bush’s® Family Café, browse the gift shop, and enjoy some Southern hospitality.
Jim Mallerdino, senior project manager, and Jon Harvey, director of Production, collaborated on this project. “Wherever possible, the Bush family wanted to re-use original artifacts and materials in the reconstruction,” Harvey said. “To accomplish that, we re-worked 200-year-old timbers, manipulating them to seamlessly fit into the Center’s new design. We also incorporated a wooden mantelpiece – pulled out of an old barn—over the interior fireplace, and hung various family artifacts, many scoured from various Bush family homes, on the Center’s giant history wall.
“One of the more memorable things about this project was creating the giant, realistic bean can that became such an iconic part of the Center but presented an unusual set of challenges along the way. We built a wood frame to create the shape of the can, then bent ridged steel to surround the frame,” Harvey said, “but the screws used to attach the steel to the wood frame kept randomly popping out.”
“Then the edges of the steel didn’t lay flat, so we used a combination of grinding and applying three coats of Bondo, then sanding the exterior smooth using HEPA sanders before applying a vinyl graphic wrap. Applying the graphic wrap required a ‘cleanroom environment’ so we used pipe and drape and Visqueen to construct that environment onsite,” added Harvey.
The Chicago Scenic team also worked closely with interactive firm Hildebrand & Company to create the Bean Cleansing interactive which features color-coded balls that represent water and dirt. Visitors turn a crank that sends the balls up an auger chute until they reach the top and fall. The balls fall into different spaces, representing the separation process that occurs during bean cleansing. While the interactive appears simple and straightforward, it required prototypes and extensive testing to ensure that the final product was reliable and repeatable.
We also created the U.S. Bean Sourcing graphic—the 10-ft. by 30-ft. backdrop made of curved lumber and ¾" Sintra. The background graphic, provided and installed by graphics partner Moss, shows locations around the U.S. where the company sources its beans.
“Considering our location in the Tennessee hills”, Harvey said, “finding a good local labor source was a bit of a challenge until we found an IATSE Union chapter across the border in Abingdon, Virginia. “Those guys were the hardest workers, easygoing guys, great stagehands. They really understood when to play and when to work. I can’t say enough good things about working with that group,” he added.
Jon Harvey mentioned something else memorable from the project: eating great Southern meals in the Bush’s® Beans Café every day. “By the time I left, I knew every item on the menu, including the daily specials—country fried steak, catfish, the BBQ platter, and the famous Pinto Bean Pecan Pie. And, every day, lunch included a sample of ‘the bean of the day’”.
Visiting Tennessee soon? Add a stop at Bush’s® Beans Visitor Center to your road trip plans. Hours vary depending on the season, so call ahead, 865.509.3077, for the current schedule.