It’s the great Coney Quest!
Before starting our own Coney Island that puts all other Coney Island restaurants out of business, we toured three different Coneys in East Lansing to get a feel for competitive analysis.
We’re not really going to start a Coney Island restaurant. However, in learning about the process of entrepreneurship and starting a business, this Coney Quest assignment gives us an opportunity to see how competitors differentiate themselves in their market.
What follows is a series of categories in which we compare Hannah’s Koney Island, Leo’s Coney Island, and Sparty’s Coney Island Restaurant. The point isn’t to establish a winner. Instead, we want to see what sort of differences there are between restaurants in the same genre.
Hannah’s Koney Island started in 2013, and with this relative youthfulness comes a clean and modern-looking menu layout. From the sans-serif type to the simple, unobtrusive color scheme, we found this to be easy to navigate.
The Leo’s Coney Island in East Lansing is just one of a larger chain of Leo’s restaurants, and its menu uses slightly more complicated visuals, including actual images of their food (it costs money to develop food glory shots). The red, grey and black color scheme matches their logo, which helps build consistency in their brand.
Sparty’s Coney Island Restaurant has a menu that fits their hometown-diner feel with a timeless, comfy family restaurant appearance. While not a chain, their red logo matches their red lettering outside the building, which is something we didn’t see at the other local place, Hannah’s.
With more than half of the menu devoted to breakfast, Hannah’s Koney Island knows how close they are to the east side of Michigan State University’s campus. Not to mention that breakfast is served all day and we all know how college students love breakfast during non-breakfast hours. MSU student Andrew Birkle and his friend Robert Smith from Eastern Michigan University happened to be eating early in the afternoon, and commented on the perks of convenient, cheap, and tasty food.
“Every time I’ve visited [Andrew], you know, he said this is the place to go. There’s good breakfast, a good variety of food,” Smith said. “I’ve had many Coney breakfasts – reasonable price, good food.”
“I love getting Coney Dogs for lunch time because it’s more of a lunch food,” Andrew said. “It’s cheap, and you can’t really get it at any other place than a Coney Island.”
The Hannah’s menu also includes a kids menu section and a short story on the restaurant’s origins.
Considering the proximity to the north end of campus, Leo’s Coney Island only has roughly a quarter of the menu devoted to breakfast foods and the specials are only available until 11am Monday – Friday. However, this menu offers the largest range of options from the places we visited. Leo’s doesn’t include a kids menu section, which would make sense considering how most college students don’t have kids. This is puzzling because Leo’s is a chain and can be found even in non-college towns. We also find a dessert and origins section on this menu.
Sparty’s Coney Island Restaurant fills almost half their menu with breakfast options, where all but the specials are available all day. Many options on the menu follow a “Name’s Food Item” format, which makes meals stand out, unlike the other local Coney places. We also don’t see a kids menu or an origins section, but they do offer dessert options.
Waterfront paintings and a flamingo statue adorn some of the walls in Hannah’s Koney Island, a Ms. Pac-Man machine sits in the entryway, and Valentine’s Day decorations hang behind the counter. While there didn’t seem to be a committed theme to the artwork, it adds a personalized touch to the dining area.
There can be no mistaking that Leo’s Coney Island is located in East Lansing, right next to MSU’s campus. Big pro-Spartan posters and photos hang on much of the available wall space, solidifying the understanding that MSU students are regular customers.
Old-timey posters and advertisements, framed old newspapers, and other fun wall art gives a curious customer lots to look at. Even things like an older The Three Stooges poster, which doesn’t relate too much in the area (some may argue that), does provide a unique and personalized feel for the restaurant. And this makes sense, because Sparty’s Coney isn’t a chain.
Hannah’s Koney Island has a local gathering place feel. There is not a visibly heavy MSU influence despite the proximity to east campus. Most workers are adults and customers include college students and adults.
Leo’s Coney Island has a pretty uncluttered, reasonably modern look inside. All the Spartan paraphernalia appeals to the main market of college students and related visitors. During our visit, this restaurant had the highest proportion of college students both working there and eating there.
Sparty’s Coney Island Restaurant had a much more distinct family restaurant feel inside. It’s also the only one with “restaurant” in the title. The lighting is a bit darker and warmer, and the bar seating in front of the cooking area that gives impressions of no-fuss, greasy good food. We saw the highest amount of non-college students both eating and working here, which may correlate to the largest distance from campus.
In The End
There is no objective “best” Coney Island restaurant in East Lansing, but people certainly have their favorites. It’s possible that people make choices based on undeniable factors like menu sizes and prices. We can see pretty clear similarities between these three competitors, which means these must be things that a Coney restaurant must do to survive at all. The lists of Coney options and comprehensive breakfast offerings being the main things. From the open, uncluttered feel of Leo’s, to the bright-feeling Hannah’s, to the family-diner feel of Sparty’s, each place has its atmosphere, which can be considered their brand.