At Work: Big Red Rooster fills Engine House No. 5

If you reminisce about the restaurant Engine House No. 5, at 121 Thurman Ave., you are not alone. Although the restaurant has been closed since 1993, when the owner, Chuck Muer, and his wife, Betty, were lost at sea, many do not realize it is no longer a restaurant.

The interior of Engine House No. 5 as a restaurant. Image via

“We get people coming in here sometimes, not knowing the restaurant has closed,” says Rebecca Odell, communications coordinator for Big Red Rooster. “Some got engaged here or had their birthday here. They just want to reminisce.”

Birthdays were a pretty special occasion at the restaurant. The servers would slide down the fire pole (sometimes upside down!) holding your birthday cake. Although the fire pole is no longer used on a regular basis, Odell says Big Red Rooster does get clients who want to go down it. It’s one of the aspects that make its space fun and unique.

The infamous fire pole.

Big Red Rooster was started in 2002 by Martin Beck, CEO, and Aaron Spiess, president. They wanted to create  a consulting business that helped companies build a better brand experience.

Aaron Spiess and Martin Beck of Big Red Rooster.

“There was a large gap in the marketing services sector around that opportunity,” says Spiess.

Beck had previously been the chief executive of Ten Worldwide, and before that had helped grow the offices of Fitch Inc. Spiess came from another leading design firm, RPA. Each had a mutual admiration for the other’s work. They started Big Red Rooster in a large Victorian house on Rich Street with about 10 employees. They outgrew that space quickly.

Creative Director Diane Rambo led the search to find Big Red Rooster a new home. She admits to being “crazy for old buildings.” The renovation of the Smith Brothers Hardware building was one that she worked on previously. For Big Red Rooster, she was looking for a building close to downtown Columbus, German Village, and the Short North when she saw Engine House No. 5 sitting with a For Sale sign. The building owner had been looking for someone to reopen the space as a restaurant.

Engine House No. 5 facing Thurman Avenue.

Her group looked at it and she thought, “This is perfect for us.” The space was 15,000 square feet, had so much character and open space, as well as plenty of nooks and crannies that would be perfect for a creative design firm.

“You need nooks and crannies to go to to feed personal creativity,” says Rambo.

Looking down onto the reception area.
An old door on the second level was once used to load hay inside the firehouse.
A built out mezzanine level holds the offices of Beck and Spiess.
The soaring ceiling in the foyer.
Mezzanine level.

They had their work cut out for them. The place had been sitting as a perfectly set up restaurant since 1993, but much of the building’s character had been covered up and it was in a state of disrepair. They had to clear the restaurant out. Taking away drywall revealed beautiful sandstone walls. Removing carpet uncovered beautiful slate floors.

“We worked to keep the integrity of the building,” Rambo says.”Outdoor signage is very minimal; it’s really just our black flag.”

Arched pass-throughs in the basement.
Doors made to fit the archways can be closed to create meeting spaces.

For furnishings and some lighting fixtures, Rambo sourced from IKEA. She used FLOR carpet tiles throughout the space. There is a long captain’s table, used for meetings, that was original to the firehouse. A large clock in the main studio space is also from that era. A couple pieces, such as the red emergency call box, are on loan from the Fire Museum in downtown Columbus.

The main studio space has original lighting fixtures. Associates will move periodically, which allows them to work with new people and provides a fresh outlook. The clock original to the fire house can be seen to the left.

A meeting space with a long table original to the firehouse. Photo courtesy of Big Red Rooster.
Detail on the table's legs. Photo courtesy of Big Red Rooster.
Workspaces on the second floor with red stained glass in the windows.
Throughout the space, one will find red balls for seating...
as well as roosters for decoration. Each associate receives their own beanie rooster.

Engine House No. 5 was built in 1895 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. As noted in the AIA Guide to Columbus:

Its features include a rusticated stone base, large segmental-arched windows with rusticated sandstone surrounds, and a row of round-arched windows separated by short stone columns on the upper floor. Also noteworthy are two reminders of the building’s past life: the three-story square hose tower that sits on a battered (sloping inward) stone base and the arched equipment entrances now filled by bay windows.

Rambo would like someday to renovate the third floor, but for now it is unused space. A bar with hooks for hanging the fire hoses to dry is still in place.

The red emergency call box and the hooks in the belfry for drying fire hoses.

The most recent renovation to the Engine House No. 5 building was the build-out of another space for offices, called The Coop. In September 2011, Big Red Rooster bought three marketing firms −Integrate Inc., Moorehead Design, and The Imaginati− that were working out of Grandview. Building out more space in Engine House No. 5 allowed them to move those employees to the Columbus office.

The recently finished build out of The Coop.
Break room space.
Lounge area.

Big Red Rooster also has offices in four other U.S. cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Phoenix.

“Our growth is usually organic through our clients,” Spiess says. “In the case of Atlanta, we knew a person who would build a terrific business and who understood our culture.”

The agency is currently evaluating the Los Angeles and Minneapolis markets. Both Beck and Spiess agree that their business has to be open to change.

“We are very strong optimists,” Spiess says. “Everyone is always looking for a better experience. The market will always be there.”

One of Big Red Rooster’s clients that provides a wonderful consumer experience is Piada. The agency helped build its customer experience, from the outdoor signage to the scooter guy on the menu.

An artfully arranged client project wall.

If you are looking to start your own company, Beck offers the following as advice: “Find something that fulfills you. You have to be dedicated. Do what you love. If you don’t love it, it is going to be a drudge.”

Spiess agrees.

“It’s not a business, it’s a lifestyle. [You have to] give it the unbridled compassion and commitment it deserves.”

To learn more about Big Red Rooster, visit or visit the agency’s Facebook page.

Do you know of, have, or work in a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, contact Anne Evans.