Low-tech marketing: The minds behind El Arroyo's iconic signs

Jul 30, 2014
Austin Business Journal

In the world of valuable signage in Austin, the low-tech black lettered sign in front of El Arroyo restaurant on West Fifth Street downtown is probably more effective than any I-35 billboard or banner plane during a University of Texas football game


That's because of the witty puns, maxims and affirmations the owners of the Mexican restaurant put on the sign each day, making it a sort of old Austin "quote of the day" greeting for drivers exiting Mopac toward downtown. If you’ve never experienced the El Arroyo sign, take a look at the slide show of some recent favorite postings to get a sample


Co-owner Ellis Winstanley – who bought the restaurant with his twin brother Austin and several other investors in 2012 from original owners Clay McPhail and Doug English – said the sign is as much a part of the El Arroyo brand as the taco and margaritas it serves


“It’s a tradition that people have connected with and we know that people drive by here every day just to see what it says,” he said. “It’s a part of what El Arroyo is and gives us an opportunity to stay connected to people”


While the tone of the sign’s humor and sarcasm is remarkably consistent, its content is not the product of one person but rather a group of about 15 people including the owners and managers who collaborate on ideas over email


That process lets the group schedule out some of the posts and keep them topical and timed to certain Austin-specific events like South By Southwest or Austin City Limits Festival


With a history going back more than a decade – El Arroyo was opened in 1975 – the sign has built up some serious cultural and sentimental equity with Austinites over the years. So much so that Winstanley and his partners regularly receive offers from companies who want to rent out the sign and take advantage of its visibility and iconic status


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