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Case study

For nearly 80 years the Signal Box directed train traffic to and from Newcastle Railway Station.

The heritage listed building had been preserved with leavers and switches still in place. With the addition of a steel pavilion and roof terrace the building was transformed into stylish restaurant.

The guiding principle of the brand design is modernism, the same principle was reflected in the architectural designs. We also delved into the story of Signal Box finding inspiration for typography, colour palette, graphic shapes and a pattern that mimics how the tracks would have moved when the levers were worked in the signal box.

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Daniel James, Matthew Key and Andrew Macdonald share a passion for great food and coffee. Together they have created one of the most beloved cafés in Nelson Bay, The Little Nel. Operating since 2011, The Little Nel Cafe (LNC) has rapidly grown and it's now rated the number 1 restaurant in the Port Stephens region. The founders (along with Andrew's wife, Emily Macdonald, Marketing & PR for The Signal Box), are on a mission to bring to the Newcastle market the same fundamentals that made LNC a success.

As part of the inner city of Newcastle's revitalisation, an iconic location known as The Signal Box, became available for lease in 2018 as. After successfully tendering for the location, Dan, Mat and Andrew have decided to invest into this icon and transform it into a tourist experience that will have local and international appeal.

The venue itself has a lot of character. It’s designed to be an iconic venue with a rooftop terrace and an elevated garden, operating all day every day throughout the week (from 7am - 10pm). It will have seating for 150 diners, including 64 indoors and 86 outside on the ground and first floors. It will feature a 'table service only' dining area, a bar (with alcohol served from lunch until close) and a takeaway coffee and food counter on the exterior of the building. The cafe will be a central part of Market Street Lawn, with the nearby landscaped area including an eye-catching water feature which will light up at night.

Jason Elsley from Derive Design is the Architect and Interior Designer for this project. He has previously brought to life The Edwards, The Criterion Hotel and The Flotilla.

More than a café, The Signal Box houses the original, restored rail switching equipment, which will be on display in parts of the restaurant. The gear once controlled the rail lines east of Merewether Street and will be a huge drawcard for rail enthusiasts.

The food concept for The Signal Box is a high end breakfast; offering lunch that can be either casual comfort food through to a more refined experience enjoyed with a glass of wine; and a dinner menu with relatively simple familiar food made from scratch. The partners' philosophy is very crafty, everything will be made in-house: sauces, stocks, cold brew coffee, muffins, bread and they will even grow many of their herbs on-site. That's what they're bringing from LNC, simple food, exceptionally well-cooked. The founders' mission is to create an experience where the guests feel that their time spent at The Signal Box was the best part of their day.

The Signal Box's location is ideal, being on the light rail stop, to capture visitors staying in one of the many hotels along the harbour. The operations team will work closely with the Council to cross promote events and functions happening at Market Street Lawn. They're planning for a summer season filled with live music, with musicians playing in the afternoon and jazz bands in the evening, all to give people a reason to visit any time of the day.

They have come to Headjam because of our extensive experience in launching hospitality brands that have been a success in the Newcastle market like The Edwards, Peaberrys Coffee, Parry Street Garage, Snows and The Locale. Essentially, they have come to us for the strategic development of their brand DNA and the development of their unique value preposition.


Successfully launch the new restaurant to the Newcastle audience.

High social media reviews.

Target Audience

Nearby workers for coffee, lunch or sit down business meeting. Takeaway menu also available.

After work dinner or drinks from locals or people who work nearby.

Weekends to draw families and couple looking for impeccable food and in an out of the ordinary setting.

Consumer Proposition

Exquisitely crafted meals, served up in a unique heritage setting.

Desired Consumer Response

"The Signal Box is my favourite place to eat and chill with a coffee, wine or beer."

Creative Solution

Taking cues from the Australian modernism era in which it was built, Headjam created a series of modern geometric shapes that could rotate to make patterns, mimicking the connection of train tracks. The flexible logo system rotates through colour combinations. Gill Sans was selected as the font, iconic in the British Railways guidelines and adapted in Australia. Menu layouts were inspired by the gridded structure of old train timetables. The original deep red painted on architraves was selected as the prominent brand colour, supported by an earthy palette that reflected the owners’ ethos to work with local farmers.

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We took design cues from the Australian modernism era in which the Signal Box was built. We created geometric shapes that rotated to make patterns, mimicking the connection of train tracks.
Sarah CookHeadjam Designer
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Gill Sans was selected as the font, iconic in the British Railways guidelines and adapted in Australia. Menu layouts were inspired by the gridded structure of old train timetables.
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