Reggae legend Bob Marley would seem an unusual candidate for themed restauranthood, but then again, Orlando, FL-based ITEC Entertainment Corp. specializes in bringing offbeat concepts to fruition--visitors to Prague, for example, can experience the Kafka-esque St. Michael Mystery, another recent assignment for the firm. So it is not unexpected thatITEC would be called upon by the Marley family to develop Bob Marley--A Tribute to Freedom, a particularly jammin' venue at the new Universal CityWalk in Orlando.

Restaurant work is part of a revised menu at ITEC, which will be celebrating its 15th anniversary next year at a 27,000-sq.-ft. headquarters and production facility complex opened earlier this year. Its corporate umbrella now houses three divisions: ITEC Productions continues to offer themed entertainment development services for clients including Universal Studios, which brought the firm in for the Marley restaurant. The ITEC Network is its Internet-based broadcasting system, which delivers customized in-store entertainment, retail branding, and product merchandising to clients equipped with the firm's MV2 technology, like The Venator Group's Foot Locker stores in the US. And ITEC Consumer Products has some original properties in the works, including two TV shows for kids, Desktop Warriors and The Singing Castle.

ITEC principal Bill Coan explains that the attractions business, which gave the company its start, "is just too crazy for us to hang our hat on, with so many ups and downs, so we've taken advantage of the booming economy to mitigate its swings. There's a lot of opportunity for theming talent in retail and restaurants; most of our time these days is spent developing these concepts."

The Bob Marley bistro, which is designed to accommodate live performances by reggae acts while guests chow down on Jamaican-flavored cuisine, is a case in point. "We've done a lot of technical work with Universal Studios, but we have a creative staff here and Universal came to us early in the development process of CityWalk, in 1997. They said, 'We have an opportunity with the Marley family to create a food/club facility that will be a key component to the experience, and we want you to be involved in it.' "

Coan says this initial meeting "expanded quickly" into design charettes with Rita Marley and the musician's grandson, Steve. A Tribute to Freedom is, he says, an "idealized version" of the Marley family's stylized compound in Kingston (patrons may wish to bring their own mood-enhancing substances to CityWalk). ITEC designers flew to Jamaica to better research the singer's life and art, and essentially re-imagined his house's gardens and courtyards as restaurant entranceways and performance spaces. Family photographs and artifacts from the Marley estate further reinforce the venue's authenticity.

"His family members were issued every document we had, from material patterns down to the final selection of table coverings," says Coan. "Everything is in bold, Caribbean colors, and we used real, indigenous plants where possible to replicate the look and feel of the compound." ITEC's duties, largely completed in 1998, ranged from concept development to facility and landscape schematic design to media preproduction; Lightswitch completed what Coan calls a "simple, effective" illumination scheme, which compliments the performers with laid-back lighting.

For ITEC, it's full speed ahead. "We've grown dramatically every year in the last four years. We don't know when it will slow down--and we don't intend to let it slow down." In July, the company opened a European office in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, managed by Hans Deuze, who has worked with ITEC on projects including the St. Michael Mystery, Hummel Village in Bavaria, and Disneyland Paris. And, besides songs and sandwiches at A Tribute to Freedom, visitors exploring Orlando will find ITEC's control systems engaged at four of Universal's Islands of Adventure, all five of which will be spotlighted in a special supplement to ED next month.