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December 14, 2020
Frikadellen (German Meat Balls) with Leeks in Cream Sauce
Frikadellen (German Meat Balls) with Leeks in Cream Sauce

This is a typical German dish and growing up in Hamburg, I ate it often.  Frikadellen are a very popular meal and are eaten warm or cold, with sides or on their own as a snack.  The cold version is often served late at night on New Year’s Eve as a pick-me up snack while waiting for the new year to begin.  To this day, I love them as they remind me of my childhood and growing up in northern Germany.

Ingredients – Frikadellen

½ lb. Ground Beef

½ lb. Ground Pork

2 Slices Day-Old White Bread

1 Yellow Onion

1 to 3 Cloves Garlic (depending on your preference)

1 Large Egg

2 T. Chopped Parsely

1 tsp. Hungarian (Sweet) Paprika

1 tsp. Smoked Paprika



Butter and Olive Oil for the Pan

Ingredients – Leeks in Cream Sauce

3 to 4 Leeks

1 T. Butter

1½ tsp. All-Purpose Flour

½ c. Vegetable or Chicken Broth

½ c. cream


White Pepper

Nutmeg (freshly grated)

Frikadellen Directions

  1. Finely dice the onion and garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic until just translucent.
  2. Soak the bread in lukewarm water, squeeze dry and pull into small pieces.
  3. Into a large bowl, add the ground beef and pork, onion, garlic, bread, egg, parsley and both paprikas. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Mix all ingredients with your hands until well combined.
  5. Form small burgers.
  6. Heat olive oil and butter in a large frying pan on high heat. Add the burgers and turn the heat to medium.  Cook burgers on both sides for approx. 5 minutes or to desired doneness.

Leeks in Cream Sauce Directions

  1. Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Slice leeks into half inch rings.  Wash leek rings thoroughly.
  2. Heat butter in a dutch oven on high and add leeks. Turn heat to medium-low and sauté for about 3 minutes.
  3. Dust with the flour and stir well.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add broth and cream and bring to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, turn heat to medium-low and cook for 10-12 minutes, while stirring every couple of minutes.
  6. Add a pinch of nutmeg and stir before serving with the Frikadellen.

Shared by:  Katja Beck | Project Manager, Ft. Lauderdale

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December 14, 2020
Tomato Basil Soup
Tomato Basil Soup

Perfect on a cold, wintry night…


6 large tomatoes (garden are best!)


3 T. minced garlic

½ large yellow onion, chopped

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. fresh cracked pepper

1 -2 tsp. red pepper flakes (less or more to taste)

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

4 oz. tomato paste

4 oz. fresh basil leaves, julienned

3 c. chicken or vegetable stock

1 c. whole wheat croutons

¼ c. shredded parmesan cheese



In a large pot, boil whole tomatoes until their skins break.  Remove and place in ice water and remove the skins. Crush tomatoes in a bowl and set aside.  In the same pot, heat on stove and add EVOO, chopped onion and minced garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent (add a little stock to prevent burning and sticking). Add crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, stock, red pepper flakes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and half the julienned basil.  Mix well.  Bring to a light boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour.  Stir occasionally.  If you have an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth and creamy.  If not, let the soup cool COMPLETELY and blend with a standard blender.

Serve in bowls and top with parmesan cheese, basil and croutons.

Use fresh garden tomatoes when possible.  Soup freezes well.  Make in advance, thaw and reheat.

Shared by:  Chuck Schuler | Project Manager, Management Advisory Services

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Kevin Banas
November 19, 2020
Exhaust-Ed in the Kitchen
Exhaust-Ed in the Kitchen

The exhaust hood is a humble, yet vital workhorse in the commercial kitchen. Seemingly simple on its surface, at their most basic they are a metal box overhanging your cookline, capturing vapor and heat to be exhausted to the building’s exterior. But nothing stays simple in these modern times, and a dizzying new array of construction options and technological features have transformed exhaust hoods from a mere ventilation necessity to another tool in your kitchen’s belt, helping you optimize your operations.

Consumer of Energy

Most kitchen operators might be surprised to learn that after the operation of your cooking equipment, your HVAC system is the next largest consumer of energy in your kitchen. Treating air so that it remains at a comfortable working temperature for your employees is difficult, especially in the summer months when AC systems are in competition with sweltering cooklines. Added to that difficulty is your exhaust hood, which pumps thousands of cubic feet per minute of treated air out of your kitchen, in the name of preventing cooking exhaust from choking your workspace.

The energy consumption and environmental impact of exhaust hoods are strong enough that in recent years the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has released guidelines for when and how to mitigate their impact, which many states have adopted as part of their energy code. In brief, if your cooking exhaust ventilation in the building exceeds 5,000 cubic feet per minute, you should (and may be required to do so) investigate mitigating the energy impact of your exhaust hoods.

 An Array of Options

Several manufacturers now produce hoods with sophisticated designs, beyond the traditional metal box, that can reduce the amount of ventilation the hood requires while covering the same equipment, versus a conventional exhaust hood. These hoods may feature internal architecture to better direct airflow, or air curtains meant to prevent exhaust from flowing under and out of the hood’s capture area, or other considerations. Hoods with these features will have a UL rating informing how much they can reduce their ventilation due to their improved exhaust capture.

Another increasingly utilized feature in kitchen exhaust systems is the variable speed exhaust fan. These are the fans that provide the negative pressure that pulls out air from under your exhaust hood, and utilizing sensors that can detect steam, and often heat, they speed up or slow down based on the amount of actual cooking taking place under the hood. These systems vary widely in sophistication and can often be customized for your kitchen’s unique circumstances. When paired with automated dampers in the exhaust duct to open or close a hood’s ventilation as it becomes active or inactive, variable speed fan systems can excel at helping you save costs when you have multiple hoods being ventilated by a single exhaust fan. There is also good news for the owners of older facilities with existing, if dated, exhaust hoods: many manufacturers now produce variable speed fan management systems that can be retrofitted onto existing hoods.

And Then There is Ventless

There also remains the option of ventless exhaust hoods; which utilize a system of carbon filters and, in some cases, catalytic converters to eliminate grease-laden vapors and carbon dioxide while returning the air they treat back to the kitchen. These hoods have the benefit of being easily adapted to existing spaces that can’t add ductwork and fans for traditional exhaust hoods, and they avoid the need to ventilate treated air outside your facility. They do come with drawbacks, however: ventless exhaust hoods are not capable of providing coverage to intensely hot cooking equipment such as char broilers; their odor reduction is inferior to traditional ventilation; the operator will need to periodically change filters, and most dauntingly, several major municipalities such as Chicago carry strict prohibitions on when and how these hoods may be deployed.

So Much More Than a Metal Box

Whatever form your kitchen ventilation ultimately takes, the most important thing you can do as an operator is to abandon the old way of thinking about it – your exhaust hood is now so much more than a metal box above the cooking equipment. The systems discussed today are, believe it or not, just the tried and true technologies that have become increasingly available over the last decade – there are further and greater innovations just over the horizon, and Cini-Little looks forward to helping you determine what will work best for your kitchen.

By:  Kevin Banas | Project Manager, Chicago

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Kip Serfozo
October 20, 2020
Be WELL, Stay WELL, Live WELL | The WELL Building Standard and Your Café
Be WELL, Stay WELL, Live WELL | The WELL Building Standard and Your Café

Today, public health is on everyone’s mind.  Recent surveys suggest that the public is very concerned with the quality of their indoor environment.  And they should be.  We spend 90% of our day indoors; the safety of our environment is critical.  Workers and the general public only want to go to buildings that are clean, safe, and even improve their overall wellness. In fact, research shows that employees value a sustainable healthy building over a small salary increase. And the general public values doing business with companies that have WELL building environments.

WELL Real Estate is Valuable

The Well Building Standard and other similar certifications can add value to your building.  Add to the mix that the current pandemic has highlighted the need for WELL buildings. Issues like sanitation, emergency preparedness, and clean air and water are critical components that are addressed through WELL design.  It is no wonder there is an uptick in owners reaching out for WELL certification. Owners realize there is a tangible ROI on keeping their employees safe and productive. After all, that is their number one asset!

The Café – A Starring Role

The Café, already considered a necessary amenity in most buildings, plays an integral part in a WELL Building. The Café design and operation impacts all ten WELL design categories required for building certification.  Let’s explore each design category from the lens of how the Café can contribute to a Well Certification.

Ten Café Criteria Impacting WELL

  1. Air
    • High efficiency cooking exhaust hoods
    • Pollution control systems
    • Microbe and mold control kitchen systems
  2. Water
    • Water filtration systems
    • Drinking water dispensers with bottle refilling
  3. Nourishment
    • Nutritional transparency
    • Locally sourced foods
    • Mindful eating spaces
  4. Light
    • Add daylight to kitchens and serving areas
    • Minimize glare at workstations
  5. Movement
    • Ergonomic workstations
    • Ergonomic equipment certification
  6. Thermal Comfort
    • Control kitchen humidity and hot temperatures
    • Efficient thermal comfort in challenging kitchen environments
  7. Sound
    • Noise reduction equipment
    • Noise reduction wall /door placement and design
  8. Materials
    • Waste management plan
    • Sustainable cleaning systems and products
  9. Mind
    • Design culinary experiences with influences of nature, culture and celebration of place
    • Require Operations Human Resources team to promote mental health policies
  10. Community
    • Require foodservice operational emergency preparedness plans
    • Integrative process whereby the café influences overall building WELL and sustainability issues

WELL is Second Nature to Consultants

We always design kitchens and foodservice areas with WELL in mind, regardless of whether the owner’s goal is to achieve certification.  Our Sustainability and Waste Management Group develops protocol for handling and minimizing hazardous wastes, which involves separating hazardous waste from other solid wastes and procuring adequate receptors for recycling or final disposal.  And our Business Consulting Group develops Foodservice Operator RFP’s, requiring WELL practices from an operations and management level.  We believe it just makes sense to create an environment that delivers the best chance of achieving healthy wellbeing for everyone involved.

On the Equipment Front

We ensure all the equipment systems adhere to WELL Criteria.  Foodservice manufacturers constantly are developing new foodservice equipment systems that adhere to WELL criteria.  Some innovative concepts that are on the market include but are not limited to:

  • ErgoCert is the first internationally recognized agency to test and approve equipment to be ergonomically friendly, thereby ensuring employees will work comfortably in their workstation.
  • One of the lead manufacturers of air doors introduced technology to increase air scrubbing to fight airborne bacteria and viruses.
  • In a similar vein, there is increased interest in walk-in cooler air purifiers.
  • A new hand sink was just released with a final hand scan feature to verify that employees have indeed washed their hands correctly. The scan detects bacteria and dirt on hands.
  • The continued advancement in whole kitchen water filter systems whereby the filtered water of various types travels to each piece of equipment in the kitchen.
  • More and more companies are introducing self-cleaning evaporator coils on their refrigeration, which allows for a cleaner and quieter environment.
  • And finally, more clients are embracing indoor herb and vegetable vertical farming. This ticks off the boxes for local food production and biophilia-type environments.

You’ve Got WELL!  Now What?

In the end, it’s all about third party verification of your WELL program. Owners love the fact that a WELL team comes out to verify the design and the monitoring programs that are set in place to ensure the indoor environment is as tranquil as possible.  From a technical standpoint, WELL relies heavily on sophisticated computer monitoring systems to ensure continued compliance and success.  Sensors and monitors provide real time data 24/7 to habitants of the building. In many cases buildings will post public displays of real time water quality, noise levels, humidity, temperature, C02 levels in the air, air quality, and much more.


To be sure, WELL is coming to all building types and your neighborhood soon!  Be on the forefront of this movement and we can all be WELL, stay WELL and live WELL.

By:  Kip Serfozo, FCSI, LEED ID&C AP, WELL AP

Director of Design – East | Atlanta


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Marleen St. Marie
September 24, 2020
What Does the Future of Hand Washing Look Like?
What Does the Future of Hand Washing Look Like?

Washing your hands is boring and not very glamorous, but it is necessary.  Especially today!  Hand washing is part of our everyday lives, whether we are at home or at work.  It is incredibly important, in fact mandatory, in the foodservice industry where handling food is a must!

Hand Sinks in Food Service Design

Hand sinks are an essential component throughout food service designs.  Not only are they required per health code in food preparation, service, or ware washing areas (depending on local jurisdiction), they are used as a best practice for personal hygiene, as well as the prevention of cross-contamination and the spread of germs.  As Jim Mann, the Executive Director at Handwashing For Life® Institute recently told me, “in foodservice, your hands are your tools.” He is absolutely correct.  Foodservice employees use their hands for everything… from prepping to cooking, serving, washing, and everything in between!

It is important to note that in a commercial kitchen, hand sinks are dedicated for hand washing ONLY.  Food or utensils cannot be washed in these sinks.  Hand sinks use a direct waste drain line (sanitary waste).  A complete hand washing station consists of the following: sink, soap, paper towels, and a trash receptacle.  While codes vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, minimum standards require hand sinks to be placed every 25 feet where there is food being prepared or cooked.  A good practice in design is to include a handwashing station at each workstation where practical. By having a complete hand washing station at each workstation, it is convenient, saves time, and is easy for the food service employee to wash dirty hands without traveling all over the kitchen to find soap or paper towels.

But we knew this.  Why a conversation about hand sinks?

Because we wonder what the future of hand washing looks like.  Has this pandemic alerted us to the fact that we need to be more vigilant in our hand washing procedures?    Are the current “best practices” to which we adhere really the “best practices” possible?  Should we be coming up with better solutions?

The answer is there is no singular answer.  It will depend on each unique situation.  Our job and duty as consultants, though, is to think about it.  To look at this seemingly mundane and insignificant subject through a new lens.  To lend our expertise to the problem at hand and offer solutions that will work in the setting now and into the future.

Play it Safe

Only one short year ago, clients didn’t give handwashing areas a second glance.  Today, with mounting concern about safety and the spreading of germs in the workplace, our job is even more crucial…to start the conversation with our clients about their expectations, their fears, their goals to exact safety in the face of today’s pandemic uncertainties and beyond.

Armed with this information, we task ourselves with creating design solutions to prevent the spread of germs and increase the safety of facility employees and patrons alike.  Clients want reassurance that not only will their facility meet code, but that it will include the “ultimate in safety” where handwashing is and should be involved.

Let’s delve a little deeper into a variety of solutions, some permanent, others temporary, that might make sense for your facility.

Is More Better?

One solution to further reduce the potential for cross-contamination and spread of germs is to install more hand sinks so that it is easier and more convenient for employees to wash their hands.  While this sounds good, we must be careful that the addition of sinks is not just a knee-jerk response to perceived safety concerns.  Other factors must be weighed.  We must be mindful of the placement of hand sinks in regard to keeping a clear separation of traffic between clean and dirty areas.  And while adding hand sinks might be a great solution, it does come with some cost implications.  Not only will the food service equipment costs increase with the addition of the hand sink itself, but the associated pipes for hot and cold water plus a drain will also add to the cost.  Ultimately, the question is, do we increase the safety benefits for employees by adding hand sinks and if so, do these benefits outweigh the cost outlay?

On the Receiving End of Things

Are there other areas of the kitchen or back of the house that would benefit from the installation of handwashing areas?  While we as food service consultants always design per health code and best practices by including hand sinks in all required areas, our attention is now brought to incorporating additional hand sinks to back of house areas such as receiving.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Many times, we design an area within the receiving footprint to account for the inventory (food or non-food) arriving in a variety of boxes, bags, and packages that is then dispersed throughout the building.  It makes perfect sense to incorporate a handwashing sink here as well so that the employee can wash their hands before and after handling the product to reduce the transfer of germs.

What about the Front of the House?

 Do patrons feel safe eating at your facility?  Is it necessary to include handwashing stations in dining areas as an additional safety measure for patrons or even front of house staff to use?  Or are hand sanitizing stations doing the trick?  Will students and company employees take advantage of handwashing areas if provided in their employee cafeterias and dining halls?  Will people appreciate witnessing a FOH staff member wash prior to touching their food at pickup counters in their local restaurant?  Will handwashing stations be used now but a year down the road, abandoned, a relic of the uncertainties and fears faced during pandemic times?

Perhaps in the right scenario the answer lies in temporary mobile stations that do not require infrastructure necessary to support a hand sink.  Several manufacturers offer the option for a self-contained mobile hand sink where there is a water tank and drain to a waste container.   And the benefit to this solution is that its mobility allows for it to be used anywhere you require additional handwashing measures.

 Operations Gets into the Act

 A major component to safety comes from the operations side of things. The reduction of “touch points” in the workplace equals less chance of germs spreading.  Hand sink manufacturers provide hands-free options such as automatic sensors and foot pedals to operate the water flow instead of having to turn on the faucet with a dirty handle or knob from the previous user.  Faucets with voice activation software can help reduce touch points as well.  Hand sink timers and even powders/gels, which show spots missed under a UV light, can help perfect hand washing techniques and training.  Hand wash monitoring and employee incentive programs are other great tools to increase the frequency food service employees wash hands throughout the day.  Installing time logs and checks as part of job responsibilities can help ensure that soap and paper towels are always full.

Don’t Forget HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points)

 Our designs incorporate equipment to advance “best practices” in handwashing.  But the other part of the equation is how well an operator ensures monitoring of these practices daily.  We would be remiss if we did not mention the importance of conducting HACCP analyses for every foodservice facility.  These plans alert the staff to critical concerns in the area of safe food handling, and hand washing is, of course, a crucial component.  Through analysis, we can begin to understand for example, where or if additional hand sinks are necessary, or if consistent staff training on basic handwashing measures is on par for successful safety where food handling is concerned.

Bottom Line…Handwashing is Critical!

A variety of options, both permanent and temporary, are available to reduce germs and thwart illness.  But it all comes down to basics.  The most effective measure is to wash your hands…frequently.  At home, at your workplace.  And always, before handling food!

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Global Handwashing Day on October 15th!

By:  Marleen St. Marie | Project Manager, New York

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Keith Short
August 7, 2020
Think Outside the Box with Kitchen Real Estate
Think Outside the Box with Kitchen Real Estate

Any way you slice it, real estate is expensive.  The commercial kitchen is no exception.  It feeds on lots of space and subsequently lots of real estate dollars out of any developer’s pocket.  A new wrinkle has emerged today…the devotion of even more or re-allocated space to satisfy social distancing requirements throughout the back and front of the house.  What if we could maximize the developer’s return on investment AND meet spatial requirements without emptying their pockets?  It’s time to think outside the box.

Vertical is Key

It’s obvious that decreasing the footprint for the kitchen will reduce operating costs.  But how do we tackle the social distancing requirements if the space is smaller?  Thinking vertical vs. horizontal may be the answer, not only in the footprint of the space but also in the design with attention given to versatile and energy-efficient equipment as well as operational flow.

Kitchens in the Sky

Locating the kitchen adjacent to the dining area, while typical, may not be the best solution when space is at a premium.  Developers, owners and designers are reviewing the location of the kitchen from the back of the house to the ceiling of the house so to speak, utilizing what was once “throw away” space.  For example, McDonalds has developed a facility located at the Sydney Airport.  While the open-to-view kitchen is the “main attraction,” its placement at ceiling level drastically reduces the footprint of the facility, allowing the dining area to expand and cultivating space for neighboring retail facilities.  Apart from the automated operations, the core/shell accommodates the centralized MEP requirements so additional cost outlays are non-existent.  The return on investment, already driven upward with the footprint reduction, will increase by designing the kitchen with maximum energy efficiency.

Kitchens Underground

Mirroring the concept of the kitchen in the sky, designers have positioned the kitchen below the front of the house, thereby creating more space maximization for the front of house functions without increasing the footprint.  A brasserie restaurant in Munich has done just that.  A food conveyor belt was implemented into the kitchen design, repositioning the traditional pass area so it can be shared by the Rotisseur, Entremetier, Garde Manger, and Pastry Zones.  This, in turn, allows for streamlining and expediting the plating of the menu items and reducing the footprint of the pass and/or service pick-up zone. In addition, it allows space for a lineup of waiters to pick up ordered meals quickly and attend to the tables – “à la banquet” style.

Vertical Cooking Wins

Flexibility of cooking equipment allows designers to get more bang for your buck by integrating far less single-task equipment into the space.  For example, a programmable (automation) combi oven that can deliver several methods of cookery – steaming, poaching, roasting, cook and hold, re-heating, pan frying, char grilling, smoking, baking, etc. – can be conducted with one cooking cavity, within periodic times.  Not only does this move toward vertical cooking decrease spatial requirements, but it also reduces the carbon footprint through energy efficiency – the concealed cooking chamber has a glazed door for cooking visibility without having to open the door.  The MEP requirements are contained within a small space behind and/or adjacent to the oven. The oven can be specified in different configurations, for example 6, 10, 20, 40-tray, or 6-tray unit over another 6-tray. Thus, the MEP location does not change, the footprint of the unit is the same, only the height will change, and the production of cook/heated food will be defined by the configuration of the combi oven, as mentioned.

Stack it Up

Some foodservice equipment can be stacked upon each other which in turn allows for better utilization of space, an increase in production, and flexibility to meet menu requirements.  Examples of equipment include combi ovens, conveyor ovens, and microwave convection ovens, with a variety of functions and features depending on the operator’s needs from programmable and automated to requiring skilled or unskilled labor.  It boils down to ergonomics equaling efficiency of operational space.   In fact, a European manufacturer of vertical cooking equipment has taken steps to have their equipment product ranges approved and certified with an ergonomics stamp. The key take-away is that vertical equipment should be compact, within arm’s reach to quicken productivity with ergonomic ease, and be an affordable option.

Utilities Distribution Walls Get the Job Done

Replacing stud walls with a utility wall provides a streamlined approach to contain and deliver sources of fuel and water to the kitchen.  The utility wall provides structure to support the extraction hood, hand sinks, filter units and so forth. It also channels and directs the sources of water, power, gas to each piece of equipment, like a human’s central nervous system.   In the long term, equipment can be replaced or upgraded as a simple disconnect/reconnect.  The wall becomes the kitchen core – it accommodates services, equipment, and segregates the kitchen with one side for bulk prep/cooking and the other side for finishing.

Eliminate the Need for Hoods

Ventless equipment has ushered in the ability to put the kitchen in virtually any space since it eliminates the need for costly ventilation hood systems and the duct work upon which it relies.  Energy use is reduced which equals lower utility costs and a more sustainable kitchen.

Cooking Islands vs. Cooking Walls

Cooking islands encourage the ease of communication in the development of a dish and expedites service.  The linear pass area is reduced and gives more space back to the front of house area.  A cooking wall is more common in kitchens and tends to align the length of the facility.  However, the linear pass area increases and eats into the front of house space and promotes more cross-over traffic by staff, not a plus in today’s environment.  Cooking islands, on the other hand, demonstrate separation and allows distancing among the catering staff, which is advantageous for eliminating cross-contamination during these uncertain times.

A Room with a View

A transparent spatial divide between front and back of house created with the use of windows set into the kitchen walls offers the diners the ability to see the kitchen in action and provides a sense of connectivity between the front and back operations.  Not only is it useful for trapping kitchen odors and noise; but it also improves ventilation, while offering kitchen theatrics that are still visible to the diners.  Depending on the kitchen’s geometrical shape, this transparency allows the diner’s line of sight to be uninterrupted within different curves/angles.   The divide can be a separation point between front and back of house operations or it can complement operations by functioning as a quick-service window.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Thinking outside the box is essential to maximize return on investment while meeting spatial requirements.  The clear winner will be the one who, by being open to emerging trends and different ways of thinking, can reduce or reallocate kitchen space without impacting productivity or functionality…. all while maintaining the social distancing requirements that have become part of the equation.

By:  Keith Short | Director of Design – West Coast


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June 16, 2020
Theme Park Foodservice 2020…The Twists and Turns of a Necessary Reality
Theme Park Foodservice 2020…The Twists and Turns of a Necessary Reality

We all need a little magic these days.  Or maybe some wizardry.  Summer is here and we long for the sheer abandon and super-sized thrills that theme and amusement parks create for us.  And, in turn, the parks are counting on us to gather our families and head through their gates for a dream-come-true fantastical vacation filled with entrancement and excitement.  But wait…will our experience be the same as before?  Are Mickey and Cinderella hanging around the Magic Kingdom ready to give you a hug or a high five?  Will Hagrid’s Magical Creature’s Motorbike take you on an adventure?  Will we be able to eat with our favorite character?  Or enjoy fireworks that light up the sky?  Can we take a trip around the world, sampling the many delicious cuisines along the way?  Specifically, what changes should you expect as it relates to foodservice?

“According to IAAPA’s 2019 Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook, approximately 25 – 30 % of amusement park revenue is generated from food, merchandise and other spending by patrons at the park.  So, it is incredibly important to take a good hard look at the park foodservice picture in 2019, and paint a new and evolving vision for 2020, keeping in mind that this kind of revenue generation is necessary,” explains Dick Eisenbarth, President and COO of Cini•Little.

The simple truth is that the dining experience will be quite different.  Every foodservice outlet within the park may not be open, and if they are, there is a very good chance that the menu offerings will be limited.  Safety will play a key role.  And cashless systems will dominate.

Plan Ahead but Embrace Flexibility

Be prepared for the fact that almost everything will be accessed by a reservation system.  From rides to restaurants, social distancing efforts will be in place.  That adorable restaurant you had your heart set on may be closed, in fact, some parks are forgoing full-service restaurants and putting their efforts into opening core facilities only.  Other parks have closed indoor seating and instead, are creating a new seating capacity approach with more spacious outdoor areas in accordance with social distancing requirements.  And still others are removing stools and seating in their bars.  The main theme is to feed people safely and efficiently, and with minimal human contact.

Your Phone IS Your Best Friend

Mobile apps…. this is key to making your experience a good one.  From online reservations to mobile ordering and even paying for your meals, your phone is an extension of yourself…even more so than before.  Park operators have long recognized that mobile ordering and cashless payments reduce the need for cashier labor, but this is even more important when it comes to keeping people safe.    A virtual queuing system takes the place of on-site food pick-up lines where there are many people in close proximity.  Instead, an alert system allows patrons to come to the food outlet when they know their food is ready for pick-up.  Cash handling will be minimized with cashless payment systems.  Not every outlet will accept cash and where they do, expect that only one dedicated staff member will be handling cash.

Have Your Patience at the Ready

Even the best laid plans can go awry despite well-intentioned operators and park-goers alike.  Adjustments will need to be made constantly since we have never had to tackle a pandemic before.  The operator who can adapt and be agile in their operations as well as their mind-set will be ahead of the game by leaps and bounds.  That said, the park-goer who can nimbly alter their plan will be able to enjoy their foodservice experience even if it isn’t exactly what they had envisioned.

Safety is Key

Operators have taken much time analyzing every aspect of their foodservices with safety for both the patron and staff member in mind.  Expect temperature checks and masks to be the rule not the exception.  “Clean Teams” will be on hand to sanitize tables and touchpoints after each use.  Kitchen and prep work areas have been re-arranged and in some instances assembly line production has been streamlined so that staff members have less contact with each other.  Frequency of kitchen and servery sanitizing will be increased throughout the shift and at shift changes.  Scratch cook and streamlined menu offerings allow the chef the ability to make creative alternatives should the supply chain be interrupted, or ingredient costs escalate.

Even with reduced maximum occupancy capacities, expect that the speed of service may be longer than what has typically been the norm, especially when you also consider the sanitization that will need to occur after every customer transaction.  Point of sale and pick-up areas will be spaced out, closed off or removed depending on the footprint of the foodservice outlet.  Plexiglass protection has been installed in foodservice areas.

While self-serve buffets will be shuttered for the near future, theme parks are utilizing other means to offer food and beverage to patrons.  The buffets are being re-purposed to “plated by staff members.”  Walk-up stands, carts and kiosks, all with grab and go prepared options are being implemented in strategic locations featuring novelty and specialty foods that make each park famous, while being a viable seller for the operator.  No open food containers will be used, and disposables will be provided throughout the parks.  And everywhere hand sanitizer will be available.

Valu-able Incentives

Park-goers with all day and all-season dining or drink programs may be concerned about whether they will get the great value promised to them when they purchased the plans.  Here again, patience and flexibility will be needed as you navigate what these programs can offer you now.  A “limited time” incentive might be added to provide the same value you originally expected.  Self-serve refills will be replaced with staff-served paper cup refills to eliminate contamination.

Escape from Reality or Just Reality?

Parks have no precedent to look to when gauging how the consequences of the pandemic will impact their business.  The fact remains that the biggest margin of profit made at parks is on themed merchandise and food and beverage sales.  Plans have been put in place to provide the same exciting adventure, albeit with new measures to offset safety concerns and adhere to restrictions.  But there are many questions that will only be answered once people come to the parks.  Will park-goers stay in the parks as long as in the past?  Will it really be an escape from reality if everyone is wearing masks?  How will the ever-present mask impact food and beverage spending?

The reality is that regardless of where you go this summer social distancing, safety and mask-wearing is a necessity and the “same old” is now different.  So why not grab your mask and your phone.  Pack up your enthusiasm, flexibility and patience.  Get ready to experience your thrill of a lifetime!  Just make sure you make reservations!

Contributor:  Richard Eisenbarth, FCSI | President & COO

Resources:  IAAPA | IAAPA Education COVID-19 Impact on Food & Beverage

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June 4, 2020
Remembering Ronald P. Kooser
Remembering Ronald P. Kooser

It is with great sadness that Cini-Little International, Inc. announces that Ronald P. Kooser, FFCSI, one of the principals of the firm, passed away peacefully on Friday, May 29, 2020.  He is survived by his wife, two children and their families.

Ron started his career with Stouffer’s Foods in the design department planning Stouffer restaurants, hotels and commercial operations.  Ron  joined Cini•Little International, Inc., in 1970, opening the firm’s first branch office in Chagrin Falls, where he built the company’s name recognition in the mid-West through his foodservice design expertise as well as his high regard for maintaining a client-consultant relationship built on mutual respect and trust.  A proponent of excellence through shared education, Ron trained and mentored Cini•Little staff to maintain integrity of design and ensure the very best for each client.  “Ron hired me straight out of Purdue, and I had the privilege to work with him in the Cleveland office for more than 9 years. Ron has been a mentor throughout my career and progression to my current position.  Ron taught me the importance of listening to our clients and offering strategic planning solutions at every phase of a project.  Ron was always an encourager and ingrained in me giving back to a number of initiatives throughout my career,” Dick Eisenbarth, President and COO, remembered fondly.

Through the years, Ron pioneered effective healthcare foodservice design solutions that propelled institutional foodservice into a different realm of suitability and excellence for the patient and visitor alike, creating profitability in an otherwise underappreciated market.  Recognized as a top consultant in his field, Ron’s unique insight and creative, leading edge designs have won numerous awards throughout his career.  Ron retired from the day to day business in 2012, after leading the firm for 5 years as President and COO, and 2 years as CEO.  He remained active on the Board of Directors and served as design advisor to Cini•Little’s associates.

Ron was a Fellow of FCSI (Foodservice Consultants Society International), serving as Worldwide President from 1982-1983, and in many capacities during his 50+ years of membership.  He shared his passion and vast knowledge at numerous industry related conferences throughout the years and offered much insight into the foodservice industry through prolific authoring of trade magazine articles.  Ron, a Cornell Hotel School Alumnus, was an active member of the Cornell Hotel Society, serving as Past Director of the Society as well as Past President and member of the Northeastern Ohio Chapter.  Having served as ’61 Class Director for the Hotel School Alumni Association Magazine, he continued to be an active content contributor throughout his life.

“I have known Ron for almost seven decades and graduated from Cornell in the same class of 1961, reflected William Eaton, Chairman of the Board.  We were in college together and shortly after college, joined the same company, “Hot Shoppes” now known as Marriott International, Inc.   We have traveled together numerous times, vacationed together and visited each other’s homes many times.  To make it simple, we were like brothers!   We will miss Ron’s clear mind and positive influence on the company, the industry, and to everyone he knew!  God bless Ron, Linda and the whole Kooser clan.”

Ron Kooser will be remembered for his contributions to the foodservice consultancy industry and his unwavering honesty, integrity and kindness to everyone surrounding him.  His dedication to Cini•Little was a testament to his love of his profession and his desire to provide the very best design solutions to his clientele.  “Ron possessed a creative spirit and was charismatic in his relationships with his clients.  Those who had the pleasure of working with Ron will never forget the passion he brought to everything he did.  His constant drive to help all succeed made him a natural mentor and leader.  He was a sincere, generous man and will be missed, but his spirit left a powerful mark on me personally and this firm that will continue on,” shared Kathleen Held, CEO.

Ron will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by his colleagues at Cini-Little.

A celebration of Ron’s life will be held at a later date because of the current pandemic. Those wishing to make a donation in Ron’s memory may donate to:  the Wounded Warriors Project at woundedwarriorproject.org/donate.

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Barry Skown, Khaled Halabi
May 14, 2020
Takeout and Delivery… Before, Now, and Later
Takeout and Delivery… Before, Now, and Later

Takeout and delivery.  Seems simple enough, right?  And in light of the past few months, a godsend for shuttered restaurants and their patrons alike.  But even before this became the only way to eat “out”, takeout and delivery were having serious growing pains.   Mobile ordering has been the buzzword, the golden egg for increasing profits in an increasingly saturated industry.  But the brick and mortar locations have a hard time accommodating these sales from both a physical layout and an operations standpoint.

A Frustrating Experience

In late January, a colleague of mine went to dinner at one of his favorite quick-service, “healthy food” concept restaurants.  Here’s his recollection of his experience…

“As I entered the restaurant and got in the “order” line that travels in front of the grilling/assembly station and ends at the cashier station, I noticed that there was only 1 cashier on duty with about 40 customers already in the restaurant and about 6-8 of us in line.  After 10 minutes of waiting, I became frustrated that the line wasn’t moving at all…or at a snail’s pace.  Why?  Because the lone cashier was constantly being interrupted from taking orders from the customers in line by other people walking in to pick up their mobile order.  Each time, she had to process their order and payment and then retrieve their bag from the (literally) 2 dozen bags waiting on a side counter to the left of the cashier station.  

As I stood there watching this scene, another gentleman and I struck up a conversation about the wait and the process of the pre-order pick-up.  I said, “They don’t seem to be very organized tonight.”  And the gentleman replied, “Yeah…it’s all the pre-orders from Postmates and everyone coming in to pick them up.  We, the walk-ins, are just a distraction to the workers and all the rest of the mobile orders they’re dealing with.”  

And with that simple statement, he underscored the essence of why planning for takeout and delivery as an integral part of your operations and not as merely an add-on is essential to the success of your restaurant.

Then There was COVID-19

Here is where it gets tricky though.  COVID-19 happened.  Suddenly, restaurants found themselves in dire straits and the only way to stave off potential financial ruin is with takeout and delivery, whether this was already part of their operation or they needed to switch to this business model.   It’s been hard over the past 2 months to comply with social distancing in takeout lines, not to mention cookline staff.  How does this all work?  What needs to happen? What does the new business model look like for a restaurant, whether independent, chain, part of a hotel, part of a mixed-use space, or part of corporate feeding, to stay afloat during these uncertain times?

Plan Well for Takeout and Delivery

If you are planning to, or have already begun, staying open for your customers to offer takeout and/or delivery service, you need to ask yourself some questions to determine how your restaurant can accommodate this style of service and what modifications, if any, you need to make at your facility to make it successful.  What percentage of your sales will come from this segment?  How do you safeguard both your employees and the customers/delivery drivers coming in?  How do you make it time-efficient so people picking up don’t have to wait a long time?

Staffing is a Must

The first key element we recommend is review your staffing.  Just because the restaurant is not offering table-service to your customers right now doesn’t mean you can get by with having a single cashier/hostess person on duty (in addition to the kitchen production staff).  If your restaurant experiences high volume periods or days (think:  weekday lunch and/or weekend dinners), then on those shifts, someone has to process phone orders; someone has to process online orders; someone has to service the people picking up orders; and someone has to package and bag the food orders once the kitchen has cooked them.  All those tasks cannot be handled efficiently, nor effectively, by one person when the phone is ringing, online orders are coming through, and 5 people show up at the same time to pay and pick up their order.

In addition, every restaurant has now added “hold/transport times” to each order.  Whether the customer comes to pick up the order themselves, or a Door-Dash driver does, there is still a hold/transport time between the time the kitchen finishes cooking the order and the time it is picked up and taken home.  This extra time does not exist in a table-service environment, but it must be accounted for in terms of the final food quality once the customer does start eating.  So, if you’re now making the customer wait again at your restaurant once they arrive for the pick-up another 5, 10, or 15 minutes, you’ve just added hold time to the food your kitchen produced.  The quicker you get the customer on the road back home, the better your food will taste to them.  So, bottom line, you must staff your restaurant for the volume of business you expect to serve.

The same holds true for staffing the kitchen.  Is more staff needed and what are the costs associated with additional staff vs. the increase in sales from takeout and delivery?   While it is understandable to want to reduce labor costs as much as possible when the daily demand/sales are also reduced…skimping on the appropriate number of staff to serve a “takeout/delivery-only” service model may result in alienating more of your regular customers than if you had just stayed closed altogether.  Customer service is still customer service…regardless of whether the service person comes to your table or greets you behind a counter.

What’s the Plan?

Additionally, you may need to plan, or make room, for a large area for pre-order pickups.  A designated “expeditor” staff member should coordinate the delivery to the name on the bag.  This same area could also serve as the “mobile order pickup zone” to reduce the disruption from walk-in order guests and another staff person fielding phone and online orders.  Also think about where the Door-Dash and UberEats drivers will wait when they come to retrieve their orders.  Do they come inside to pick up orders or does a staff member bring them out to their cars?  Where and how do people wait?  Do those who pay online need to wait in the same line as those who pay at the counter?  Are there self-pay, kiosks? Is there a designated staff member to assist these people? All these questions need to be planned into the operation so that you have a smooth and successful operation.

And what does this added volume mean in terms of the production kitchen line and the staff needed to ensure takeout and delivery orders are produced on a timely basis to prevent the staff member on the phone quoting your customers a 45- or 60-minute wait?  The back of house equipment selection, depending on the type of operation, will need to be analyzed to determine what the best combination of equipment is to optimize the efficiency in catering to the additional takeout and delivery orders. In some cases, a whole section dedicated for outside orders might be the most viable option.

Focusing on the Now

No one has a crystal ball… certainly not us.  What we do have is years of operations and design experience that we try to apply to the collective understanding of the now.  We know things change in a nanosecond.  But we also know that for restaurants hanging on by a thread, there are temporary options that might see them through to healthier days ahead.

If you are doing takeout and delivery, do it well.  Your food is still your signature.  This means staff your kitchen at full capacity to produce the food.  And staff your cashiers/order-takers so that the food isn’t becoming “less than” while it sits waiting to be claimed.  If increasing your staffing to meet this style of service isn’t feasible for your financial model, think about streamlining your menu to your “best sellers” only and reduce the selection.

The Savvy Way to Overcome Occupancy Restrictions

How do you plan for what might be 25-50% occupancy restrictions for dine-in over the next several months?   If your State or Municipality is strictly enforcing “distancing” guidelines once restaurants are allowed to welcome “dine-in” customers again, one way to help improve drastically reduced sales of 50% or more is to extend the service period offered for each meal.  The downside to this is, of course, the increased number of hours the service staff works.  But consider two things:  most staff come in at least an hour before to “prep” prior to the service shift.  Perhaps that extra hour is now dedicated to producing sales.  Second, consider that you will only need 50% of your normal serving staff if only 50% of the restaurant tables are being utilized.

Another method of maximizing sales is the age-old server training technique of “upsell, upsell, and upsell some more.”  Remember, your customers have been cooped up at home for 2 months or more.  They are enjoying this new “freedom” of dining out in an atmosphere other than their own kitchen.  So, upsell those cocktails and bottles of wine!  Those desserts! Those appetizers for sharing (on separate plates of course)!  Increasing each table’s average check is a great way to improve sales and profits, not to mention well-deserved tips for the servers.

Become a Temporary Bodega

Offer well-selected grocery items bodega-style to increase your sales without utilizing your cook staff.  Pre-package favorite menu sauces, specialty items, baked goods for at-home use.  Prepare off-the-shelf essential items boxes as an impulse item for both online and in-restaurant shopping.  Or create an “ingredients fit for a chef’s meal” box complete with a step-by-step meal preparation video link by who else but your chef.  Wondering how much space to commit to this temporary fix?  That depends on whether you wish to offer these items online only for pick-up or if you can dedicate a portion of space to a retail environment and keep social distancing guidelines.

It’s Here for the Long-Haul

While we know that the takeout and delivery methods are here to stay…and definitely with us as the primary service method in the short-term, we also know, and are extremely confident that we will be able to sit in a restaurant with friends again.  How we focus on the “temporary” will determine the operation’s success in the here and now.  Thinking outside the box and making design and operations decisions based on strategies that will work for the short-term as well as the long-term will allow the operation to make it past the finish line.

By:  Barry Skown | Director of Management Advisory Services

Khaled Halabi | Project Manager, New York

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Barry Skown, Kevin Banas, Richard Eisenbarth, Tracy Diaz
April 13, 2020
Foodservice and the Hospitality Industry Post COVID-19…How Will They Thrive Tomorrow?
Foodservice and the Hospitality Industry Post COVID-19…How Will They Thrive Tomorrow?

Although it may seem hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel now, we will eventually move past this current pandemic.  We will emerge from our homes and quarantines ready and eager to revisit our favorite bars, restaurants, and cafes, who with open arms, will serve us our daily dose of delicious foods, beverages and camaraderie.  While owners everywhere are focusing on how their businesses will survive today, we believe an important question is:  How will they thrive tomorrow? 

Health and safety practices are de rigueur for any good foodservice establishment, but will we think twice before we dip into the communal salad bar, pour our own soda at a crowded fountain drink station, or wait in line at a grill or deli station?  Where will our comfort level be?

The bottom line is that change is coming.  However, every crisis is an opportunity, one best seized by the forward thinking.  So, the question in our collective Cini•Little minds is What does foodservice facility design look like post COVID-19?  We’ve asked the Cini•Little family to share their predictions, ideas, and recommendations regarding current best practices, what innovative design measures we might see in the weeks and months to come, and how a smart operator might get ahead of them.

Let’s Get the Conversation Started…

“Take-out and delivery were already booming in the restaurant sector before COVID-19, states Kevin Banas, Project Manager in our Chicago design studio.  Weeks of shuttered dining rooms might accelerate this trend, which could quite possibly change the foodservice landscape tremendously as operators move to a different business model.”

Barry Skown, Director of Management Advisory Services (MAS) division, also contributed, “Adding the capability to include mobile ordering and delivery into every commercial foodservice venue…whether it be employee, higher ed, healthcare, or public venue dining…was already in high demand before COVID-19.  This was especially true for the college campuses. And employee and public venue segments are moving faster and faster toward incorporating more self-ordering and self-payment facilities and systems in their on-site cafes, to increase the potential number of orders an outlet can accept per hour while decreasing labor costs.  In fact, air travelers have already seen examples of these in major airports with retail food outlets installing self- ordering and payment tablets at every table.  We viewed these systems as the trend of the future anyway, even prior to the pandemic.  But eliminating all person-to-person and person-to-surface contact may not be realistic.  After all, we are a ‘service industry.’  For example, even with self-ordering tablets, you still need to touch the screen to be able to place an order, and someone has to deliver the completed order to your table.”

What about Design?

“Most coffee houses only allow ordering from their online app.  Customers can come into the building to pick up their drinks, but they cannot stay, says Tracy Diaz, Senior Project Coordinator in our Germantown office.  And many times, there is only a small designated space for mobile order pick-up.  Pushing forward, this area may need to expand.” Tracy also suggests that “locker style” pick-up areas will become the wave of the future.  “You would receive a code to open the locker door, which would prevent others from touching your beverage or food to see if it is theirs.”

Dick Eisenbarth, CEO and President adds, “We see remote ordering and order pick-up stations in virtually every foodservice sector. There are several food locker systems available that have both refrigerated and heated secure compartments for order pick-up to ensure food security and safety.  This is especially important in corporate facility settings where there are thousands of employees using remote ordering to get their lunch in a short time frame.  Not only will expanded and designated pick-up areas designed into the facility instead of re-allocating a spare counter or two curb the bottleneck that can occur, but it will allow for a smoother and safer operation all the way around.”

Flexibility is Key

“Flexibility in design takes on a new importance when we think about the need to change something based on what’s happening in our society, posits Eisenbarth.  So, before COVID-19, flexibility was important for being able to easily incorporate changing menu trends into an existing operation.  Now, flexibility will play a key role in an operator being able to quickly change the way things are done to squelch health issues before they start.  One example are salad bars and open buffets you find in hotels and corporate dining settings as well as on college campuses.  Sneeze guards/breath protectors are used for obvious reasons.  But maybe now, conversion from self-service to attendant-service when there is a need to do this will become an important design element.  It can be designed with either/or alternatives.”

Banas suggests, “Restaurants have a number of ways to passively and actively combat pathogens. Active measures usually rely on staff training – making sure staff wash their hands, use gloves during food prep and service, follow HACCP procedures and health codes, sneeze into their sleeves, etc.  Stuff we can’t design for. But, he explains, there are ways we can design for passive measures to be built into the facility, and they come in so many forms these days.  For example, for projects that involve large volume production, we incorporate blast chillers and rethermalizers into the facility design because they move food through temperature danger zones much faster than conventional chilling, thawing, and rethermalizing processes.”

Technology Adds to the Equation

Additionally, some measures demonstrate how technology has become an important part of the foodservice equation…and may yet become even more important.  Three such examples are automated temperature logging software in coolers to ensure everything is kept at proper holding temperatures, and chefs are automatically alerted night or day to power outages that cause foods to remain at dangerous holding temperatures.  Grab-and-go kiosks can automatically lock during power outages as a prevention against customers purchasing food that has possibly spoiled.  Finally, though no one wants to think about it, but every operator needs to be diligent if they wish to remain open, electronic insect traps located strategically in the back-of-house reduce pests and the illnesses they carry.

Other Combatants

Other measures include incorporating anti-microbial agents into surface materials on hand sinks, shelves, ice bins, and the like to keep germs from colonizing surfaces.  UV lights can be used in HVAC systems to kill pathogens and can also be incorporated into systems such as ice makers and exhaust hoods for the same purpose.  Ozone can be added to water to make a chemical-free sanitizing solution.  Ozonated water can also be supplied to hand washing sinks and 3-compartment sinks to add an extra layer of germ killing to the usual washing process.  It is also used in some ice makers, particularly where water-borne illness that aren’t slowed down at low temperatures (think Legionnaire’s disease) are a prevalent risk.

Foodservice Manufacturers Take it to the Next Level

“It’s important for our consultants to develop a design with safety in mind, but we can’t do it without every aspect of our industry getting into the act and partnering together to make safety a priority.  Foodservice manufacturers are constantly developing innovative equipment that allows our designs to go to the next level in the interest of safety,” suggests Eisenbarth.  One manufacturer offers an antimicrobial fruit and vegetable treatment with small batch produce washing in mind.  It is pre-measured, requiring no physical contact with the concentrate, which allows worker safety while cleaning the food.  Another manufacturer offers an automated sealing machine that applies a film seal to either a paper or plastic cup, thereby eliminating the need for disposable cold drink lids that everyone touches in an effort to take just one and ensuring that drinks are tamper- and spill-resistant and germ-protected.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Cini•Little started the conversation…but we, as an industry, need to keep it going.  We also need to make sure our fears surrounding the current pandemic don’t create a mountain of safety measures that will ultimately do no good in the big picture.  Skown adds, “We all know that throughout history, humans have relatively short memories in terms of how a major situation affects their long-term behaviors.  The question remains, how much of a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction do we want to incorporate into our service industry that the public will not embrace later, once the pandemic has passed?  And what changes benefit both the industry and the public for the long-term?”  We need to weigh new ideas and solutions through the lens of public safety and hygiene as well as through the lens of sustainability for our environment.  There are loads of ideas out there just waiting to be explored.  Let’s take this time to dream, investigate, create together.


Richard Eisenbarth, FCSI | CEO & President

Barry Skown | Director of Management Advisory Services

Kevin Banas | Project Manager

Tracy Diaz | Senior Project Coordinator



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