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  John Egnor, Foodservice Design Consultant, On StarChefs
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  A JEM OF A DESIGNER
 

by Colleen E. Richardson

John Egnor, Foodservice Design Consultant,
President of JEM Associates

At a certain point in their career, many chefs dream of designing their own restaurant kitchen. However, aside from wanting the most advanced cooking technology and highest quality tools, most chefs are not proficient in the design aspect of the operation. This is where John Egnor, President of JEM Associates – a foodservice design consulting company - comes into play, literally. Egnor specializes in kitchen and restaurant design for the gaming industry. He started his company in 1991, when no one else in Atlantic City was installing kitchens. JEM is now responsible for the design and construction of more than 700 casino kitchens, numerous destination resorts, schools and healthcare facilities throughout the world. The company provides a variety of services, from conceptualization to implementation of kitchen and restaurant design projects. Several of JEM Associates’ projects have received national acclaim, including Winner of Casino Executives Gold Medallion Design Awards. We asked John how he went from a job in plumbing to being a leader in foodservice design.

Antoinette Bruno: Before starting JEM Associates in 1991, you did everything from teaching biology in a high school to working as the vice president of facilities for Resorts International, where you oversaw plumbers, mechanics, and carpenters. What steps in your career led you to becoming a “foodservice consultant”?

John Egnor: I grew up in the hospitality industry. My father had a series of sandwich shops called “Our Gang’s Sub Shop,” named for the fact that I have eight brothers and sisters. I was working for a sheet metal company on the Trump Marina Crystal Tower expansion and the kitchen contractor went out of business. We took over the project, completed it, and just started building kitchens at the sheet metal shop for various casinos in the Atlantic City market. From there, I entered the design side of the business and was introduced to Foxwoods Casinos, who became my first client. Even after 14 years, JEM Associates still provides design and conceptual consulting to Foxwoods Casino Hotel and Spa.

AB: How would you describe the services your company provides for culinary facility projects?

JE: Our company does kitchen design, restaurant development, operational consulting, management, and staffing of the restaurant foodservice operation. We are capable of taking a project from conceptualization through the first 6 months and then handing it off to the owners.

AB: How is JEM Associates different from other foodservice and design consultants in the foodservice industry?

JE: Since I grew up in operations and have a culinary background, I developed the company based on the operational side of the restaurant, not the equipment side. We focus on the operation first, consider what the production is going to be, and then design it. Also, I have a background in the construction industry, and this helps for understanding the “why” and “how much” the idea is going to cost.

AB: You state in your company philosophy that, “a foodservice consultant must be prepared to participate in all aspects of a project, including menu development, staff and space planning and staff education.” What type of experience and education do you think someone wanting to pursue such a career would need in order to be successful?

JE: In this career you need practical experience in the industry; there is no degree for what we do. Having experience in kitchen construction is also invaluable.

AB: On average, how long does a design project take from start to finish?

JE: A restaurant without any problems may take only 6 weeks, but another restaurant where we don’t have full access to the chef and architect can take as long as 6 months. Before we start a project, we hold meetings and talk about the flow between front-of-the- house and back-of-the-house.

AB: What is the average budget spent on a kitchen design project?

JE: Most projects start with a total budget, which includes installation and equipment, and the design is then a percentage of that total. For example, a 5,000 square foot kitchen would have a budget of $725,000 (about $145 per square foot). Of this $725,000, the design fee would run somewhere between $30,000 and $45,000 depending on the complexity of the project

AB: JEM Associates has offices located in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where casino hotels are the main source for kitchen design projects. What different types of designs do you come across when working in this type of environment?

JE: Casino hospitality and destination resorts are the bulk of our projects. However, we have a team that can work in any segment of the foodservice industry. On the gaming side, the projects are pretty much the same. The trend is that many of the casinos are leasing out their restaurants to celebrity chefs.

AB: What is the most interesting or exciting consulting project you have worked on?

JE: The Golden Dragon Café at Foxwoods Casino Hotel Resorts had to be the most interesting. We did the whole project, including front-of-the-house layout, seating arrangements, and share of tables. There was a 10-foot by 6-foot glass and stainless steel case to hold the Peking ducks; our restaurant design included other foods such as dim sum, sushi, noodles and BBQ. We brought in the interior designer to work on colors and fabrics for the café.

AB: What advice would you give someone wanting to enter the foodservice and design business?

JE: Work in the industry and in as many different positions as you can. Learn how the industry works – you go to work to learn! Find people that do their jobs the best and pay attention.

AB: What are some trends you see developing in the foodservice and kitchen design business? Are there any specific parts of the country that seem to be leading these trends?

JE: Having to deal with the trend of “fresh,” à la minute cooking – holding less inventory and smaller storage. Hospitals are going to be like hotels some day soon, and there will be no more tray service. We are just getting into hospitals, assisted living and long-term care.

AB: When you design a dream kitchen in your home, what will it include?

JE: My dream home kitchen design would include a six-burner range from either Garland or Jade. There would also be a commercial 18-inch grill and flat top griddle over a refrigerator base with a commercial grade fryer. I would build an island with a warmer, refrigerator, and small induction unit for presentation cooking and entertaining guests. And finally, it would have a Woodstone wood-fired oven.

 
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