by Colleen E. Richardson
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
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
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
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
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
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