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Onsite Kitchen Renovations: Lessons Learned

Onsite Kitchen Renovations: Lessons Learned

If the opportunity arises to ditch the ‘duct tape and bailing wire,’ take it — but do your homework first.

Two little words — “kitchen renovation” — are known to strike depression, possibly fear and feelings of helplessness into the hearts of many an otherwise intrepid foodservice operator.

How can you possibly “shut down” your kitchen yet continue to feed your customers pretty much in the style to which they've become accustomed? It's never easy, but it doesn't have to be an insurmountable problem. Here to help are “lessons learned,” shared by several operators who have survived to tell the tale. There are also words of wisdom offered by the principals of two companies whose temporary kitchen solutions offer nearly “off-the-shelf” solutions to keeping an operation running seamlessly while renovation is underway.

‘Temporary’ as a positive transition

“In our business, we find people will use duct tape and bailing wire as long as possible,” chuckles Ralph Goldbeck, A/A, partner, Carlin Manufacturing, LLC, Kitchens To Go, LLC. In fact, KTG has erected approximately 400 temporary kitchens since it was formed in 1999, and the seemingly unflappable Goldbeck is well aware of the discomfort level of operators at the outset of such a project.

“One of the biggest challenges we face from operators — and we take this concern very seriously — is getting them to have a comfort level that our ‘temporary’ facilities will be just as good, if not better, than what they have been working out of and that they will have the tools necessary to maintain the quality of their foodservice programs.”

About 18 months ago, Kitchens To Go, headquartered in Naperville, IL, was commissioned by the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, to deliver a 38,350 square foot replacement kitchen for use during the renovation of historic King Hall, which serves as the on-campus galley at the school. It provides 14,000 freshly prepared meals to undergraduate midshipmen each day. It took less than 78 days for the temporary unit to be operational — no matter that Mother Nature dumped three separate blizzards during that construction cycle — from ground breaking to fully code-approved opening. (For a time-lapse video of the constrution effort, see FMTV on p. 24)

Academy leadership had determined that either a temporary catering solution or a phased construction approach would each present logistical nightmares and/or would prove too costly in the long run. So KTG was hired — through general contractor Barton Malow (Southfield, MI) to build a temporary galley kitchen complex on campus.

The modular kitchen complex featured a 14,100 sq.ft., code-compliant Sprung Clear Span tension membrane structure. Manufactured by Sprung Instant Structures, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it's a great alternative to a tent, Goldbeck explains.

“It's an aluminum frame with fabric stretched on the interior and exterior, providing an R-28 insulation factor. So it's very efficient. Anytime we need a large open space for dining, receiving, warehousing, etc., we use a Sprung Structure.”

At Annapolis, the enclosed area was used for food prep as well as for cold/dry storage. “We moved a modular kitchen into place, and then the Sprung Structure was constructed next to it,” he says. “We built out cold storage, dry storage racks and the cold prep area.”

At presstime, the new, permanent Galley was approaching completion. When finished, the temporary installation will be removed with all materials and equipment ready to be reused in a temporary kitchen elsewhere.

“Actually, the installation could easily have been used there for 30 years,” Goldbeck points out. “It's the same type of construction used in some permanent facilities. It's not flimsy — and it's built to the specific codes required.”

Lessons Learned
For this Annapolis installation, Goldbeck “would have cancelled the three blizzards since we had crews working 'round the clock!”

In designing a project, typically form follows function. “But this temporary facility was designed around an historic tree [subsequently removed]; in our business, function follows form in creating a custom kitchen using standard components.”

Goldbeck says he has learned that involving operators in the design portion of any project is key to success. While they may not be involved in commissioning the project, “They have to live in it, and it's important we give them the tools to meet their production requirements,” Goldbeck contends. “I compare it to a heart/lung machine; we are life support for their foodservice program until their new kitchen is up and running. We want the operation to be a success.”

Taking ‘a bit longer’

At about midnight on September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike — reportedly the third costliest hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S. — hit Galveston, TX. The University of Texas Medical Branch suffered the total destruction of its main kitchen. Since then, UTMB has been trying to fit the foodservice operation into little spaces on campus, notes Glenn Therrien, president and CEO of Chesapeake, VA-based Kitchen Corps., Inc.

When this retired U.S. Navy Seabee formed his company 15 years ago, he adopted the Navy's motto for his business: “The difficult we do right away, the impossible takes a bit longer.” Now, almost three years post-Ike, he's tackling what seemed impossible; a 15,000 square foot kitchen has arrived in a parking lot a few blocks away from the previous kitchen location.

“It arrived in 29 trailers and was assembled in 30 days — including 70 tons of air conditioning,” Therrien is happy to report. There's a 70-foot exhaust hood, an 18-foot flight-type dishwasher, a catering kitchen with a 38-foot exhaust hood, 60-foot by 60-foot dry storage area, 60-foot by 60-foot refrigerator/freezer area, plus office space. He points out that all exhaust hoods are variable speed, and that there are three 20-ton air conditioning units up and running. This installation could actually be permanent since it's up to all inspection codes, but the renovation of the original kitchen is slated for completion in three years when this “temporary” one will be removed.

Today, more than 3,000 meals are prepared in the Kitchen Corps. facility and shuttled from the parking lot site in large temperature controlled vehicles (provided by another vendor); some meal components are headed to the main building while others are delivered to another venue for the patient tray line.

Lessons Learned
Therrien admits that when he first started this company, he didn't seek to manage the air supply air to the exhaust hood. “But especially in southern states, heat is a problem because supply air is pulled in from outside — so we had to start climate controlling that. Bringing in hot air wasted the conditioned air inside, wasted money, and created unhappy cooks.”

Over the years he's learned that customers don't always know what they need. “Often they [an administration] won't ask for enough space and equipment to really do the job,” he says. “We try to counsel them on what they need, even though the project budget often gets in the way.”

Unfazed thanks to phased plan

The Watterson Dining Commons on the campus of Illinois State University, Normal, IL, is ISU's main residential dining facility, serving 6,500 to 7,500 meals per-day in what is now an all-you-care-to-eat location. Although there had been a dining center upgrade in 1995, the kitchen hadn't been included; last spring dining services took the facility's main kitchen off line for renovation as part of a long range master plan — actually a 5-Phase project.

Thanks to venues previously completed during Phase 2 (fall 2009) and Phase 3 (winter break 2009-2010), the ramifications of shutting down the kitchen were largely taken in stride.

Phase 2 had included the construction of a grill and deli area. When these opened, part of the servery was no longer needed. This space was remodeled to include a seating area, and a new dish room and pulper room.

A cold prep room and Euro kitchen had also been installed in Phase 2. This included a wok station, Mexican station, home-style line, and a Fresh Bites venue with display cooking plus some additional seating. Most of the equipment for this area was new.

Lessons Learned
“We're finding the Euro kitchen is too tight a space — it's hard to find room for carts,” Jones says.

“It's very important to design good work flow — look at the dimensions, look at the plans. Try to envision real production going on in the planned space.”

To make sure you get exactly (or as close to “exactly”) the equipment you want, aim to write very tight specs. This is especially important where state contract systems are in place, Jones found.

“We visited other schools to see how the equipment works in a similar venue. Read the actual cut [spec] sheets yourself to know what it is you're getting,” Jones advises. “We purchased a new slicer, but the quality of the one we had before was much better.”

Again, check the dimensions — perhaps twice; Jones says the newly purchased pizza prep station at ISU was too high for most workers to work at comfortably.

Floor sinks and drain troughs in front of the kettles should be of special concern, she adds. “The placement of these is critical as you look at the designs,” Jones asserts. “Some troughs are too small and the contents of steam kettles will slop on the floor. Also, look at the design in regard to the grating that covers the troughs. Make sure the holes aren't too small; you want to get good water drainage through the grates.”

As you're working with the architect, make sure water testing is being done in order to know whether or not and how much water filtration might be needed. “We have seen some of the stainless in our new equipment starting to deteriorate because of chemicals added to the water,” she says.

Keeping good records and a “punch list” is a must. “As you walk through the project site, note down anything that comes to your attention so you can later share it with the project manager and construction crew.”

Set a tightly written timeline at the outset of the project: “In a phased renovation, timing is critical,” Jones reiterates. “I wouldn't be afraid of a phased renovation in the future — but it takes a lot of planning and weekly meetings with the team, including such questions as, ‘How will we handle production of [a particular] item?’”

Scratch production for schools

Renovation headaches can affect anyone. Ann Cooper, the controversial food author and school chef activist has had to deal with them during her tenure as director of nutritional services for Boulder (CO) Valley School District,where she has been aiming to switch food production to 95% scratch cooking.

When she arrived at Boulder several years ago, in order to prepare and serve 10,000 meals per-day (breakfast and lunch) in 48 food service sites, cooking was done in 23 locations. Last summer, as part of The School Food Project, Cooper oversaw the renovation of five kitchens to become production kitchens; the work was started in mid-June and had to be completed by the beginning of August, in time for the start of the school year. By August of this year, she'll have three production kitchens, down from five, in order to assure even greater control of food costs and quality, she asserts.

“Basically, the menu consisted of traditional heat-and-serve foods such as nuggets; now we're roasting chickens, doing stir frys, soups, sauces, etc., from scratch. We're doing modified cook-chill without big tumble chillers. In one kitchen we have a blast chiller, in another there are specific rolling rack refrigerators for chilling quickly. We re-engineered how we operated, with food now cooked from scratch, then reheated and finished off in 45 (of the original 48) satellite operations.”

New equipment needs depended upon the specific kitchen, but all needed steamers, tilt skillets, double stack combi ovens and steam kettles. “We always use a kitchen designer to ensure utilities are in the proper places; overall, this was a pretty flawless renovation,” Cooper happily recalls. “Since we were fully closed over the summer, we didn't need to provide meals, the remodels were mostly minor with little structural change.”

Lessons Learned
“It's really important to understand what your menu is going to be when you re-open, and how it might evolve in future years.” That will help you define your immediate equipment needs and help determine the equipment space allotments you may need for the future.

At this juncture, Cooper looks forward to having paired down her operation (by August) to three production kitchens while boosting efficiencies. She offers this suggestion: “If the budget allows it, I would prefer one large production kitchen.”

Aging facility and room service needs prompt change

Following two years of construction, the new kitchen and dish room at Saint Francis Hospital, The Heart Center, Roslyn, NY, is now fully operational. While the renovation was going on, Director of Food and Nutritiona Services Maura Dillon, MHA, and her staff worked out of space in a newly constructed patient wing. It temporarily housed the kitchen, tray line and dish room.

The main hospital is growing and the facility is itself being enlarged, with the number of beds increasing from about 290 two years ago, to 336 beds currently; it should reach 365 during the coming year. In addition to patient meals, Dillon's department also prepares approximately 1,500-2,000 meals daily for staff, outpatients and guests.

“This was a cost-effective and efficient solution for us,” Dillon contends, “and it was the best option in light of our financial constraints. Otherwise, perhaps two or three mobile kitchens would have been needed. That would have meant siting those units and making logistical arrangements to getting food back into the building.”

Since the kitchen was well over 40 years old — as was the majority of its equipment — the time had come to renovate. “In addition, we had adopted a room service model and therefore needed more efficient production space — a different configuration of the kitchen for our cooks — to improve the flow,” she explains.

But what was originally slated to be managed in stages, without relocating/dislocating foodservice, took two years with structural, floor, piping, hoods and exhaust problems necessitating planning changes. Most of the new equipment is a good deal larger than what it replaces (e.g., a standard broiler is now a char broiler,) but the fryer has been downsized, reflecting the heart healthy mandate of the facility.

“During the renovation, we had to bring in pre-prepared food that fit heart healthy parameters for room service menus because we couldn't cook and only had an oven to reheat,” Dillon recalls. “Our staff really stepped up to the challenge, getting accustomed to reheating and batch reheating during that period. As an extra challenge, during one six month period during the winter, our walk-ins for deliveries were outside in trucks — it was just another challenge!”

Lessons Learned
“Have patience,” Dillon prompts. “The staff has to be informed, they have to ‘buy-in’ to the plan; and you have to be flexible because things keep changing.”

Case in point: Finding that the plan to go to disposables for serving patient meals wasn't going to work since they weren't able to maintain food temperatures at acceptable levels. That meant going back to china service. “The question was,” Dillon recalls, “where to put the dishwasher? We readjusted the temporary space again and dropped in a small dishwasher” just for patient meal warewashing.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE NAVAL ACADEMY'S SPRUNG STRUCTURE was captured in this time-lapse video footage. You can view it at:

TAGS: Management
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