There I was, sitting on the patio in Malibu overlooking the beautiful blue Pacific watching whales, dolphins, sea lions and pelicans and searching for the inspiration and words to tell a prospective client and his project designer what I do. “I’m a consultant,” I started. I went through the general explanation I usually used… “I’m a strategic planner, a concept developer,” I offered. I always struggle with this. I much prefer to offer solutions to clients’ problems than to talk about myself.
The truth is, I haven’t even been able to explain to my own family what I have done for a living for the last 35 years. With a background in motion picture and television design and direction, a degree in architecture and PhD in psychology, having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and opening hundreds of my own restaurants, it's sometimes challenging to put into just a few words exactly what I do for my clients.
“I help people look at their business in new ways. I stimulate creativity. I design new products. I, I , I," I stammered feebly struggling to find the words. “I am a food architect,” I finally blurted out hoping to put this test to rest.
“Oh, I get it,” my client finally said. “A Food Architect! Why didn’t you just say so from the beginning?”
Was it the salt air, the sun or the ocean view that finally brought these words to the tip of my tongue? Ultimately, it is a search for the right words to address a potential client’s concern for justifying engaging in our services. Believe me, if I could have found the words earlier, I would have.
Here were two well-educated businessmen planning the design and construction of a major multi-million dollar sports arena. The client and his very able team of designers and architects were worrying about the look of the inspirational arena, the seating plans for different events, the colors, logos, private boxes, dressing rooms, training facilities, parking, marketing, advertising, promotion and oh yes, the food—how to feed thousands of people foods they like, rapidly, at a price-point that offers a real value, yet still has the margins to pay for this modern-day Coliseum. “We don’t want food to be just another amenity, but an additional draw to the arena,” my client
I added, “It must be an extension of the entertainment experience, not just and interruption.”
I was told that they had spoken to several foodservice contractors who specialize in sports arena or stadium feeding. Each had come in with their “standard” package, claiming this is what worked in St. Louis, Dallas or Buffalo. No one took into consideration the flavor and tastes of the locale.
“I’m not an operating company,” I explained, “but if you want to have something that is a draw and truly unique, you’re going to have to understand the foods that are important to the local community.”
“Listen,” I quickly followed, “The anthropology of man can be traced more accurately through the foods and beverages of time rather than just the richness of art, the prose of literature, the rhythm of music or the structure of architecture.”
We talked about The Varsity in Atlanta, County Line Barbecue in Austin,
Pinks in Los Angeles, street corner cart pretzels in New York City, Farmer
John’s famous Dodger Dogs, Vienna Beef’s Chicago Dogs, Geno’s or Pat’s Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches and the sushi and Starbucks Coffee in Orange County’s arena.
“What are the most-visited and beloved restaurants in your area?” I inquired, switching the subject quickly away from what I am to what I do.
I continued. “Now all of the contractors you are talking to can do the job— they’re all capable, but you and your team have to be the major part of the planning process. You wouldn’t just turn over all of the architectural planning of the stadium to your building contractor and hope the sight lines were correct and there were adequate restrooms, would you? Of course not,” I insisted, I was on a roll. “That’s why you hire architects. And...,” I continued, not trying to be too pushy, “...I am The Food Architect!”
We all agreed after just 45 minutes of talking, that I was to be their Food Architect!
Over the next couple of days, I thought about the various degrees of success of the projects that we had been associated with over the last several years. There was the government cafeteria that had the potential to served over 4000 building co-workers.
Over the last eleven years they had no less than 6 operators with none doing more than about 200 covers a day. We sat on the review boards and heard the same old story about the “canned” programs they were willing to provide. After the last vendor was in and out in less than two months, the client finally agreed to have a proprietary program developed to reflect the tastes of the population of the building.
They agreed to hire me as their Food Architect and, working with the foodservice contractor and the government building taskforce, we came up with a plan that is now providing breakfasts and lunches to over 900 people a day at a check average 20% higher than ever before. This plan called for a complete hot breakfast, fresh-baked morning pastries and muffins, lunch
entrees with an ethnic twist, Asian (including sushi), Italian (including pizza) Hispanic and American comfort foods, salad, grain and sandwich bars, home-baked pies and cookies, pre-wrapped ice cream novelties and a fantastic catering menu which within the first 2 weeks, was able to attract a 600-person outside event.
All thanks to The Food Architect, you ask? Hardly! It was the collaboration of a team of knowledgeable and caring professionals with a passion for food—a client wanting to provide the best food possible for a reasonable price, a design architect who made the environment a most pleasant experience, a foodservice contractor who was keyed on great food and exemplary service and, yes, The Food Architect, who engineered the program and menus and also made sure that everyone delivered in a timely manner.
So, the next time that question is posed by a potential client, “Just who are you and what do you do?”, I won’t need the inspiration of the sun, surf and sand. Just four little words say it all… “I’m The Food Architect.”