September 01, 2012
I had the good fortune to hear a great story—over cocktails, of course—at the opening reception of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company Food Service Technology Center’s 25th Anniversary Silver & Beyond event. More than 200 friends and colleagues from every channel of the hospitality industry gathered in August to celebrate this exceptional resource. FER President and Publisher Robin Ashton, along with John Cornyn, FCSI, kindly introduced me to Bettie Jean Davis, who was PG&E’s Executive Account Manager, Food Service. Back in 1985, Davis (then Bettie Ferlin) came up with the idea for a foodservice-equipment testing lab.
“PG&E’s focus at the time was really on energy efficiency in whole buildings,” Davis told me. “There was very little focus on energy efficiency in commercial kitchens,” she said. She and others knew that foodservice equipment used up a lot of energy, but they had no appropriate facility in which to run tests, and in fact, “we realized we didn’t even have standard test methods!” she says.
Davis first met Don Fisher in 1985 at an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Foodservice Focus Group meeting in Palo Alto, Calif. They were both in the parking lot, lost and late, and so happened to walk in and sit together at the meeting. “What was really interesting about that was that as the meeting progressed, each pulled out the other’s research document from their briefcases. Don had been invited for his work on energy efficiency in the commercial foodservice sector for Natural Resources, Canada; Bettie for her work in foodservice at PG&E,” says Judy Nickel, Principal, Fisher-Nickel, inc.
Nickel was working during the summers with Fisher as his research associate in his company, K.P. Engineering and Design, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “In May of 1986, I met Bettie at the National Restaurant Association Show for dinner, and it turned out to be an interview for the lead research position at Bettie’s new Production-Test Kitchen project in San Ramon, [Calif.],” Nickel explains. Carl Weinberg, PG&E v.p. of research and development, tapped his budget to fund the PTK and Davis tapped Fisher to be the engineer,” she says. “I would be the hands-on researcher in the kitchen.”
Hiring Fisher proved problematic; PG&E had a policy of not hiring engineers from outside of the U.S. without a signature from a vice president. “I knew I really needed him,” Davis says. “Don was the only engineer I’d met specializing in foodservice equipment.” Davis remembered that John Fox, a PG&E v.p., was a Canadian by birth. “He went for coffee in the morning, so one day I timed it so I would ride the elevator with him!” Davis laughs. On the ride up 23 floors, Davis made her case. Fox told her to draft a letter and he’d sign it.
Fisher and Nickel came to California in August of 1986 in time for Davis’ focus group in San Francisco. They were invited as Davis’ technical consultants. Advisors at that original meeting included reps from the NRA, EPRI, Gas Research Institute—now Gas Technology Institute or GTI—American Gas Association Laboratories (AGAL), Pennsylvania State University – Engineering Unit, McDonald’s Corp., Marriott Corp. and Saga Foods, now Sodexo.
Along with Gloria Pieretti as the onsite manager for the PTK, the original FSTC had a whopping three people dedicated to the program. Today’s team is 21 strong, more than 40 standard test methods have been developed for commercial foodservice equipment and the FSTC is the one of the most respected test facilities in the world. We should all raise a collective glass!