Foodservice Equipment Reports
Kitchen Design

UNIT DESIGN: Helping Hands

For central Indiana’s community kitchens and food pantries, business is—alas—booming. Enter Second Helpings. Founded in 1998, the Indianapolis-based, volunteer-powered foodservice organization centers around a main production kitchen to feed people in need by using food that might otherwise go to waste. 

Second Helpings collects food donations from purveyors such as Sysco Foodservices of Indianapolis, U.S. Foodservice, Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Bluffton Distribution. The food is converted into meals at the Second Helpings facility and sent out as prepared meals to 70 partner organizations in and around Indianapolis.

By 2010, growing demand had caused Second Helpings to max out at about 2,700 daily meals. Its undersized walk-in coolers and freezers limited incoming food donations. Workers jerry-rigged a makeshift food-cooling station in the kitchen by attaching box fans to shelving with zip-ties in an effort to speed throughput.

“The chilling component was the biggest production bottleneck,” says Scott Reitano, FCSI, principal, Reitano Design Group. “Those box fans weren’t pretty, but they worked.” The prep area had too few work tables and no convenient access to extra pans or trays. The dishroom was hot and steamy and constantly swamped with an influx of dirty pans. And when it came to retherming prepared food for morning deliveries, the delivery team had to use the same ovens as the production team preparing the next day’s meals. And sometimes an oven or two was on the blink.

“Our food goes to people who really need a hot, nutritious meal, so having an oven go down really impacted operations,” says Second Helpings CEO Jennifer Vigran. 

By coincidence, Reitano’s design firm neighbors, and supports, Second Helpings, and the firm was willing to donate time and expertise to spearhead Second Helpings’ kitchen renovation project. “I love what Second Helpings is doing for our community.”

Double Capacity, Same Footprint 

Reitano’s goal was to double Second Helpings’ food production capacity from 2,700 to 6,000 meals per day—all without moving any walls. In the process, the makeover would “give the Second Helpings kitchen a more efficient food flow, increase food safety precautions and create a more volunteer-friendly work environment,” Reitano says.

Key partners in the Second Helpings kitchen renovation included architect Steve Cain, principal of SJC Architecture, Fishers, Ind.; project manager Don Kehrt, then with C&T Design and Equipment Co., Indianapolis; and general contractor Gene King, owner of Merlin King, Indianapolis. Second Helpings CFO Mike Eline headed the renovation team. 

Kitchen planning began in May ’11. Once the kitchen design was ready, fund-raising practically drove itself. Construction for the $1 million project commenced in early December ’11 and opened for business six weeks later.

Flow, Function, Capacity & Food Safety 

The three biggest priorities in the Second Helpings kitchen makeover were to expand refrigeration capacity, boost cooking and retherming capacity and eliminate crossover food and traffic flow.

Cold. Some 75% of meals sent out by Second Helpings are delivered cold to agency sites for “heat-and-serve” meals. The remaining 25% of meals will be rethermalized at Second Helpings and delivered hot to serving sites lacking heating equipment. So the first order of business was to give the facility more—and better—cold storage and faster cooling speeds. 

“We started by doubling the size of the three walk-ins—we were able to appropriate extra space from the dock side of operations,” Reitano says. One cooler and one freezer are used primarily for receiving, while the third walk-in is a combination blast-chiller/cooler. All three units have access doors on both sides.

Reitano’s team worked closely with the cooler manufacturer to custom-build the roll-through blast chiller. The unit features large, high-speed fans attached to the walls of a standard walk-in box. “This system can take pans of cooked food from 165°F to below 70°F in about an hour,” Reitano says. The adjoining cooler was spec’ed with oversized refrigeration to give it the cooling oomph needed to bring temps down further, to below 38°F within three hours—well within Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines. 

The other key capacity upgrade was the addition of high-density shelving in the coolers and dry storage. “The new shelving has made a huge difference in our ability to safely sort, store and thaw food,” Vigran says. “We’re able to keep more fresh fruits and vegetables to send to partner agencies and can better organize what we have to work with in our inventory and find what we need. The moveable shelving also makes it easier for us to clean coolers—plus we can remove and wash the shelves, too.”

Hot. Next on the agenda was to increase meal production capacity, which was done by upgrading equipment pieces and adding some new ones.

“We got rid of the old convection ovens and replaced them with six double-stacked combis,” Reitano says. “Not only do combis offer more menu flexibility, they really increased through-put because they’re faster.” 

Other cooking area upgrades include replacing an extra, little-used range with a trunnion kettle and installing a third tilting skillet.

In the old kitchen, the convection ovens had to do double-duty, in cooking and rethermalizing pans of food. “We weren’t able to use the ovens for cooking until morning meals had been rethermed for hot deliveries,” Vigran says. In the new kitchen, this bottleneck is eliminated with the addition of six cook/hold ovens located near the pick-up dock. “Now delivery drivers never even need to come into the kitchen to pick up hot food,” Reitano says. 

Flow. In the old kitchen, necessity dictated that everyone and anyone would walk through the kitchen to get what they needed—including delivery drivers, volunteers, warewashing crews and more. Food traveled a similarly chaotic path.

Under the new plan, order reigns and crossovers are few. Starting at the delivery dock, volunteers place chilled and frozen boxes of food directly into two extra-large, pass-through walk-ins. As food is needed for production, it moves to the prep area, where volunteers at three large, extra-wide worktables wash, chop and prep the day’s items. Prepped pans of food get passed into the cooking area for baking, sautéeing, boiling or steaming as needed. Racks of cooked food then are placed in the roll-through blast chiller. Once chilled, racks of food roll into the attached cooler to await delivery pickups. 

Volunteer-Friendly Details

Second Helpings’s kitchen, led by Hunger Relief Director Liz Gimenez, has two full-time and two part-time employees. More than 600 active volunteers perform the heavy culinary lifting. “There are at least 20 volunteers in the building each day helping prepare and deliver meals,” Vigran says. 

Side benefits of the new kitchen include its many volunteer-friendly details, such as the openness between the prep and cooking areas, double-sized prep tables, a hot water dispenser and an upgraded dishroom.

“In the old kitchen, prep-area workers were all lined up on one side of the table,” Reitano says. The revamped prep area features tables (fitted with cutting boards and tool storage below) that let volunteers face each other to socialize as they work. The design team added a row of pan shelving along the wall for added efficiency. 

The prep area also features a new hot water dispenser that’s “used for everything,” Reitano says. “It eliminates the need to boil water in big pots on the stove, and it’s used for general baking and cooking. Facilities that have these dispensers absolutely swear by them.”

In the dishroom, “we added a turbo-wash sink to reduce the time and labor needed to wash pans,” Reitano says. 

Hidden Benefits

Reitano was honored by Second Helpings with the Time, Talent & Treasure Award last year for his work on the project. “This organization continues to expand to meet a real need in the community. I’ve been blessed to play a small role in their mission.

“We have a great opportunity to share our gifts, resources and expertise within our communities. There are organizations, agencies and ministries that need assistance, be it on kitchen flow or food safety or equipment selection, to further their missions to feed the hungry. How can we not step up and help?”



HEADQUARTERS: Indianapolis

MEALS SERVED PER DAY: Currently 3,500 meals/day; 6,000 meals/day capacity


KITCHEN: 1,600 sq. ft. 




ARCHITECT: SJC Architecture, Fishers, Ind.—Steve Cain, principal

KITCHEN DESIGNERS: Reitano Design Group, Indianapolis—Scott Reitano, FCSI, principal, and Jim Kessenich, project designer

CONTRACTOR: Merlin King, Indianapolis—Gene King, principal

DEALER/FABRICATOR: C&T Design and Equipment Co., Indianapolis—Don Kehrt, project manager (now with Schert Foodservice Equipment)


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