Foodservice Equipment Reports

DESIGN: Great Expectations

Baking macarons is a tricky business. The delicate meringue-based confections need the right blend of ingredients, precise baking time and temperature and—above all—the right oven to attain their signature melt-in-your-mouth airiness. 

So when master macaron baker Natalie Wong decided it was time to open her own shop in Pleasanton, Calif., she and her husband Russ Trapani began to hunt for the perfect oven to serve as the shop’s linchpin. 

One of their contacts at a California-based oven manufacturer suggested the couple visit Pacific Gas and Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, San Ramon, Calif., to check out their rack oven, which then was undergoing performance tests.

The meeting proved the proverbial match made in heaven. “[FSTC operator Fisher-Nickel Inc. Founders] Don [Fisher] and Judy [Nickel] showed us the rack oven, explained all the tests they were running on it, then showed us around the rest of the facility and introduced us to all of the FSTC engineers,” Trapani recalls. “They invited us to come back with ingredients to try the oven ourselves.” 

Wong and Trapani accepted the offer. “They gave us room to blend, sift, refrigerate and use the oven as we needed,” Trapani says. Over the course of the next five months, the pair tapped the collective knowledge of FSTC engineers on nearly all aspects of their future shop’s equipment.

The resulting advice helped the pair make informed decisions. “We met engineers who were specialists in water heating, filtration, HVAC, refrigeration, lighting—pretty much any question we had, there was someone at FSTC with an answer,” Trapani says. 

The Sugarie Bake Shop, all 764 sq. ft. of it, opened for business in December 2013 with a $90,000 equipment package that includes Energy Star-certified units and other choices that will save thousands of dollars in operating costs.

Sugarie Efficiencies 

The Sugarie’s roll-in-rack oven, lighting, water heater, refrigeration and induction cooktop were chosen with an eye toward operating efficiencies and life-cycle costing.

Oven. The pair considered three types of rack ovens. The unit they ultimately selected operates with 87% efficiency (i.e., 87% of the heat goes into the product rather than out the flue) and features an integrated hood. “A Type I hood [that would have been required for other rack-oven models] would have cost about $25,000, would have been challenging to install in that location and would need a fire-suppression system,” notes FSTC Managing Director David Zabrowski.

Despite the cost-saving convenience of their oven’s built-in hood, the husband-and-wife team found its air-handling system to be too loud for their small space. Constructing a manufacturer-approved enclosure around the oven remedied the issue. 

The oven is so well-insulated that, when the shop’s heating system went down, the repairman could not believe the tiny bakery, with its massive oven, could still be cold. “The outdoor temperature was 47°F, and inside our shop it was 47°F,” Trapani says. “You only feel the oven’s heat if you stand right next to it.”

Lighting. Lighting was another revelation for Wong and Trapani. “We commented to [FSTC] staff how much more colorful our macarons seemed to appear when we baked at FSTC facilities,” Trapani says. “We realized it was the fluorescent lighting at the other locations that dulled the colors.”

FSTC Energy Analyst Todd Bell visited the Sugarie site to run estimates on lighting power usage. “He pulled out his laptop and a light meter, put it in the middle of the room and did some calculations,” Trapani recalls. “Todd floored me when he said we’d be paying about $300 per month in electricity for the 11 T-12 fluorescent tubes currently in use.” 

“Bell told me that if we switched to LEDs, we’d spend about $45 per month,” Trapani continues. They specified high-end LED replacements from NEXT Lighting, San Francisco.

“We went from drawing 30 amps of power whenever the lights were on to about 10 amps. The change allowed wattage to be used by other equipment in the shop,” Trapani says. “The NEXT lights show off the pastel colors of our macarons perfectly.” 

Trapani, who did the lighting installation himself, was so smitten with LED technology that he overhauled the lighting in the dual-temperature display case in the front of the shop, as well.

“The case had 14 fluorescent bulbs and four transformers and was pulling up to 15 amps. The transformers would add heat to the interior, causing the unit to work harder. They also blocked some of the airflow,” Trapani says. “Now that we’re using LEDs, the case stays cool on a lower setting than before, and its compressor runs a lot less than before.” 

Induction. Induction was another new technology for the duo. “FSTC engineers introduced us to the speed and coolness of induction heating,” Trapani says. Sugarie is equipped with a countertop induction hob used for tasks such as caramelizing, browning bacon for quiches and heating macaron fillings. 

Water Heater. In Sugarie’s 764-sq.-ft. layout, finding space for a traditional tank-type water heater was out of the question. FSTC engineers steered the couple toward a high-efficiency tankless water heater capable of delivering 6 gal./min. of hot water. “The better heat exchanger sends about 90% of the heat into the water rather than up the flue,” Zabrowski says. “Since the flue temperatures are closer to 200°F rather than 400°F, a PVC exhaust pipe can be used instead of a pricier stainless pipe. Better performance, lower energy use.”

Eyes Wide Open 

“Natalie and Russ arrived at FSTC looking for help on their oven choice,” Zabrowski says. “They left with info about lighting, refrigeration, water heating and more. It’s up to them to choose the equipment they want, but at least they know what to look for in energy efficiency and performance. And when they look at their utility bills, they’ll know what’s happening. Without our information, they would have been flying blind, relying on price quotes and specifications.”


The PG&E Food Service Technology Center, San Ramon, Calif., leads the industry in commercial-kitchen energy efficiency and appliance-performance testing. Operated by Fisher-Nickel Inc. (recently acquired by GTI Int’l., a wholly owned subsidiary of Gas Technology Institute, Des Plaines, Ill.), the FSTC has developed more than 35 Standard Test Methods for evaluating commercial-kitchen appliance and system performance. Along with a library of information on equipment performance, the FSTC provides expertise in commercial-kitchen ventilation, water heating and building energy efficiency, including lighting, window glazing and HVAC. The organization’s goal is to provide foodservice operators with education, viable resources and up-to-date information at no cost. Visit the FSTC online to learn about available rebates and enjoy substantial savings.

HEADQUARTERS: Pleasanton, Calif.
SIZE: 764 sq. ft., approx. 17 ft. x 43 ft.
OPENED: December 2013
PARTNERS: Charles Huff Architect, Pleasanton, Calif.; TriMark, San Francisco; Mike O’Callaghan Construction – MCT Development & Construction, Pleasanton, Calif.
OWNER: Natalie Wong

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