2019 Management Excellence Awards: SSA Foodservice Design + Consulting


Some folks are great at identifying and following trends; others create them. Ken Schwartz, FCSI, President of SSA Foodservice Design + Consulting, relates, “We look at every venue individually, because each venue has its own identity. We help clients create oneof-a-kind experiences, by design or operation. We even design new equipment and tools for our clients. Any time we can do something that benefits our clients, we will.”

Mika Halttunen, Chairman at Halton Group, shares an example of SSA’s approach. “Halton was involved in a major project for Michael Mina at Levi’s Stadium (home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers). The client envisioned a ‘tailgate’ experience for the foodservice operation. In that theme, they wanted an appliance that could cook half a steer! None existed. So, Ken and his team set out to design one and have it built. It is now the centerpiece of Michael Mina’s Tailgate. This is just one of many examples where SSA has gone beyond the client’s expectations and delivered their vision.”

Schwartz emphasizes that his team doesn’t just try to make a place look good. They also want it to work well. “As we design, we think about branding, but also we think about function and flow. Where will products come in? How will the food be served? We work with the client to draw out what the process will be, so that we can design the process, as well as the venue.”

“SSA is creative in terms of concepts and creative in terms of using space,” notes Kit Pappas, V.P., Hotel Management, Tavistock Development Co. “Not everyone has that combination of creative and technical ability. We’re building three hotels from the ground up, and they have been very collaborative. They listen to our ideas and evolve as we evolve. They don’t try to fit us into their concept. I can’t say enough good things about them. They are extremely talented but also very likeable.”

Schwartz explains their flexibility and creativity in terms of how the team works. “We have a very diverse team with different skills, experience and responsibilities. However, I look at them as if everyone is a potential guest of the client and therefore has valuable insight and perspective into the project. We have weekly staff meetings where everyone has input. This allows us to go back to the client with ideas from multiple perspectives. Of course, the client is as important a part of the development process as the design team.”

The team approach is, in Schwartz’s opinion, central to SSA’s success. “Anyone who doesn’t take into account the insights of all team members is missing a great opportunity. That is why everyone on the team is involved in every project. It’s also why we all go as a team to the big shows. We all receive information differently and react to different things. One might get design ideas and another might identify unique software. Plus, when people travel together, it produces a better team effort.”

Kevin Eaton, President, Eaton Marketing and board member of MAFSI (and 2015 Young Lion Award winner), acknowledges the effectiveness of Schwartz’s team. “The talent within their organization is broad. They employ, among others, an ex-chef, ex-architect, ex-technician and ex-foodservice dealer. They bring this range of expertise to the table with every design. They also are a very educated firm; they jump at the opportunity to learn. They think outside the box, continually challenging the manufacturers I represent to innovate and make products better than they are right now. They challenge them to build equipment that has never been built before and give the reasoning behind why they should build it. On top of all that, they have an amazing rapport with their clients.”

John Ott, V.P. Development, Bayshore Capital, adds, “At a high level, the folks at SSA think like a developer. They are not simply fulfilling an assignment, but they take the time to understand the project, think about it, and gain an understanding of what needs to be accomplished. They understand the business objectives, the experience objectives, the design objectives, and they think holistically. Their culture is empowering and fun, yet disciplined and process-oriented. I feel they are not just a hired consultant for services for a fee, but a true partner in the development. They are truly out for the best project solution. On a personal note, they are a pleasure to work with.”

Discussing some of the secrets of his success, Schwartz says he thinks it’s vital to treat everyone with respect and equality. It also is important to think of his team as individuals. “I want people to grow in their positions. The way we work together creates a more cohesive work environment. We also are careful in how we manage work. I want to keep everyone busy—but most of all, I want to keep them.”


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