A 30-year veteran of the foodservice industry, Don Fisher has applied his mechanical engineering background to improving the energy efficiency of kitchen ventilation and other equipment for decades. His transition to the foodservice industry came in 1980 during an energy audit of a kitchen while working as a consultant in Winnipeg, Canada. He was later recruited by Pacific Gas & Electric to develop a space for foodservice technology research and development. What originally began as an 18-month project led to the creation of the Food Service Technology Center, the industry’s renowned center for third-party commercial kitchen equipment testing, research and education. FSTC celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer.
FE&S: What was your first job in foodservice?
Don Fisher: I was looking at the potential for heat recovery on kitchen exhaust while working on a project for the Canadian government in Winnipeg. It was a project for the Energy, Mines and Resources of Canada, which is basically Canada’s Department of Energy. We were tasked to look at energy efficient strategies for kitchen ventilation in restaurants and in the industry as a whole.
FE&S: Are you involved in any charitable activities?
Don Fisher: We go through a lot of food at the Center so we donate our “test food” to Oakland Potluck and other organizations. We’ve also been donors financially for them. And I participated in the NAFEM Ride — the motorcycle ride to NAFEM in support of food rescue. Every couple of years several dozen of us would ride. Last time we raised about $50,000 for America’s Second Harvest.
FE&S: It sounds like motorcycle riding is a passionate hobby for you. What bikes do you have?
Don Fisher: All kinds — BMWs, Harleys. I have motorcycle disease. Whenever it’s 75 degrees and sunny I take the time to go out riding.
FE&S: When traveling for business, what is one of your favorite pastimes?
Don Fisher: Trying new restaurants of course!
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?
Don Fisher: Before you get involved in foodservice you have to learn the industry. You can’t just show up at a show — you have to prove yourself to this industry first. That takes time. Whether you’re an engineer or a chef or sell equipment, you have to gain the respect of the industry.
FE&S: Knowing what you now know, would you still pursue a career in foodservice?
Don Fisher: Sure, why not? It’s been fun. I’m still happy to work in the foodservice industry because I haven’t learned my lesson (laughs). There’s of course an easier way to make money, but we’re all in this together. Everyone jokes about that, but whether you are on the engineering side or the equipment side, people don’t leave the industry. We look after each other. We respect each other. Even though it’s sort of a cutthroat, tough industry at times, we still look after our people.
Click here to read part one of the interview with Don Fisher.