“He’s just a stand-up guy.”
We’ve heard that phrase said about people, and it’s certainly a compliment. While that was my first impression of FE&S’ 2019 DSR of the Year Nick Pope of The Boelter Companies, there’s so much more to his story.
The 33-year-old Pope’s calm and professional demeanor makes him come across as someone much older and more experienced than he actually is. Jim Lima, project executive at Executive Construction Inc. in Hillside, Ill., which has worked on several projects with Boelter over the years, felt the exact same way upon his first meeting with Pope years ago.
“When I first met him, I thought, wow, because I pictured him 5 to 10 years older,” Lima says. “That’s just a testament to it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still be pretty good at what you do. He might not have the same quantity of years in the industry as colleagues and competitors, but he truly seems wise beyond his years.”
Indeed, Pope’s resume is enough to impress anyone in the industry: a background in the culinary arts followed by substantial tenures at various well-respected dealerships in the Chicagoland area before landing at Boelter in 2014 and becoming a key fixture on the team. While Pope kicked off his work at Boelter with some pretty high-profile business and industry projects, he’s since been working on even higher-profile clients, the likes of McDonald’s, Facebook and Google as each expands their headquarters in Chicago.
It’s not uncommon for Pope to show up at work after a long night or two. That’s only natural for someone with a four-month-old baby at home. But it’s not his child that keeps Pope up at night. Rather, he stays awake obsessing on an upcoming installation.
But that does not become apparent unless he shares that information with you. Outwardly, Pope’s always as cool as a cucumber — a trait that undoubtedly contributes to his success. “Nick is very laid-back, though inside he’s hungry for the business and has a very consistent motor; very rarely does he say he can’t take something on,” says Eric Chaplick, director of the Foodservice Design & Equipment division of Boelter. “He’s also a self-starter; I know I can hand him something and walk away and know when he’s going to get it done. He’s also the type of guy who wants to get it done all by himself because it’s simply faster. He knows his timelines and is very focused and controlled.”
Indeed, it has been a busy year for Pope, and not just because he has a newborn. With projects like Google and Facebook in full speed, just on the heels of a huge test kitchen revamp at McDonald’s new Chicago headquarters, he has seen his sales rise from $3 million in 2016 to $4.5 million in 2017 — and then to a whopping $8 million in 2018. He’s already on track to close out at least that much this year — and will likely surpass it.
“When it rains, it pours,” says Pope, recalling last year when many projects were awarded all at once. Last year, he earned jobs at Marriot Indianapolis, Rosemont Bank Park, State Farm, McDonald’s, Theater on the Lake, Gilt Bar and Marriott Moxy, which all hit within months. He drew upon his natural organization skills and strong project management foundation to balance it all.
The steady, if not fast, uptick in business has a lot to do with Pope’s character and professional demeanor, along with his willingness to jump in full speed ahead and leave no rock unturned, no detail untouched, clients say.
“In my experience with Nick working on McDonald’s, one of the things that sold him to us was his willingness to jump in and be part of the solution,” Lima says. “Some guys in the industry like to point out the problem and then have you solve it, but Nick is always hands-on and willing to get in the trenches to come up with creative solutions to find a solution.”
Lima and Pope recall the many long days and late nights in meeting rooms at McDonald’s, trying to figure out everything that had to be done and the changes to be made. “Most guys in his position wouldn’t be as willing to put in that kind of time,” Lima adds. “Even when we got into the construction, he was calm, collected and focused on how we got to the end result.”
Lima is not Pope’s only colleague turned friend; as a dealer who works primarily in bid work, Pope has made friends with architects, electricians, refrigeration installers, service techs and other key players in major construction projects — which is a good thing as they have come out on weekends and from far distances to help in a bind, knowing they’ll find support on the other end. A classic Midwesterner, Pope’s warm, friendly and humorous demeanor makes him naturally easy to work with — and to respect.
The Culinary Years
Pope’s aspirations in foodservice started out like so many budding chefs: the dream of one day opening a restaurant of one’s own.
As early as his junior year of high school, when his school offered the chance to go to a trade school for half the day, Pope took culinary classes at the Technology Center of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., which was nearby his Addison, Ill. home. A passionate cook, he instantly loved the classes. “I thought maybe one day, I would own my restaurant and go from there,” he says.
After graduation from high school in 2004 (you read correctly), Pope immediately enrolled in the College of DuPage’s respected culinary arts program while at the same time working a part-time job at Schweppe’s, a restaurant supply store in Lombard, Ill.. After a grueling first year, when a classical cuisine class failed to end before 1 a.m. for the umpteenth time, Pope realized he was not a fan of such hours. He knew that to be a successful chef, he would have to put in that many hours — and likely more. The lifestyle just wasn’t for him.
Instead, he worked full-time at Schweppe’s, working his way up from delivery driver and warehouse stocker to store manager, at which point he became more engaged in the customer side. It was also during that time that Pope developed many relationships with local manufacturers’ reps, factories and others in the industry.
In 2011, it was time to move on, as business was changing and the 2008 stock market crash had hit many businesses like Schweppe’s hard. A couple local rep connections led to a job with Warren Herzog of Herzog Store Fixture in Chicago. A “four-man show,” as Pope describes it, the small nature of the business allowed him to truly get his feet wet in the dealer world. “I did a lot — all the quoting for him and his customers, all the ordering with the factories, managing the store, sometimes assisting with deliveries,” he recalls.
A few years into the job, Pope got a call from Baring Industries in Downers Grove, Ill., where he took a role as a project manager assistant, which would bring him to the next level of his career. For the short time he was there, he worked on multimillion-dollar prison and college/university projects in what he describes as a “huge learning step.” Pope learned to read detailed drawings and make better comparisons via cut sheets and the actual equipment. He also learned how to conduct himself and work with contractors and architects in major meetings as well as on-site during construction — something that would certainly come in handy later on.
It was at The NAFEM Show in 2013 that Pope met Chaplick, now his boss, thanks to a work-related connection. He moved to the dealership in January 2014.
At first, Pope started on smaller bid work projects to get acclimated. His first larger-scale project was the servery and test kitchens at ITW’s new headquarters building in Glenview, Ill., where the company took over the former Kraft Foods space.
Pope’s got a funny story to tell about that. “There weren’t many high-speed ovens at the time, so I put in two ovens from another manufacturer, and two weeks before opening, a higher-up from ITW saw what I put in and said, ‘You are not to put anything other than ITW equipment in this kitchen,’ ” he recalls. “Turns out, [ITW] had literally just come out with their model. I managed to make the change pretty quick.”
Project Management Pro
Project management, in fact, is Pope’s forte. Good thing, too, given his recent spate of high-profile work on corporate dining operations at Google and Facebook. Pope led Boelter to the table for these projects via his network of general contractor contacts. In addition to those projects and the aforementioned McDonald’s, Pope has worked on the corporate kitchens for MB Financial, Zurich North America and ConAgra Foods, as well as stadiums such as Impact Field in Rosemont, Ill., and Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill. Last year, he also worked on the Marriott Indianapolis.
While no day is typical, as you might imagine, many days, Pope is at his home in Bolingbrook, Ill., working on orders, follow-ups and other administrative duties. Other times, he’ll travel to Boelter’s showroom in Chicago’s Goose Island area. “It’s like social hour, but in a good way,” says Pope about the times he comes downtown after having been in the field for a while. “Having a relationship with co-workers and not always talking about work adds to the family environment that Boelter is known for.”
When walking through Boelter’s office, it’s all hugs, chitchat and baby photo-sharing with colleagues before getting down to work. Chaplick points out that Pope is very well-liked by the other project managers and Boelter associates, many of whom are close in age and going through similar life changes (marriage, kids, etc.).
With bigger projects, such as those at Google and Facebook, Pope spends lots of time on-site overseeing installations, attending meetings, monitoring the construction process and acting as a presence or resource if anyone needs him.
“There is a lot of trust there,” Chaplick says of Pope’s clients. “Customers come back to him on a regular basis because at the end of the day, he’s going to do what it takes to get the job done. Each job we do is never the same; there’s not a concrete process, so we have to constantly adapt. Nick excels at that; he is somewhat of a chameleon.”
That said, Pope does follow some basic tenets of good project management from start to finish in a process that works well for him, even if it changes depending on the circumstances. “During the first stage, I’ll sit down and bundle all the documents together and get them organized with cut sheets and shop drawings from the factories, and then sit down with our design team to review it all,” he says.
When it comes to on-site coordination, Pope will spend as many hours as it takes to assist as walls are built, plumbing is put in, the correct water hookups are set, power is on track and hoods have the right ductwork. This is when his close relationship with the trades comes in handy.
If he’s ever unsure about something, Pope simply researches the issue and then comes back with the information. “The other day, a plumber for the Google job asked what pipes he needed to bring, so I told him I needed to digest the drawings further and possibly get the factory involved or call the manufacturer’s rep,” Pope says. “While we suggest the trades review the drawings before they show up, that’s not always the case, so it’s on me to know.”
Even after the installation, Pope remains on hand to ensure that the staff know how to operate, clean and maintain the equipment once in use. That way, he can also check to see if there are any service issues that require immediate service. “Ninety percent of time, when equipment goes down, it’s a Saturday or another busy day for that operation and by Monday, they’re throwing away pounds and pounds of food, so I know how important it is for everything to be in good working order,” he says.
Detail-Oriented, for Real
People may refer to themselves as “detail-oriented,” but Pope simply exudes it.
Case in point: A general contractor (GC) was having trouble picturing the placement of the equipment based on a drawing, so Pope simply whipped out some neon tape and taped squares where all the pieces would land, scrawling out in chalk the name of each piece in the center. The practice has become such a hot commodity that other GCs have requested it, and some dealers (he heard) started charging for it as an add-on service. Pope, however, does not charge for this service, deeming it simply, “just part of my job.”
Here’s another example: There was a huge logistical challenge at Facebook when some of the equipment didn’t end up fitting in the freight elevator. That’s the case with some of these old downtown Chicago high-rises, as Pope found out. A quick change of equipment was necessary, but a good lesson learned for future orders. He now works with consultants to remind them of this slight glitch if they don’t already specify smaller pieces for that reason. In another situation at McDonald’s, Pope had to arrange for a construction crane to come and actually lift heavy equipment upward to the test kitchens from the ground floor.
Chaplick points out that, aside from Pope’s attention to detail, consistency, determination and focus, one of his best traits is his openness to constantly learn and evolve. “This is extremely important in our world because the moment you think you know it all, I guarantee you, someone is going to make sure you don’t know it all and put you back in your place,” Chaplick says.
A truly humble person, Pope points out some of the key things he has learned from his mentor. “A very important thing I learned from Eric is when problems arise, always take a step back, evaluate the situation and come up with a few solutions to fix it,” he says. “He always tells me not to let things hang over my head and have them bother me but rather deal with the challenge and move on. This has helped me tremendously.” Pope adds that he also looks up to Chaplick for his confidence and leadership in the field, especially in meetings with contractors and complex design teams.
High-profile project management work and working closely with contractors, architects and electricians on big-ticket projects requires a certain mental, physical and intellectual stamina. The long hours on jobsites, challenging meetings, detailed drawing reviews and all the other nitty-gritty that goes into successful project management doesn’t come easy. It’s built up over time though practice and patience.
These are also the challenges put on new parents, like Pope. No doubt he will rise to the challenge of parenting just as he has with so many professional challenges over the course of his career. And the best part? Both his career as a parent and a foodservice professional have only just begun.
Pope at a Glance
- Hometown: Carol Stream, Ill.
- Education: College of DuPage, 2005-2008
- First job in foodservice: DiMaggio Ristorante & Cafe, Harwood Heights, Ill.
- First job on the dealer side: Schweppe & Sons, Lombard, Ill.
- Favorite restaurant: “I love my steak and there are several great places in Chicago, but the best meal I have ever had was at the now-closed Grace.”
- Favorite food: Corned beef hash and eggs
- Family: wife, Andrea, and four-month old son, Benjamin
Consultants Weigh In
The picture-perfect relationship between consultant and dealer, where everyone is happy with each other and works together seamlessly, is not exactly the norm in this industry. However, Pope’s calm demeanor, attention to detail and knack for collaboration has helped him earn a reputation as a go-to dealer among many consultants.
“I enjoyed working with Nick because he is thorough and is always able to suggest solutions to problems ahead of time. He is very approachable, easy to work with, and he answers calls right away, which helps us.”
—Armand Iaia, regional manager, Cini-Little International Inc.
“When we see that Nick is the project manager for one of our projects, we are always excited. His passion for getting it done right, his kindness, knowledge and work ethic are wonderful. He is the last line in delivering a project to the client that we can all be proud of as a team.”
—Kristin Sedej, principal and owner, S2O Consultants
1035 W. Randolph St.
Project start: 2017
Project completed: 2018
Construction Inc., Hillside, Ill.
Architects: Gensler, San Francisco; Studio O+A,
San Francisco; IA Interior Architects, Chicago
This most recent McDonald’s project was not the first for Pope, who first worked on kitchens at the former Oakbrook headquarters location. Most recently, he spent many hours collaborating with the contractor and the burger giant’s development team on updating the second- and third-floor test kitchens. When all was said and done, final installation included a whopping 26 exhaust hoods and 16 utility distribution systems specifically for the kitchens.
320 N. Morgan St.
Project start: 2015
Project completed: ongoing
Architects: Partners by
Design, Chicago; and Stantec
Consultants: E.F. Whitney Inc., Birmingham, Mich.;
Marshall & Associates,
Pope assisted with the equipment procurement and installation for the servery and kitchen on the 10th floor as well as microkitchens on floors 6 through 9. He will be assisting with a catering kitchen to open on the first floor, as well as on the development of a new servery at the second office location across the street.
191 N Wacker Dr.
Project start: March 2018
Architect: WRNS Studio,
Consultant: RAS Design Group, Martinez, Calif.
For this fast-track project, Pope’s team assisted with the development of a brand-new, massive kitchen and servery on the 21st floor of the 191 N. Wacker Drive building after Facebook moved in
Zurich North American
1299 Zurich Way
Project start: January 2016
Construction Inc., Hillside, Ill.
Architect: Cannon Design, Chicago
For this $2.3 million project, Pope assisted in the construction of the 12,035-square-foot kitchen, dish room, cold storage and servery, which handles approximately 920 meals per day. He took extra time in the field laying out the custom serving counters because of their unique design.