Top Achievers

Top Achievers are award-worthy personalities with a single common trait: an unflinching ability to provide value on the customer’s terms.


2024 Top Achiever—Consultant

Orlando Espinosa took an unusual route to becoming an independent foodservice design consultant — and he believes that’s the secret to his career success. It stems from his extraordinarily extensive reach on foodservice projects globally.

Top Achiever Consultant Orlando EspinosaFrom oil platforms in the Persian Gulf to high-profile projects with the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin to foodservice programs for nuclear plants, his extensive knowledge of different foodservice applications gives Espinosa a vastly unique perspective. It’s a perspective Espinosa applies to all projects as his work also encompasses more traditional segments like colleges, school districts, hospitals, restaurants, stadiums and convention centers.

The most unusual part of Espinosa’s career is his work with most of the Olympic Games held since the last century, advising on and designing foodservice operations in media villages, athletes’ villages or both. The first of these contracts was for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, he added eight more foodservice assignments connected to the Olympics after that.

Foodservice at any iteration of the Olympic Games is complex not only because the volume is so massive and the facilities temporary, but also because of unique cultural and nutritional challenges, Espinosa explains. “The host country assumes that athletes coming to China or Greece or wherever will eat the local food specialties,” he says. “And they will, but only after their competition. At the ramp-up and during their competition event, Olympic athletes are on very strict diets, so kitchen staff have to really focus on preparing the right food.” Cooks must prepare, every day, both athletes’ special pre-competition fare and more indulgent post-competition dishes based on authentic national and international recipes.

The sheer volume of it all adds to the challenge, Espinosa says. “You’re serving 5,000 to 15,000 athletes at a time in the same 200,000-square-foot dining hall, with a 40,000-square-foot kitchen, a gigantic serving area, and all of the food made fresh to order in front of the athletes.”

Listening, Then Problem-Solving

Espinosa and the associates in his firm don’t just focus on massive, complex projects, however. “The challenge that keeps me inspired is solving problems for people,” he says. “Whether it’s the Olympic Games or a regional corporate office or a coffee cart, that challenge is the same.”

Espinosa believes listening is one of the keys to successful client collaborations, then presenting them with what you believe fulfills their requirements, plus options. He credits his unconventional career path for his skills in listening and problem-solving — not to mention cherry-picking ideas from one foodservice segment to apply in another setting.

A high school teacher became Espinosa’s first mentor, encouraging him to create a self-directed design course and steering him to his first job as a draftsman and fabricator at Arizona Booth & Fixtures, where he thrived. He continued in that job through his years studying architecture at Phoenix College.

Then, in his first post-college job, he acquired a new boss and mentor: Arizona foodservice consultant Douglas Collier, who he says, “helped me understand how foodservice works from the customer’s point of view.”

Espinosa’s experience in two very different sides of foodservice helped him land his third job, as a project engineer at foodservice management firm Restaura, a division of Greyhound Corporation. This role, he says, taught him to listen well, to hear the client’s requirements, decipher them and present them back with solutions. His project portfolio at Restaura included a below-ground catering kitchen at the San Francisco Opera House, working with manufacturing plants such as General Motors, and overseeing construction fit-out at the Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska.

A decade later, Espinosa was recruited by Aramark (then known as ARA) as an associate director for the company’s long-term planning design department. Within a year and a half, he had risen to vice president. “I inherited a staff of 40 people and left with 110,” he says. “Managing such a large staff, I learned that everybody needed to be informed and to have a say in the assignments we were all handling.”

The bustling department managed construction projects globally and procured $80 million worth of foodservice equipment each year. These were the big leagues: Espinosa tackled his first four Olympics (Atlanta, Sydney, Salt Lake City and Athens) during his years on Aramark’s staff. He was also an Aramark stockholder, which eventually in 2005 gave him the financial freedom and motivation to take a different career tack when the stock split. He retired from Aramark and shortly after started his own business.

In a New Role, Drawing on a Varied Background

Knowing foodservice design from the 30,000-foot corporate view to the drafting table and fabrication workbench has helped Espinosa make tough decisions as a business owner. “I’ve had to walk away from projects,” he reveals. “A developer wanted me to design and build a facility that they were selling to an operator. As I completed the operations financials, I kept telling the developer that the operator would never make money because of decisions imposed by the developer. In the end, I walked away. I don’t want to call it a moral judgment; it was a good business decision, because I didn’t want my name to be associated with that project.”

Espinosa credits much of his career success to others: his parents and his ever-supportive wife Jennifer, his early mentors, and “the great, dedicated staff who work with me and play an important role with our clients.” Orlando Espinosa Associates currently has a staff of four; with the business growing, it’s soon to be five.

Espinosa also gives generously of himself to educate and support industry associates and the next generation learning the business. For new hires, he takes the time to explain the process of a foodservice design consulting job, from ideation through completion, identifying and qualifying the customer’s ideas through the design. He’s been a speaker and involved in many industry organizations and efforts, including the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, Foodservice Consultants Society International, Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management, National Association of College & University Food Services and Foodservice Design BootCamp.

Beyond participation in formal industry events, Espinosa sees the give-and-take between supportive friends and colleagues as the key to success for everyone. “All the way through my career, I’ve found that different people at different times have been critical in helping me course-correct,” he says. “I’ve had friends in the industry throughout my life; I’m able to sit and talk about their business and my business, provide them insights from my perspective, and they do the same for me.”

Something Fun, Something Done and Some Next-Gen Advice

Something you are looking forward to in 2024:

I have a couple of exciting, significant projects that I’ve been working on preliminarily for a year and a half. Both are for companies that manufacture sports clothing.

Something you’ve crossed off your bucket list:

Many years ago, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my wife and daughter, camped, and hiked back out. I’ve since traveled for work to major cities around the world — London, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, Sydney.

Something you’d like to tell young people entering the industry:

Enter the foodservice industry with a passion to learn as many facets of the business as you possibly can and seek out mentors throughout your career to help you.