As a 14-year-old dishwasher, John “Johnny O” Ognibene never thought he’d be helping to create restaurants for some of the most well-known chefs in the industry, such as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Palmer, Thomas Keller and David Chang. His current role is the culmination of an extensive foodservice career that included stints as a cook, waiter, bartender, restaurant manager and culinary school student.
Myers Restaurant Supply’s office in Marlton, N.J., in 2013. “I followed my passion, which was to work with heavvy equipment,” he says.Ognibene shifted his career path after getting married, working for a variety of dealers prior to joining
During the last decade, he and his team of two project managers, two project coordinators and a draftsman have remained together. Current clients range from casinos and high-end restaurants to chains and independents.
FE&S: What skills from your background as an operator have helped you most in your current role?
JO: All of the different people that I’ve met through operations have helped me understand different personalities. This has given me a better read on everyone I deal with day-to-day.
FE&S: You’re known for having customers who love working with you. How do you build those strong customer relationships?
JO: We do a lot of plan and spec work, so I have a good customer base of referrals, including general contractors, consultants and end users. Opening new restaurants is stressful for operators, so I rely on strong, clear communication. Our company is based on honesty, and we always tell customers the truth, even when they don’t want to hear it.
FE&S: The bigger the project, the longer the list of details. How do you keep it all straight to ensure a successful outcome?
JO: Organization and clear communication throughout the team is paramount. Our team has been working together for a decade, so everyone knows their role and is clear on what needs to get done. We also use checklists that everyone has access to and can utilize to check the status of our projects.
FE&S: Lately, you’ve done a few projects for celebrity chefs. What have you learned from working on these high-profile jobs?
JO: The pressure is even more severe to get these projects open, because of the name attached and higher goals that need to be met. This is where clear communication is vital to exceed expectations.
FE&S: What’s the secret to getting a project to open on time and on budget?
JO: They key to success on any job is having the right design team in place that can provide perfect architectural and design documents. Design documents are like a road map, providing a clear view as to what the project entails from start to finish. The more details included on the drawings, the more effectively we can get the job done. This ensures everyone is on the same page.
FE&S: How do you tailor your approach to successfully cater to different clientele?
JO: With my culinary background, I can more easily communicate with chefs and other staff, no matter what type of operation we’re working with. Still, there are so many variables to this business, I learn something new every day. They key to success on any job is having the right design team in place that can provide perfect architectural and design documents.