Paul Swanson, Stafford-Smith
Paul Swanson is what many would describe as a foodservice industry lifer. His background includes working in resorts, cooking in kitchens, even waiting tables and tending bar. Swanson and a friend even owned their own restaurant. And, yes, Swanson and his former partner still consider each other friends, which speaks to the former’s honest, down to earth demeanor. He also spent some time working with a broadline distributor.
Swanson joined Stafford-Smith in 2002, starting in showroom sales for the Michigan-based dealer. When the company exited the smallwares business, he assumed a role as an outside salesperson. As account executive, his client base includes architects, hospitals, senior living operations as well as independent restaurants.
Q: When working with architects, what’s the key to ensuring a project goes smoothly?
A: Communication. I like to start with a CAD drawing that shows the space allocated for the kitchen. It’s also helpful to know if I can alter the space for the kitchen. Sometimes it’s too small and more often we ask for more space for the kitchen. Occasionally it’s too large and we will give the space back. Completing the drawings accurately is important, too. Because finding mistakes down the road can cause issues. Typically, I complete the kitchen design and the architect drops it into the space.
Q: In your own words, what are the attributes shared by every well-designed kitchen?
A: Mostly it’s about workflow and specifying the right equipment. In some cases, the operator does not have a menu, and it’s pretty hard to develop a design without knowing what the operator plans to sell. Workflow is right up there, too. You want to think out where receiving, cold and dry storage, prep, final prep and plating will take place. I prefer to work from back to front in designing these spaces.
Q: When do you know a kitchen design is perfect for a given project?
A: When starting a design, I look for where the hood goes because that’s usually a critical piece that will dictate from where the culinary staff will cook, plate and serve. The hood can’t be too far from the front of the house, but it can’t be too close either, because it can be loud. Aisles often need to be wide enough to allow two-way traffic but not too wide as to introduce too many steps. The cooks need to be close to the griddle, but it can’t be too far of a walk to the chef’s counter. So, I usually sketch things out, and when I get an idea about where the hood is going and dry and cold storage, then everything falls into place. That usually does not come together on the first draft.
Q: How do you find the right item for a specific project or task?
A: Experience helps. The first time someone asked to buy a fryer, I went to a colleague and asked which one to specify. I had no clue there were so many choices. Equipment selection took a lot to learn. I went to lots of seminars and relied on a bunch of manufacturers to help me understand the difference between good, better and best. I still get a lot of support from my co-workers. There’s a wealth of experience in Stafford-Smith and we never hesitate to help each other.