Keeping the foodservice equipment marketplace up to date with the latest menu and concept trends.


Mixed-Use Developments: How Foodservice Fits

Multiuse properties are trending, both for new builds and as part of adaptive reuse of older or historic properties.

mixed use iStock 1171995428“I can say in no uncertain terms that the South Florida market is currently heavy on mixed use,” says Adam Shepard, Miami branch manager for C&T Design and Equipment. “Miami is going vertical, and it has become more of a walking city, at least in pockets. High-net-worth individuals are moving here, and they want to have services within walking distance of their residence — a hair salon, a Whole Foods, restaurants, cafes. We’re seeing schools, daycare centers, veterinary facilities, everything to give residents work-life balance. And when you have all these add-ons to a residential development, you’re able to charge a premium.”

For Femia Djohan, a San Francisco-based senior project manager at Revel Architecture and Design, the key event spurring more interest in mixed-use properties and districts was the COVID-19 pandemic. As office workers migrated to work-from-home arrangements, offices emptied out and lunch-focused restaurants closed.

San Francisco has taken steps to convert commercial buildings to residential ones in an effort to draw consumers back into the area. “Now, there’s a big push to make residential spaces to get more people coming into the area to boost the economy,” Djohan explains. “SoMa, San Francisco’s South of Market district, has a lot of residential development. Downtown and the Financial District are also being revitalized with buildings that have become residential.”

And with new housing comes new demand for restaurants and cafes, Djohan points out: “Many restaurants closed during the pandemic, so the supply is lower now, and operators and franchises feel safe launching new restaurants and increasing prices. All that helps to build traffic and make better use of buildings. You’re getting big crowds coming into these districts again.”

Shawn Massey, a partner in The Shopping Center Group in Memphis, sees the trend to mixed-use developments as a welcome return to the way cities and towns were organized before the advent of a car-centric culture and separate zoning. “Since colonial times, cities and towns have been about neighborhoods,” he says. “What you needed to make a great neighborhood were good housing, schools, arts, healthcare, retail and restaurants. These are all critical. When we started building malls and shopping centers with big parking lots, we disconnected retail and services from places where people live and work.”

In the 1980s, developers and architects began rediscovering the advantages of mixed use, and the concept has been evolving ever since. In a consciously planned, curated district, a focus on dining and food is central, Massey says — “from the coffee shop in the morning to the bar at night. Add a smoothie shop, a cookie shop, a dry cleaner, and a place to sit together on a bench outside; residents have everything they need downstairs, and other people from outside the area are drawn to visit.”

Now, Massey says, developers are inventing specialized types of mixed-use projects. He mentions his work on Liberty Park in Memphis, focused around a college football stadium and youth sports facilities. Other projects, he says, are being created around music venues or cinema multiplexes. And then there are adaptive reuse developments that make new use of historic buildings, such as the Crosstown Concourse, which went into an old Sears warehouse in Memphis.

Getting in on the Ground Floor — or Not

Foodservice designers agree that it’s best when they’re at the table contributing to the initial conceptualization of a mixed-use project, but that’s not always the case.

“It typically depends on how the project is set up,” explains Peter Christensen, FCSI, owner of Christensen Consultants. “In a mixed-use scenario, the property owners or the landlord will have the biggest stake. They want to make sure their stakeholders, their customers, the people who rent or lease space, all get facilities that will meet their needs.”

Often, Christensen adds, the entity that owns the property will first bring in the architectural firm to supervise the entire development process, and the architect then hires the foodservice consultant. Frequently, the foodservice expert is involved in the architect’s preliminary study of the space.

In other cases, the architect will have done preliminary schematics and set aside locations for foodservice operations, with a general idea of how many square feet there will be for each foodservice element. As the project progresses, there will often be a number of teams actively contributing to meetings, Christensen says, “the engineering team, the general contractor, and once things get rolling, often the owner’s facility manager.”

Established restaurants and foodservice operators are not always ready to commit to a mixed-use project as far in advance as the developer or architect would prefer. “Our consultant’s role could start two years or more before the tenant opens for business — which is ideal,” Massey says. “Unfortunately, many F&B operators are not ready to commit until they see a space going vertical. At that time, many decisions have already been made, and the design team will need to work within the parameters that the developers have established. Hopefully the developer has chosen an architect that has a good understanding of F&B operations and design so they can make assumptions that might universally work.”

The Checklist: What to Consider

When restaurants and foodservice operations must fit into a large, complex, multiuse project, the foodservice designer’s role is even more complex and technical than in other
settings. Some major issues to consider:

Understand what can and can’t be done with respect to venting, ventilation, exhaust hoods and fire suppression systems. “We would hope that the architect has looked at the method of getting exhaust air out of the space and makeup air back into it — especially in a high-rise where there are multiple stories and tenants above,” Christensen says. “A good project architect will have shafts already in place. Where we put the kitchen will be predicated on where the exhaust is located.”

Older buildings can be a problem, Shepard says: “There’s only so much of a shaft we have to play with. If we can’t get the kitchen ducted, we have to get adequate amperage for ventless operation.” But a ventless kitchen opens up new possibilities, too, he adds. “We can point out that the developer could put in a coffee kiosk or Starbucks-type operation that can get by with ventless equipment, allowing the company to offer a lifestyle service and create a pocket of revenue it otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Have a plan for receiving deliveries and removing garbage and other forms of waste. “Most good architects that have done foodservice projects understand the dynamics of delivery areas and getting things in and out of the foodservice space,” Christensen says.

Consider the locations of floor drains and grease traps. “Poking holes for floor sinks and drainage can be a real challenge in older buildings,” Christensen notes. “Sometimes we’ll have to educate the developers who don’t have a lot of foodservice experience on why we need grease traps to prevent water pollution.”

Build in flexibility to meet changing operator needs. “We typically deliver raw shell space and allow the F&B operator the flexibility to design their interior space,” Massey says. “They deal with issues like front and rear access, where a vent hood will be placed.”

Christensen notes, “Obviously, we put every piece of equipment on casters, which the health department wants anyway.” And, he adds, “we use quick-disconnect gas hoses and plug-in, plug-out electrical equipment. We locate hoods for maximum flexibility. Often we design foodservice as generically as possible while meeting local codes. Our goal is to put in facilities that anyone can come in and operate.”

Designing for the front of the house presents a different set of issues, according to Christensen. “The finishes in place can really affect the restaurant’s business,” he says. “If I had to say anything, it would be to keep colors neutral and to make the overall look stately or classic. That way, the serving and dining areas will stay in fashion, and the design will maybe survive a change of ownership or operator.”