An Architect of Simplicity: FE&S Hall of Fame Inductee Tom Ricca

 

A Career Built One Relationship at a Time

In an article titled "Six Degrees of Separation," penned by Ricca in 2011 for FCSI's Consultant magazine, he details how that momentum was gained, one relationship at a time. It began with his first client, Lujohns Restaurant in Denver, to which he also donated his expertise for a small slice of ownership.

The restaurant quickly floundered, and its partners split up — but their association led to additional projects. Ricca's company, which in 1977 had changed its name to Thomas Ricca Associates, was brought in by one of Lujohns' partners, John Fleming, who'd left Denver to return to a position in New York with 21 Management when the restaurant partnership went south. Feeling bad about the time Ricca had put into the failed endeavor, he invited Ricca's firm to design Cricket's, a 120-seat restaurant in Chicago's elegant Tremont Hotel. The 2,100-square-foot triangular space earned the company its first foodservice design excellence award, from Restaurants & Institutions (R&I) magazine.

Cricket's was owned and developed by John Coleman, and operated by 21 Management for many years. Coleman later went on to complete renovations of an apartment building for women in New York into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Central Park South, and Washington, D.C.'s Jockey Club, both of which Ricca was brought in on. The Ritz project would be the first of 33 of the premier hotel chain's properties around the globe that the company would help to design.

His association with 21 Management associates, including Caroline Hunt, who left to form Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, later led to Ricca's being selected to assist in the design of the renowned Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. That project earned Thomas Ricca Associates a second R&I Design Award. In turn, relationships established there with hospitality segment movers and shakers such as Hal Thannisch and Eric Prevette led to more luxury hotel and resort projects. Among them, Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a Thannisch-led project that since its opening in 1997 has annually been named one of the premier resorts in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

Also among them, a golf resort called The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Calif. Its developer? The Irvine Company, for which Erick Prevette had been selected to serve as president of the resort properties division. When it came time to design the resort's foodservice and other back-of-the-house facilities, Prevette called in Thannisch, who in turn recommended Thomas Ricca Associates.

And so it has gone. In Ricca's world, one thing leads to another and another, and then to another. The combination of quality, innovative work and fierce dedication to customer satisfaction have seen the company selected to design projects from five-star resorts such as Las Ventanas and Pelican Hill to some of the most cutting-edge foodservice facilities in segments from college campuses to corporate dining and football stadiums.

Its design excellence has been recognized with multiple awards from R&I and other magazines, including Interior Design, American School and University, Restaurant Hospitality and Food Management, as well as organizations such as FCSI and the American Society of Interior Designers. Regular readers of this magazine have seen numerous Ricca Newmark designs singled out for their quality and innovation as both Facility Design Projects of the Month and recipients of FE&S' highest design award, Facility Design Project of the Year.

In fact, Ricca's approach to foodservice design has set important trends for the industry. His contributions shine especially bright in segments like college and university and healthcare, where he has introduced holistic design concepts that merge front of house with back through marché, open kitchen, shared kitchen and microrestaurant concepts, and combine retail with traditional foodservice to create dynamic, efficient spaces.

Sean Callnin, FCSI, now a partner at Ricca Newmark Design, first met Tom Ricca as a competitor. "I'd meet Tom and Kathy [RND Managing Partner Kathleen Seelye] going in and out of interviews for college projects. Over a period of about six years I absolutely saw Thomas Ricca Associates growing, building and taking over the world in the college and university foodservice design space," Callnin says. "We were all striving to keep pace. In 1997, I came out to Colorado to work for Caruso and came across them in a lot of different markets. During that time, Tom interviewed me for my professional FCSI membership, and I kept running into them. Finally, in 2002, I came to work for Ricca."

Evolution to Interior Design

Part of what drew Callnin to work with Ricca, he says, was the level of creativity Tom and his team brought to projects. "We were all still kitchen designers when I first came across Tom as a competitor," he says. "But Ricca was jumping on incorporating interior design into foodservice projects early on. They were creating a lot of the concepts and terminology that integrated front and back of the house in new ways. Tom seemed to understand it more than anyone and how to incorporate operational flow and functionality with aesthetics. They were getting the biggest projects with clients who were really the thought leaders, and everyone was watching what they were doing."

Commissioned to help with the design of foodservice facilities at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Ricca moved to the forefront of a foodservice design trend that has fundamentally changed on-site dining in many segments. Long a proponent of creating spaces that appeal to all five senses, he'd heard about Swiss-based Mövenpick's marché foodservice concept. That company had recently opened a unit in Toronto, so he took the team there to check it out.

"It totally destroyed all of what we had learned prior to that," Ricca says. "The old notions that you had to keep the service and the food prep hidden from view, or that you couldn't let people wander around and eat between different food stations. Mövenpick dispelled all of those notions, and we helped to implement that type of concept at Disney, where it was a home run. It worked really well for guests who are there for a week and want different experiences and plenty of variety. An added blessing was that we saw how the concept could also be applied to higher-ed facilities."

In the early '90s, Ricca Newmark Design helped to bring the first marché concepts to premier college and university clients. "Now, you can go onto almost any campus in the country and you'll see that, but at the time it was pretty revolutionary in that it brought the back of the house out front. In so doing, it created a whole new energy in the design of the dining environment," Ricca says.

His strong focus on interior design ultimately led to the partnership that would define the most recent chapter of Ricca's career. His longtime friend, Carl Newmark was a partner in Newmark Diercks Design Inc. (NDDI), a successful Denver-area firm that was an offshoot of pioneering restaurant design shop Victor Huff & Associates. Along with Newmark, partners Gloria Diercks and Ken MacGregor ran NDDI. Together, the trio had spun off from victor Huff in 1991 to open their own firm.