Ray Soucie’s 25-plus-year career in the foodservice industry includes working in New York City restaurants such as the world-famous Russian Tea Room, and designing for equipment dealer clients. As an FCSI and LEED Accredited Professional, Soucie’s work focuses heavily on sustainable design options for a variety of operators, such as public schools and universities, community centers, healthcare and correctional facilities and major hotels in Las Vegas. After spending several years opening several clubs and restaurants in New York and elsewhere, Soucie founded Foodservice Design Consulting in 1988, changing the name of his consultancy after relocating to Portland in 1991. An active member of FCSI since 2001, Soucie has assisted the U.S. Green Building Council with foodservice recommendations for LEED 2009 and current versions of this ever-evolving rating system.
FE&S: What keeps you working in the foodservice industry?
Ray Soucie: It is like the Eagles’ Hotel California song: “you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave...” Having the opportunity to combine the arts and sciences in an ever-evolving industry keeps the work fresh and exciting! We build lifelong relationships in this industry and create amazing spaces for service that people enjoy. Foodservice design is like theatre; when you unlock the doors and the curtain goes up, the guests are the audience and the staff members are the performers. But because the new guests never had the opportunity to enjoy what the previous audience experienced, it is important to get the “production” right every time.
FE&S: Who was the person that influenced your career most?
Ray Soucie: Fred Cook of Cook’s Supply in New York. He promoted honesty, collaboration and insisted on quality at an affordable price. If we didn’t design kitchens to last, we weren’t going to design anything at all. He always preached that downtime is the most expensive aspect of an operator’s business. “People will always be willing to invest if you recommend equipment they can count on,” he would say. Fred taught me how to be able to design quickly — on a napkin if need be — and think like an operator. He was a man of principal who believed in keeping the client fully informed.
FE&S: Who in the foodservice industry do you admire most?
Ray Soucie: There are many industry members I admire for different reasons. Some who come to mind are Ronnie Carey for her devoted support and unselfish criticism; Steve Follett for his class and professionalism; Ray Schmidt for his honesty and integrity; Dan Curtis for the support of his employees and promotion of quality work, and Char Norton for her service to the country and to FCSI.
FE&S: What aspect of your career gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
Ray Soucie: Being able to break bread with family and friends in an atmosphere I helped create.
FE&S: If you were not working in foodservice, what would you be doing?
Ray Soucie: Pushing up daisies or traveling most likely.
FE&S: What type of charitable activities are you involved in?
Ray Soucie: I’m working on a LEED Gold project right now — a redesign of the Blanchet House of Hospitality, a respite for homeless and displaced adults and families. Whereas traditional “soup kitchens” make people line up outside, then come in, get their food and sit down, the Blanchet House believes that everyone should have at least one hour of dignity each day. So the guests sit at tables and volunteers serve them the food. I have volunteered to serve food a few times before starting the design process and I met some really wonderful people.
FE&S: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Ray Soucie: Just breathe!
FE&S: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the foodservice industry?
Ray Soucie: Food safety is serious business and designing using a conscientious model leaves a well-informed client ready to succeed.
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?
Ray Soucie: The foodservice industry can be both fun and challenging. We are in the service business. Enjoy an interactive relationship with your guests while affording them their privacy. Avoid hiring order takers as your servers. Instead, have them be your ambassador at each table. Understand it is a business with low profit margins, which requires concrete systems in place for success, both in design and in operations. Stay within your systems but don’t let them run you. Interact with an FCSI consultant for an initial consultation before heading off on your lifelong journey. Because once you get hooked, you will never want to leave!