Consultancy focus: Cini-Little

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The next generation of Cini-Little has plans on how the legacy firm will look in the future, as Samantha Lande finds out

As announced in March, foodservice consultancy Cini-Little is going through a changing of the guard. Dick Eisenbarth FCSI has taken the helm as both president and CEO after the departure of longtime CEO Diane Dowling, who carried on the legacy of her father, John Cini, one of the founding partners.

Eisenbarth is primed and ready for the next era of Cini-Little, one that is built firmly on continuing the solid reputation of the company while also expanding partnerships and redefining what foodservice consultancy looks like in the future.

He has surrounded himself with long-time industry veteran Orlando Espinosa serving as vice president and Kathleen Held as chief marketing officer. He plans to promote other long-time staff to key positions as Cini-Little moves forward.

Good connections

To best understand the onward path of this longstanding firm, it helps to look backwards. Cini-Little has always taken the approach that knowledge and connections are important. The merger of Cini- Grissom Associates and Jim Little’s firm, LFL Consulting Group out of Toronto, Canada, resulted from a connection of two successful firms and the mutual respect for their respective consultants.

Being a part of organizations such as FCSI, that foster these relationships, has also always been a priority. When William Eaton FFCSI (PP) first started, he was told it was key to join a professional organization, later to become Foodservice Consultants Society International, of which John Cini and Jim Little were founding members. He became president of FCSI in 1978. Eisenbarth is currently on the board of trustees.

“Being members of organizations like these helped us stay close to our competition and also seek out people to learn from, “says Eaton. “We are able to talk to colleagues creating incredible designs around the world.”

Making connections led them to remarkable projects throughout the early years, such as New York’s original World Trade Center, a marquee project for the firm; the historic Greenbriar and even the White House, allowing Cini-Little to serve clients worldwide and cultivating loyal, repeat client relationships across an array of market segments. Today, Cini-Little’s network of strategically located offices can tackle any sized project, bring to their clients their commitment to operational and design excellence and passion for enhancing the customer experience.

Building a network

Taking the organization forward, Eisenbarth (pictured) wants to continue to expand on those connections both internally and externally. Within the organization, he emphasizes the importance of team collaboration, asking leaders to share their expertise with junior staff by offering insight and providing a second set of eyes to ensure a successful outcome for everyone involved. He also believes in taking time for quality assurance, which has always been a mandate at Cini-Little.

Nowhere is this taken as seriously as in the centralized CAD department, which is committed to preparing designs in REVIT as well as AutoCAD. Effective communication between designers and the CAD department equals consistent, top-notch deliverables on projects across the board at Cini-Little.

Eaton has stayed on through his retirement to mentor and offer advice to newer members of the firm. Eisenbarth is focused on those external connections as he works to build a network of resources with whom the team can consult. They recently set up a close working relationship with Lerch Bates, a materials handling logistics consulting company.

He describes it as “creating a mosaic”, each connection lending their expertise to solve difficult or unique challenges posed by client needs. “By partnering with a number of affiliates and bodies of knowledge we position ourselves as an industry knowledge expert,” he says.

Sharing knowledge

Speaking of expertise, Espinosa has really made it a priority to make sure those junior employees coming up through the firm have the proper education. So much of the senior staff at Cini-Little has been there for decades so there is a push to instill a depth of knowledge with the next generation of consultants. For this Espinosa and his team have devised a solid development path to motivate employees, outlining what each consultant should achieve in each year in order to move up to the next level. Just like the founding firm members, he also encourages participation in various organizations such as FCSI.

This development path has become especially important in the industry because of the way the workforce is changing – people are staying in jobs for a shorter duration, hopping companies to move up quickly – and also the changing role of a consultant. “The process for providing consulting has evolved and matured, it’s no longer just about helping to plan the foodservice,” says Espinosa.

Clients are much savvier and they have access to ( both good and bad) information from so many sources.

“I tell my consultants the best thing they can do is to listen well and educate clients on the pros and cons of what they want,” he says.

He also believes it is key to not only take a look at design, but also operations  and the impact on the facility’s bottom line. Cini-Little searches for talented team members, most of whom come from an operations background. These individuals have the knowledge to understand and address from the start, the client’s business goals for success, as well as concerns and problems they might have within the operation, folding them into a cohesive foodservice program with which to move forward. In fact, Cini-Little’s Management Advisory Services division is dedicated to the operations side of the business.

There are other factors that consultants need to think about as well, “that we never even considered before in this role,” says Espinosa, referring to new technology such as video screen menus, kiosk ordering, phone app ordering and delivery, etc, that has emerged within the past few years. Consultants, the team believes, need to stay one step ahead of the current trend, creating flexible designs that embrace and accommodate the next best technology innovation.

Because of this rapidly changing environment, both Eisenbarth and Espinosa agree the future is in becoming an industry knowledge expert. Eisenbarth continues to educate up-and-coming foodservice consultants through lecturing at schools and through FCSI engagements. Expect to see a bigger Cini-Little as partnerships grow and new companies come into their fold.

With a lot of projects on the docket and a new network of expertise, the future is looking bright for Cini-Little, and the new executive team couldn’t be more thrilled.

Samantha Lande


Pictured: InterContinental LA Downtown: La Boucherie