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Consultancy focus: Colburn Guyette

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Amelia Levin speaks with Todd Guyette FCSI and Edward Arons FCSI about the principles and drivers behind their firm’s success

Perhaps what sets consulting firm Colburn Guyette apart is its deep-rooted history and longtime relationships with clients. These relationships have resulted in thousands of successful projects spanning all segments of the industry across America and beyond.

“We have many clients that have been working with us for well over two decades” says Edward Arons FCSI, partner and managing principal for the Rockland, Massachusetts-based firm. “It’s nice to work with clients that you have known for many years and mirrored each other’s advancement along the way.”

Past to present

The company was originally founded in the 1950s by Anthony Michaels, who began his consulting practice well before foodservice consulting was a widely known profession.

In the 1970s, the firm transitioned leadership to Michael Colburn, who, Arons says, helped build the firm into a well-established and nationally known organization. Todd Guyette FCSI, then a design principal with the firm, assumed ownership of the company in 1991 after working closely with Colburn for over a decade. Ever since, Guyette has focused on expanding the company into new market segments while continuing to build on the success of the firm.

“Our past and future goals include expanding the reach of our firm in order to grow our business; continuing to develop processes and strategies that help us to meet our clients’ needs in an ever-changing world; and providing a work environment that helps our next generation of consultants to grow and succeed,” says Guyette.

When Guyette first took over, a good majority of the firm’s work was K-12 schools, along with some corporate projects. At one point in the late 1990s the firm started to do work for a quickly emerging and growing financial institution, MBNA Bank.

“Once we got involved with that project, we were rapidly involved with other projects for them nationwide,” Arons says. “During our time with MBNA, we also started to work for a local rising company, EMC. This tech company was quickly growing, with multiple buildings and thousands of employees. Both companies were demanding clients and we worked very hard to meet their requirements project to project. This was the start of our growth. We learned a lot and had the acute need and ability to hire more staff. From there we have continued to grow at a manageable pace and will continue that endeavor to the best of our ability.”

Today, the firm has 10 employees. “We are fortunate to have a very diversified portfolio of projects,” says Arons. “We have a large volume of work in the higher education and corporate market segments. However, we also have many projects in healthcare, secured facilities, K-12 and hospitality segments.”

The firm also offers a wide range of services, including, but not limited to, master planning, space planning and conceptual design, demand/wayfinding/circulation planning, equipment specification, retail design, construction documents, 3D presentations, waste/compost/recycling planning, millwork design, materials assistance, sustainable objective planning and laundry services. CG also offers MAS services through long-term, strategic partnerships.

Team effort

Last year, Guyette promoted Arons and FCSI Associate Kevin Sullivan to partner, essentially stepping back and turning over the day-to-day and project-related operations of the firm to them.

“As such, my role is now that of a mentor and advisor,” he says. “I also oversee the financial operations of the company with an eye toward transitioning those responsibilities in the future as well.”

Guyette says this has helped lift the burden of daily responsibilities in order to strengthen his passion for the firm’s work and foodservice industry in general – as well as giving him more time to pursue other interests outside of the company, such as tennis, golf, skiing, traveling and playing music.

“Ed and Kevin have made significant contributions to the firm over the years in design, project management and serving as dedicated leaders,” Guyette says. “I enjoy the tight-knit comradery of our organization, as well as meeting the many challenges that running a foodservice consulting business has brought throughout my career,” he says. “I now really enjoy helping to resolve issues that may arise at our firm from a more high-level perspective as well as helping to guide the financial future of the firm.”

Arons says he has enjoyed the enhanced responsibilities. “I can focus more on business development and marketing efforts, in addition to the day-to-day,” he notes. “I have had a long history with the firm, starting when there were just three people in a tiny office where we used doors for desks. We have grown exponentially since then, in terms of both size and successful projects.”

Arons has over 31 years of design experience, including more than 20 years in foodservice facilities consulting. He started his career working in small architectural firms that focused on commercial projects and learned foodservice design while working with chain restaurants such as Checker’s, Hot Sam Pretzels, Togo’s and Morrison’s Cafeteria. “My background in architecture gives me the ability to balance the architectural design intent of a project with the operational functionality of foodservice,” Arons says.

Prior to entering the foodservice world, Sullivan worked as a project manager for a large commercial construction company. From there, he went to work for a Boston-based foodservice contractor in another project manager role. “My previous work history set me up well to understand that just because something may work well or look good on paper, does not mean it will necessarily translate in the field,” he says.

The two split the project load about 50/50, and Sullivan spends a lot of his time with clients programming the operations and then designing the facilities. “Our team approach requires effort to be spent on scheduling, details and quality control at the design development and construction document levels,” he says. “I also like to spend time attending educational seminars and fostering business development through various channels.”

Sullivan and Arons also meet regularly to work on the company from a higher-level perspective. “These meetings are crucial to the company, as well as to us individually so we can be sure we are always pulling in the same direction,” explains Sullivan.

Both say they enjoy the friendly and collaborative environment at the office. “I think we are very fortunate to have a team that exudes the same passion for foodservice design that we do,” Sullivan says. “Even though we technically have a two-team approach, which works well for responding to our client’s needs, we are indeed still one large team with a unified goal, an open line of communication
and an inquisitive nature. Our size allows us to work hard and jump in when help is needed, but it also allows us to provide a nice work/life balance for our employees.”

Project focus

Rounding out the leadership team are Brian Thistle and Peter McGillicuddy, who first joined as CAD techs/assistant project managers and have now been with the firm for more than 25 years combined. Today, as associate and senior associate respectively, Thistle and McGillicuddy lead the teams and manage projects. The firm handles over 100 projects at any given time in various active phases.

“With this core group we have over a century of combined experience in this industry,” says Arons. “That said, we also understand the importance of what youth brings to the table.” Our younger people (all design graduates) and their knowledge and skills pertaining to design, technology and culture, packaged with daily enthusiasm, rounds out our team.”

When asked what he thinks the firm does best, Arons is quiet and humble. “I have been told that we are easy to work with, that we’re flexible, we do very good thoughtful design and really care about what we’re doing,” he says.

Perhaps the message comes more clearly through the depth and breadth of the projects. Notable projects include the Boston Celtics training facility, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, the Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake, New York, and a complete renovation of Whitney Hall’s dining facility at UCONN.

CG’s impressive portfolio includes many other high-profile projects in a wide variety of market segments, including higher education, K-12 schools, secured facilities, healthcare and hospitality projects.

Projects currently in construction include a full dining hall at the University of Chicago, production kitchen, market-style servery and café at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and renovation and additions to TD Garden, home to the Boston Celtics and Bruins. The firm is also involved in a variety of high-profile corporate dining projects for Twitter, Google, Spotify, Jim Beam in Kentucky and Travelers Insurance, where the new dining hall will feed 8,000 people at the company’s Harford, Connecticut, campus.

In addition to the work above, CG has also provided their services on several federal buildings, including the dining facilities for the United States Army, Navy and Air Force. The firm has also completed projects at the US Chancery in Bangladesh, US Embassies in Greece, Bangkok, Thailand, Egypt and South Africa. They are currently working on renovations and additions to the Athens embassy in Greece, which they did the original foodservice design on many years ago.

Over the years, CG has received countless awards for its work, and its projects have been regularly showcased in various industry trade publications, including Foodservice Consultant.

Volunteer activity

Outside of work, Arons and Guyette remain active in FCSI, serving as conference panel speakers and volunteering time on committees. Arons, who joined 23 years ago, is the current Northeast Chapter leader. He is also a new member of the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management (SHFM) Boston committee.

The CG team has volunteered to serve Homeless Veterans in the past and recently volunteered at the Community Servings facility, preparing meals for individuals and families living with critical and chronic illnesses. The firm sponsors many fundraising events and has provided pro bono services on many projects in their history. They are currently working with Arlington Eats in this capacity, a non-profit foodbank serving the local community residents in need of extra support.

When asked about the future and potential growth plans, Arons says any growth will be “calculated and strategic to make sure that we are still able to provide the best quality of services to our clients”.

Guyette agrees: “We have been on a steady incline for a number of years and see no reason for that to change, especially with new partners, fresh ideas and a core group of eager young professionals ready to take our firm to the next level. Our long-range goals include increasing our penetration into new market segments, expanding our reach nationally and globally, and adding regional offices and staff.”

Amelia Levin