By Stacy Ward
Editor in Chief

This July, John Nackley celebrated his 22nd year as CEO of Metro, although his tenure in E&S surpasses that marker by another 10. He started his career in the technology industry but was recruited by Metro, a space optimization and transport solutions provider, in 1985. What was so alluring about E&S? There was a matching of the minds with former CEO Richard Maslow, and the same wonderful mix of intimacy, imagination, and innovation that continues to keep him intrigued.

“When I looked at it,” reflects Nackley, “it was an industry that allowed for creativity. It is a large, small industry where people know people, and you can really flourish. You can become a significant part of the vision and see the benefits of your ideas come to fruition.”

Manufacturers and distributors struggling with how to showcase the breadth of a career in the foodservice equipment and supplies industry should bottle Nackley’s sincerity and hand it out by the truckload on college campuses. The flurry of trends and change colliding with technology throughout the landscape make it an ideal environment for millennials looking to problem solve and innovate, he says. Grab-and-go, changing menus, use of technology and apps, and the rapid expansion of catering and delivery have greatly influenced the aesthetics of commercial equipment and kitchen design, forcing operators (not to mention manufacturers and distributors) to rethink the flow of the front and back of the house—and how they should serve their customers.

“One of the critical trends that I see is the need for flexible, multipurpose space,” says Nackley. “In order to expand their overall revenue base, as well as to appeal to rapidly changing customer demographics and value systems, operators need space that can be used in varying ways to prepare different kinds of food during different times of the day. I was recently at the SHFM [ the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management] conference in New York and the entire program was dedicated to the concept of flexible space and the use of technology and how they marry together.”

While there, Nackley moderated a panel that explored the impact of space and workflow efficiency and other issues currently redefining workspace configuration strategies, such as operators’ desire to provide consumers with varying menu options, essentially “on demand.” More choices and more menus mean more inventory, “and different inventory,” says Nackley, “which requires efficient workspaces for quick changeovers. And, what we’ve heard time and time again [from operators] is that there’s never enough space in the kitchen,” he says. “Space is very expensive, especially in large cities, so they want to use the space they have for multiple purposes.”

That means designing with a focus on getting the most out of pockets of space and planning how that space will complement certain menus—not to mention crank up productivity with the addition of flexible equipment, like dual-temperature food wells, combi ovens and Metro’s PrepMate™ MultiStation. “Chefs were telling us that they needed additional workstations,” says Nackley, “meaning something that they could roll out during peak times of the day, when they needed more space to prepare their meals, and that led us to explore the need for PrepMate.”

Designed to overcome space constraints, transport product and serve as an additional worksurface in narrowing footprints, Metro’s PrepMate is among a series of solutions that have come out of the manufacturer’s innovative pipeline—which Nackley notes has been on hyper-drive the last few years. Since the NAFEM Show, new entrants into the market include the Metro Max® 4 storage system and its C5® 4 Series of thermal holding and transport cabinets.

“Our innovation pipeline is extremely robust and relevant to key market needs, and I think being a part of the Ali Group has contributed to that vitality,” says Nackley. “We’re encouraged, challenged and motivated to have new ideas come to the market quickly.”

A product of the want-it-now movement, the Mightylite™ insulated food carrier line is one of Metro’s more recent offerings. “Everything is being driven by convenience, which is driving technology and the culinary habits of many people,” says Nackley. After considering the current landscape, and the push by more restaurants to jump into the growing home-delivery and catering market, “we saw an opportunity to fulfill a need,” he says. “Pan carriers were very bulky and heavy, and once you put food in them, many approached 80 to 100 pounds. They were very difficult to carry and often took two people to transport them.”

Ranging from four to 11 pounds, MightyLite is made from EPP (expandable polypropylene), an engineered plastic foam that is characteristically lightweight, yet durable and highly insulative, which enables it to sustain temperatures for hours. “It’s easier to carry and more ergonomically-friendly than the previous product,” says Nackley. “Now, one person can carry it, which translates to better use for the people that are handling the food deliveries.”

Changing an Industry
Double-digit gains in restaurant deliveries is changing the foodservice industry. Operators are revamping menus to select foods and ingredients that travel well over longer distances and retrofitting kitchens to accommodate the increase in online/digital orders. Off-premise is causing similar waves, says Nackley, referring to the need for additional space to store ingredients, prepare to-go items, as well as to store and display prepared meals.

“It’s influencing design and aesthetics in the market,” he says, “and we’ve utilized many of our open and closed storage solutions, as well as custom-engineered solutions with integrated technologies, accessories and marketing signage, to help customers adapt to the off-premise foodservice trend.” ■

“I was recently at the SHFM [The Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management] conference in New York and the entire program was dedicated to the concept of flexible space and technology.”
— John Nackley