Case Studies

Orness Design Group

Bringing energy-saving design and equipment to commercial kitchens across Southern California

In 2005 George Orness and Ken Relethford teamed up to form Orness Design Group Inc. (ODG), a food service consulting and equipment company.

Drawing on Orness’ 35-plus years in the food service design industry and Relethford’s extensive experience as a licensed contractor, LEED AP and custom kitchen equipment fabricator, ODG strives to include the latest in energy-saving features in every project.

ODG works primarily in the Southern California market, though it is currently in the process of expanding the scope of its design services division to serve customers across the country. The company offers a full range of services for food service clients, including project design, coordinating plans with architects and engineers and submitting construction documents to health departments and other relevant regulatory agencies.

Orness Design Group

Quality in kitchen equipment contracting

On the kitchen equipment contracting side, ODG offers custom-fabricated stainless steel and millwork fixtures, refrigeration systems, exhaust hoods and fire suppression systems. The company’s construction management division orchestrates the process, overseeing contractors and tradespeople, reviewing equipment submittals, shop drawings and verifying MEP systems in the field.

“We do a lot of work in the high-end design area, but we’re also kitchen equipment contractors. There are few companies left in the country that do we what we do,” says Ken Relethford, vice president and senior designer at ODG.

The company handles projects on both a design and design-build basis, with design-only projects making up 80 percent of ODG’s workload. Primarily serving the hospitality, corporate and institutional sectors, ODG also works with individual restaurants, schools and senior care facilities to design exceptional kitchen facilities that meet the specific needs of each client.

As a company built on an approach that prioritizes exceptional design that is also attractive, functional, efficient and cost effective, ODG is often not necessarily the lowest bidder on any given project. “We specify the best high-efficiency equipment available that the budget will allow,” says Relethford.

Having established a name for itself in the industry over the last decade, ODG conducts little to no marketing, relying instead on the relationships it has built in the design community to help spread the word and earn referrals.

“We have an excellent relationship with architects, which really attests to the service we provide,” says Relethford. “The foodservice designer always has to be ahead of the design process because that’s often the most sophisticated part of a project and engineers require our information to complete their work.”

The focus on establishing relationships with architects and other design professionals has served ODG well so far, and enabled the company to survive one of the most difficult economic periods on record. “During the last recession a lot of architects didn’t make it, but they landed other places and opened new firms and we’ve been lucky enough to maintain those relationships,” notes Relethford.

Filling up on greens

In the last decade, ODG has completed projects across a range of industry sectors, designing and building energy-efficient kitchen and dining facilities for some of Southern California’s most recognizable brands and institutions.

The company completed a banquet-style kitchen for San Diego’s Marriot Marquis, located next to the city’s popular convention center, and two locations for local chain restaurant, The Crack Shack, as well a facility for the headquarters of Petco. Relethford points to the exhaust hood systems on the Petco project as an example of how the company’s approach allows businesses to meet California’s strict green-building standards.

“We have to specify a very efficient hood system with controls that will idle and fire back up as demand requires, this reduces the overall energy consumption and use of air conditioning,” he says. “On the Petco project, we had six different hoods in different places and they all have to operate at different hours and different outputs, so we worked to balance the airflow with a Halton M.A.R.V.E.L. system.”

At LPL Financial in San Diego, ODG worked to build out the kitchen facility in a bid to help the building achieve zero-energy status.

Savings for being green

While there are some elements of a traditional kitchen that can’t possibly be replaced with energy-saving alternatives, Relethford says that an increasing percentage of green building materials are helping the company achieve lofty sustainability goals.

“Something like an open-burner range — that’ll never change, but flooring systems have changed quite a bit over the last years with more PVC and epoxy flooring on the market, as well as materials for walls and LED lighting,” he says.

ODG also promotes the Savings by Design rebate program, a program of California’s Public Utility Commission that allows customers to earn substantial savings based on their energy usage. The company uses energy research and sustainability consultant, Fisher Nickle, to help analyze and test the savings on each project, allowing ODG to pass along more value to the consumer.

“We stay in communication and think that it’s really one of the best assets for food service equipment analytics,” he says.

With commercial kitchens lagging well behind other areas of construction when it comes to incorporating sustainable features, it can often be difficult to find the appropriate energy-saving products.

“We use Energy Star equipment when it’s available, but currently only about half of the kitchen equipment categories have Energy Star ratings,” says Relethford.

As energy savings continue to become a bigger deciding factor for consumers, Relethford says Energy Star is looking to develop a version of the service more focused on commercial appliances, which are often used in different ways than their residential counterparts. “For example, an Energy Star rating on a refrigerator is based on it being opened a few times an hour, but in a commercial kitchen it’s going to be opened 10 times as much,” he says.

A tight-knit network of subcontractors

ODG relies on a trusted team of time-tested subcontractors to help ensure that every project is delivered in a consistent, efficient manner. “Many of them are like family. We have an outside company that does 80 percent of our installation and some of our fabrication subcontractors we have worked with for over 30 years,” Relethford says. “Young men that worked with me as my apprentice 25 years ago are now experienced journeymen building and installing our custom equipment.”

The company works to maintain these relationships by offering subcontractors immediate payment, promoting loyalty and ensuring that subcontractors have the funds they need to continue delivering top-quality work. “We also treat everyone, from truckers and representatives to architects and fabricators, like partners,” says Relethford.

Having worked with George Orness on projects for over 30 years, Relethford says the concept of partnership is an important one. “We have a fantastic relationship — the communication is almost effortless and we think alike, even though we might only see each other once a week,” he says. “Over the years George has been a great mentor who has challenged me and developed my foodservice programming and design skills.”

 A measured outlook on the future

Looking toward the future, Relethford sees both opportunities and challenges. While the expanded focus on delivering design work to clients nationwide should help grow the ODG brand, there are a number of policies and economic issues on the horizon that give Relethford pause.

“The big one is refrigerant gases. We’re supposed to be changing to be more environmentally friendly and meet certain codes, but right now the legislation is on hold to allow the manufacturers more time to make necessary adjustments,” he says. “There is a lot of R&D in this respect right now and the manufacturers are a little uneasy because they will have to retrofit equipment to meet the new requirements.”

While Relethford described himself as a “glass half-full,” guy, his optimism has its limits. “Things have been steadily improving, but I think everyone needs to look at 2018 and make sure they’re saving money. We might be feeling good now, but history shows us that almost every decade there is usually some economic unrest, things can change quite quickly,” he says.

As ODG’s profile continues to grow, Relethford is excited to be taking on projects for new, innovative companies that are interested in taking an entirely different approach to their kitchen facilities. “We love the microbrew and restaurant industry and it’s exciting to work with these talented designers and chefs,” he notes.

The company has been taking on steadily more work from companies in San Diego’s bustling biotech community, giving ODG the chance to try some new things and contribute to creative new approaches to food and dining. “They might have bocce ball courts, soccer fields, breweries and restaurant-type service: it’s all about making the workplace somewhere people will stay to have their dinner,” he says.

Orness Design Group, will continue to work with architects and owners to bring its own unique, sustainability minded approach on the kitchen to workplaces and institutions across Southern California and around the country.

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Spring 2018



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