Most chefs would love to design their own kitchen, but few actually get to make it happen. This episode of “BUILT.” highlights Tim McLaughlin, the head chef of CxRA, and his vision for the catering company’s new facility in New York City.
CxRA is a custom caterer and part of the renowned Restaurant Associates family. Tim McLaughlin is both the company’s head chef and vice president of culinary services. He manages the sales, marketing, service, and design of CxRA. After a nine month search, McLaughlin selected a brick building with over 15,000 square feet of space—including a spacious parking lot perfect for housing CxRA trucks—that now comprises the catering company’s foodservice operations.
He then asked Christine Gurtler, the design director for Jacobs Doland Beer, and Thomas Mango, the senior project director for ENV, to help him create the blueprint design for the new kitchen.
“I know Tim and Restaurant Associates from work on other projects where they were the operator and we were the foodservice design consultant,” says Gurtler. “This was the first time we worked with Restaurant Associates where they were the client.”
CxRA has enjoyed steady growth since its inception—so much growth, in fact, that the company outgrew its first kitchen much more quickly than McLaughlin ever anticipated. This space would need to be functional and flexible.
While the space was largely a blank canvas, McLaughlin wanted to keep its industrial feel. He envisioned an open-concept kitchen filled with natural light that could meet the needs of the company’s ever-changing requirements. The design also needed to keep the loading dock easily accessible, as it serves as the beginning and end point for products.
“We needed a space that was going to be mobile at all times,” he explains. “We could be doing dinner for 100 one day, and the next day serving boxed lunches for 5,000.”
Mango and Gurtler were up for the challenge. “A lot of clients don’t always know exactly what they want,” says Mango. “Tim had a direction that really helped us.”
The goal of the design was to ensure that the company’s 107 cooks would be able to perform their day-to-day tasks in “as few steps as possible,” adds Gurtler. “Looking at the relationships between functions was critical during the design process.” The kitchen was to be employee-focused rather than office- and event-focused to ensure a comfortable working environment where the staff could meet the growing consumer demands of CxRA.
McLaughlin also wanted to avoid the problems of the old CxRA kitchen, knowing that in the catering world “you’re as good as your last party.”
“We can create a lot of smoke because of the amount of production we do,” says McLaughlin. “We wanted to make sure you can leave here and your clothes aren’t going to smell like food.”
McLaughlin followed Gurtler’s advice and had the Halton system installed—a decision he has not regretted since day one. The results have been life-changing in terms of flexibility and performance.
The result? A beautiful blend of brick, wood, and stone. With over 2,000 events a year, CxRA needed a place that felt inviting while still remaining functional.
The kitchen looks entirely different during the day compared to at night, allowing for unique design and event opportunities. The large, industrial-sized windows also provide an amount of natural light uncommon to most New York City kitchens. And whether for crafting pastries, chopping ingredients, or completing general prep, every space serves a purpose.
This episode is brought to you by Halton. . M.A.R.V.E.L. is the only technology able to adjust the exhaust airflow rate of every hood, independently and in real time, while keeping the balance between exhaust and supply, whatever the number of cooking zones or the number of fans. It reduces the exhaust airflow rates by up to 64%.