My QuickPicks
Register now to activate

Contents At A Glance

FE&SEditorial Archives2002 — November — Facility Design Project of the Month

Brain Food Court
At The Museum Of Science And Industry Chicago

Built into servery structures over the salad, deli and grill stations are transparent cylinders surrounded by plastic soffits, which will be used as projection screens for educational purposes.
Photos by Dirk Fletcher

An inspiring, interactive restaurant designed to challenge traditional views of foodservice has become a FOH showcase for a rotating charbroiler, infrared cooktops, a stone-hearth gas-fired oven, adjustable sneeze guards and versatile hot/cold wells. A full lineup of equipment was installed in the back of the house, as well.

Since the 1930s, generations of children and their parents have discovered delightful education opportunities while visiting Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Nearly two million visitors each year come here to visit exhibits, including a working coal-mine shaft elevator from the 1930s, a 3,000-square-foot model railroad and the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. Lights, sounds and special effects encapsulate the senses as they stimulate inquiring minds to explore our world and beyond.

Though this museum's exhibits are renowned the world over, its foodservices have been functional at best, but certainly not memorable. That is, until October 2002, when the Brain Food Court made a much anticipated debut.

"We wanted this new restaurant to capture guests' fascination just as the exhibits do in other parts of the museum," explained Andy Zakrajsek, the museum's director of business operations. "We wanted visitors to walk into the dining space and feel as though they had been transported out of the old building [which was built in 1893] and into a new dimension."

A square-shaped production area in the back kitchen is "efficient," according to Sodexho's Paul Johnson. Included in the kitchen's line-up are a convection steamer, convection steamer with a kettle, tilting skillet and range. Across a wide aisle with a center workstation are a cold-holding box and a bank of double-stacked convection ovens.

In the spring of 2001, Zakrajsek assembled a design and consultation team to create a contemporary dining environment where many fresh ingredients are prepared on state-of-the-art equipment in full view of customers. The result is an awe-inspiring, colorful new foodservice world combining entertaining exhibition cooking and practical self-service. The facility is also designed to educate visitors about both the magic and science of food preparation.

"The mission given to us by the museum's executives was to provide a flexible and captivating environment that would be inspiring, interactive, educational and nurturing," explained Laura Kulis and Boris Cubas, associates and project managers at the architectural firm of Aumiller Youngquist of Chicago, which designed this operation.

As visitors walk into Brain Food Court, they step onto a terrazzo floor set with 17 different colors arranged in swirling patterns. Warm-colored walls and wood "petals" in curved shapes that hang down from the open ceiling surround the comfortable, yet contemporary space brightened by a combination of lighting fixtures.

Visitors' aesthetic senses are also stimulated by features such as low glass walls between the dining room and servery, and black counters made from a quartz resin that sparkle with bits of glass and mirrors. Equally dramatic is the cooking equipment - a 6-foot diameter rotating charbroiler, gas-fired pizza oven and induction burners inlaid into an arc-shaped serving counter.

"We tried to create a design that is timeless, that will take the museum through the 21st century," explained Kulis. Added Cubas, "But we didn't want to turn our backs on the beautiful details that are within the museum. So, for example, we tried to keep the deco feeling of the lettering in the simple signage above the stations."

Logistically, the project was daunting to construct. "We previously had three separate restaurants and three separate kitchens," noted Zakrajsek. "We wanted to bring foodservices under one roof, improve the operations and make them more cost effective."

One of the servery's main attractions is a 6-foot-in-diameter charbroiler, which rotates as it cooks meat, poultry and fish.

Accomplishing this ambitious goal required a budget of nearly $8 million, a great part of which was designated for breaking through 6-foot thick brick walls built in the 1890s and renovating the foodservice infrastructure with new grease traps, air conditioning, gas service and ventilation ductwork. The entire 21,000-square-foot space was gutted and rebuilt to include a 5,300-square-foot servery, 7,700-square-foot dining areas, 845-square-foot coffee/ snack bar called the Brain Food Café, a 5,500-square-foot kitchen and 1,400-square-foot employee lounge.

Among the project's objectives was an increase in operational flexibility. "The customer population at this museum may expand from 1,000 on one day to 18,000 on another," explained Robert Pacifico, executive vice president, Romano Gatland of Woodstock, Ill., which provided foodservice consultation for the project. "This has huge implications for service points and manpower."

The multi-stationed servery was designed so all areas can function during highly trafficked periods, yet during slow periods, some stations can be closed, thereby reducing labor without eliminating popular menu items. This is possible due to the installation of pass-through windows and equipment such as fryers, grills and hot/cold wells at multiple stations. For example, on a slow day, the Grill may be closed, but items normally prepared here on a busy day are prepared at the Favorites station.

In addition, the servery is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate various menu items. At breakfast, for instance, omelets-to-order and pancakes are prepared on induction cooktops and a griddle at the Favorites station, while stir fries are prepared here at lunch. In addition, interchangeable hot/cold wells permit frequent and easy change-outs of menu items.

For long-range flexibility, each station was designed with drains and wired to accommodate different types of equipment as needed. In addition, signage is generic, which makes future adjustments easy to make.

Near the entrance to the servery, a rotating charbroiler, covered by a circular exhaust hood, was positioned as a prime visitor attraction. As customers watch, cooks place chicken breasts and burgers on the custom-built equipment, which turns as meats are cooked. Settings can be adjusted so the equipment turns faster or slower as traffic dictates, according to Paul Johnson, general manager for Sodexho, the museum's foodservice provider. The broiler can be staffed by one or two employees.

Behind the rotating grill are work counters, a double overshelf, a refrigerated counter prep station, fryers and fryer dump station for french fries and hot chips, compact undercounter and base refrigerators, a reach-in refrigerator, reach-in freezer and cold pans. A counter grill, broiler and griddle are used as back-up during busy periods.

Adjacent to the grill station is the freestanding Salads and Soups station. Ingredients, which are assembled by staff, are prepared in the kitchen, then brought forward and held in mobile warming and holding cabinets or in drop-in hot/cold wells. Ingredients combined in salads can also be placed in tortilla wraps. Soups, also made in the back in kettles, are held in hot wells. Also at this station are display baskets and a refrigerated display case for prepared salads, sandwiches and desserts.

In the kitchen, a convection steamer (left), a steamer with a kettle, a tilting skillet and range support the servery's operations, as well as special catered events.

A nearby, freestanding Deli features made-to-order sandwiches and salads. Turkey, ham, roast beef and tuna and chicken salads are prepared in the kitchen and brought out front for display in an air-curtained refrigerator, compact reach-in refrigerator and drop-in hot and cold wells. An electric convection oven is used for baking bread for the deli.

Along the back servery line are stations positioned side-by-side, with pass-through windows between them. At the far left, is a pizza and pasta station, equipped with a refrigerated counter prep area where all pizza ingredients are assembled, and a stone-hearth gas-fired oven that can reach 650°F. In addition, pasta dishes such as lasagna, calzones and pasta and meatballs, which have been cooked in the kitchen's convection ovens and brought out in roll-in heated cabinets, are placed in hot wells for serving.

The serving area next to the pizza space is the Favorites station, where Asian Stir-Fry combinations are prepared to order on built-in, infrared cooktop units. To the right of the exhibition station is The Market, which displays comfort-food-style entrées and side dishes in hot pans. Turkey breasts, rotisserie-style chicken and meatloaf are all prepared in the kitchen's convection ovens, then brought out front for serving. Sides are also made in the back; for instance, vegetables are prepared in one of four steamers and potatoes are cooked on the range and mixed with a hand-held unit.

Also positioned at the Favorites and Market stations are a griddle, fryers and roll-in refrigerators. Here, as at the other stations, are undercounter refrigerators and versatile sneeze guards that, Pacifico noted, are "infinitely adjustable so the type of service can be changed at any time."


Infrared cooktops at the Favorites station are used for stir fries and other dishes prepared exhibition-style.

One of the highlights of the project is a "protocol system" that connects all refrigeration pieces to a common refrigerant source. "This is supermarket technology applied to foodservice," explained Pacifico.

Along with the food stations, the servery includes cashier stations with a POS system and scales and two condiments sections with coffee makers, condiments and ice/beverage dispensers. Nearby is the Brain Food Café and an information station.

Supporting the servery's mise en place, as well as catered events, which may range from a tea for 50 to a sit-down gala for 5,000, is the 5,500-square-foot BOH kitchen. "I like the square configuration," explained Johnson. "It's centralized, so we can bring everyone together in one area for pre-meal meetings and, when everyone's working, they are within the same area and the sight-lines are good."

Included in the back kitchen lineup are counter and floor mixers, two modular accessory fryers, two deep-fat gas fryers, two six-burner heavy-duty gas ranges, a charbroiler, a convection steamer and a convection steamer with a kettle, a steam-jacketed kettle, tilting skillet, hot-top range, drop-in hot wells, food slicers, a vegetable cutter, proofing box and gas-fueled convection ovens. Worktables are positioned throughout the preparation space.

No doubt visitors are transported into a new world as they experience the new Brain Food Court. "The museum has never had anything like this," concluded Zakrajsek. "It is certainly a benchmark for future projects."


1. Floor mixer
2. Counter mixer
3. Mobile trash container
4. Wall-mount shelf
5. Worktable w/sink(s)
6. Ingredient bin
7. Hand sink
7a. Drop-in sink
8. Worktable
9. Equipment stand
10. Vegetable cutter
11. Food slicer
12. Wire shelving
13. Pot & pan warewasher
14. 6-burner heavy-duty gas range
15. Modular accessory fryer
16. Deep-fat gas fryer
17. Charbroiler
18. Exhaust hood
19. Back counter w/hand sink
20. Convection steamer
21. Convection steamer w/kettle
22. Steam-jacketed kettle
23. Tilting skillet
24. Hot-top range
25. Ceiling-mount pot rack
26. Worktable w/sink & double overshelf
27. Drop-in hot well
28. Proofing box
29. Gas convection oven
30. Drop-in hot/cold wells
31. Sneeze guard
32. Roll-in heated cabinet
33. Roll-in refrigerator
34. Back counter
35. Refrigerated counter prep station
36. Griddle
37. Infrared cooktop units
38. International counter
39. Pass-through window
40. Fire suppression system
41. Stone-hearth gas-fired oven
42. Pizza stand
43. Pizza counter
44. Air-curtain refrigerator
45. Counter grill
46. Cold pan
47. Reach-in refrigerator
48. Reach-in freezer
49. Undercounter refrigerated unit w/drawers
50. Rotating charbroiler
51. Double overshelf
52. Compact undercounter refrigerator
53. Fryer dump station
54. Undercounter gas-fired broiler
55. Refrigerator, base
56. Salad counter
56a. Refrigerated display case
57. Display basket
58. Mobile warming & holding cabinet
59. Deli counter
60. Convection oven, electric
61. Main information counter
62. Cashier counter
63. Scale
64. POS system
65. Coffee maker
66. Condiment counter
67. Ice/beverage dispenser


Design Capsule

Brain Food Court features five food concept stations and 525 seats in three dining areas. Hours of operation: Staff breakfast, 8 a.m.-10 a.m.; regular breakfast for guests, 9:30 a.m.-10 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. The number of daily museum visitors ranges from 1,000 to 18,000. The total project occupies 21,000-square-feet, which includes the kitchen at 5,500-square-feet, the servery at 5,300-square-feet, dining areas at 7,700- square-feet, an employee lounge at 1,400-square-feet, and Brain Food Café (serving beverages, baked good and packaged snacks) at 845-square-feet.

Project Director: Andy Zakrajsek, Director of Business Operations, Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
Project Manager: Dick Klarich
MSIC Projects Manager: Nancy Wright, vice president of Guest Services, MSIC
Architects and Interior Design: Aumiller Youngquist, Chicago. Bill Aumiller and Keith Youngquist, principals,and Boris Cubas and Laura Kulis, associates and project managers.
Foodservice Consultants: Robert Pacifico, FFCSI, executive vice president, and Richard Stolarczyk, FCSI, vice president, Romano Gatland, Woodstock, Ill.
Graphics and Menus: Angela Williams and Amber Liu, graphic designers, MSIC's Creativity Department
Contractor: Meyne Co., Chicago
Equipment Installer and Dealer: TriMark Marlinn , Chicago
General Manager: Paul Johnson, Sodexho
Executive Chef: John Stranick, Sodexho

You may also like...
Steak Production: Serving Steaks with Sizzle
- July 1, 2005
2005 Dealer of the Year: The Boelter Companies
- May 1, 2005
FE&S 2004-2005 Product Knowledge Guide
- September 1, 2004
FE&S 2004-2005 Product Knowledge Guide
- September 1, 2004
Bring Your Sales To A Boil With Steamers
- December 1, 2003
Coffee Stations & Pantries Perking Up
- October 1, 2003
2002 Tabletop Performance Award Winners
- October 1, 2002
Charbroilers & Broilers
- September 1, 2002
Coffee Brewers & Servers
- September 1, 2002
Home On The Range
- January 1, 2002
Copyright© 1999-2006 Reed Business Information, a division of
The Reed Business logo, Restaurants & Institutions, R&I, Chain Leader, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies and FE&S are registered trademarks. All rights reserved.
Use of this web site is subject to its Terms and Conditions of Use. View our Privacy Policy. .