At a Glance
Average project duration
75 days for new construction
More than 230
Jason’s Deli, a fast-growing casual restaurant chain with locations spread across the country, now has a goal for itself that might give some construction managers pause: in order to maintain a fresh, modern reputation, the company aims to update its image—and thus all its shops—every 10 years. “We were founded in 1976, so we have a glut of older stores that need updating, and we’ve been steadily expanding,” director of facilities Nic McLaughlin says. To keep up with demand, the company builds and refreshes some 30 stores a year, and no two jobs are alike.
“We have several versions of décor, and we’re trying to get them all upgraded to our current design, which has an organic, warm vibe,” McLaughlin says. “It features open-plan dining rooms, high exposed-beam ceilings, and neutral tones. And in 10 years, we’ll change it again. We always want to keep the brand current.”
Refreshes take about a week, and most stores don’t close down for them because they are done so quickly. The in-house construction and facilities teams at Jason’s Deli are small. The director of planning and new construction and the construction manager oversee construction, with a support staff of one. McLaughlin is in charge of facilities, so he, along with a support team of three, oversees refreshes and takes over all stores when construction is complete.
Because the in-house construction department is small, it relies heavily on contractors. “We bid out each project, seeking bids from two or three contractors we’ve worked with before and one or two contractors we’ve heard of through referrals or met through organizations we belong to,” McLaughlin says, adding that Florida-based Frontier Building Corp. is a regular provider of services.
The challenge is communication. “We’re managing projects remotely, and we only get out to see a space a couple times during a project, so we need our contractors to be our eyes and ears, and that requires effective and timely communication,” McLaughlin says. “We’re not always going for the cheapest bid.”
The construction team relies on a prototype, but each of its projects goes through an extensive planning stage before going out to bid. That way, the prototype is always neatly tailored to each new space. “As a result, the contractors have the plans before they bid and know what the expectations are,” McLaughlin says.
But that doesn’t mean things always go smoothly. When asked if there are ever problems, McLaughlin is quick to reply, with a laugh, “Every day.”
“I just had lunch with our construction manager, and he’s had no good news on a project in Lake Charles, Louisiana, since we started,” he says. “Some of the subs didn’t show up on time, so the other subs couldn’t get their work done, then only half of the kitchen equipment arrived. It’s been a constant struggle.”
Despite such issues, McLaughlin isn’t daunted. In fact, he thrives on the adversity. “The challenges are what keep the job interesting—and the reason I don’t get bored,” he says. “There’s always a curveball.”
Meet Nic McLaughlin
Where did you go to school?
I was an English major at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. I thought I’d be a teacher.
What was your first construction job?
My dad was a jack of all trades, always working around the house. That is really where I received my first exposure to planning, carpentry, appliance, and small-engine repair. I didn’t think I’d pursue it as a job, however.
How did you wind up working for Jason’s Deli?
I realized early on that there was no money in teaching unless I went back to school and received more education. I’d worked in the restaurant business and enjoyed it, so I went into restaurant management and eventually made my way to Jason’s Deli. With Jason’s, I found a unique business that has truly become a second family. I started on the operations side, running stores for about six years, moving around the East Coast. Eventually I was approached about working as an eastern region facilities manager. I took the job and moved to Texas.
What personal goals do you have in your current role?
We’re looking to streamline our processes and improve our systems so we can continue to do our job with a small team. As part of that effort, we’re looking to have a lot of the services we use continually, such as maintenance, done by national providers instead of a mishmash of local providers. We want to keep it simple. ABQ