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  • Writer's pictureMarcy Weiss

Grains & Greens Merges Industry Trends

Q&A with the HX Foodservice Pioneering Concept 2020 Winners

We all know that for so many reasons, 2020 was not a great year across the board and, in particular, for the foodservice and hospitality industry. Here at elite|studio e, we are grateful for things to celebrate and, as such, are incredibly proud of our award-winning HX Foodservice Pioneering Concept team. I had the opportunity to sit down with several of the individuals behind Grains & Greens, a conceptualized freestanding kiosk that brings together culinary and hydroponics. This concept won the ninth annual competition in 2020.

Not being familiar with the competition myself, I wanted to understand more. The goal set out by the HX Experience is to “conceive, create and rough-design your most edgy idea” for a revenue-generating foodservice concept that can operate in a hotel or resort. And there was a distinguished panel of judges from the industry including last year’s winner, Editor-in-Chief of Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, and others. Learn more about the Foodservice Pioneering Concept competition.

Our team members (pictured from left to right) consist of:

Josh Mass Vice President, Project Solutions

Jim Collins Project Designer with a focus on foodservice design

Natalie Steimle Associate Project Designer with a focus on interior design

How did we become involved in the HX Experience Foodservice Pioneering competition?

Josh We were brought on board by Melanie Corey-Ferrini at 3.14DC. Her firm also won the competition in 2016, so it was exciting when she approached us and asked us to participate.

Jim elite|studio e had been working with Melanie’s company together on several west coast projects and I think she was quickly impressed. When Melanie and Josh spoke, Josh reached out to me and said, “let’s see if we can win this.”

Side note… It’s almost a year later and we continue to collaborate and partner on projects.

What was the process like to develop Grains & Grains?

Natalie My role in this project was primarily interior and finishes related. I was brought on board with the 2D ideas already completed. The architect we partnered with, gave us a few inspiration pictures, and basically said “Go wild, create a space that is not only trendy, but unique!” I honestly love when we get the opportunity for these types of projects, because it allows my creativity to come to life, with endless possibilities!

When we created the renderings, at first, we designed this station in an empty space, so the focus was on the kiosk, not the environment around it. Once the idea came about to place Grains & Greens in a hotel lobby setting, that’s when we finally saw the space come to life. Our team designed two options. One was placed as a standalone kiosk; another was incorporated into the side of the hotel lobby. This option was neat because outside customers, don’t have to go through the hotel lobby to access this.

Jim Melanie, who is known for her work with indoor agriculture, sent us a sketch of the idea and wanted to do something COVID friendly since the project developed shortly after March 2020. Because the concept had to be something that can be included in any hotel space, I was thinking to utilize the equipment in a load panel to connect the equipment. I wanted to make the station easy to assemble and disassemble. That’s how we got to what is now a four-sided station. It assembles with ease and then there is only a single point of connection.

Natalie Also, it’s important to add that there was a mobile app created, to have more of a “COVID friendly” menu. People can download it onto their phone or, if preferred, there is a wall mounted P.O.S. system customers are able to order on. The team designed an almost entirely touchless concept, while also having the opportunity to watch the chef craft your meal.

Josh As part of the process, HX asked us to provide a virtual presentation. What better opportunity to show off our interior design skills! Natalie and a few other interior designers put their heads together and produced a very realistic hotel feel. The result is incredible.

Speaking of interior design, talk to me about the new software the team is using.

Natalie This was the first time we completed a design using Enscape for a client project. I learned a lot about the software. Going into this, we knew the materials would look more realistic and that the lighting is incredible, but the food! I have never seen a bun with texture like this in a rendering.

Side note ... There are no buns in Grains & Grains. That’s not healthy.

Overall, when using Enscape renderings are produced faster and at an even better quality.

(See video above)

Jim We were working remote at the time due to COVID and I was calling Natalie constantly with ideas. If we were in the studio, I would’ve just yelled. In all seriousness, in the end, Enscape really helped us to see the design come to life as we created it. It works exactly how we tell our clients it does, and it was exciting to experience that firsthand.

Jim, you have tremendous background in energy and sustainability. Were any of those skills brought into use in this project?

Jim Absolutely. When the design process began for Grains & Greens or any project for that matter, you take the process of the preparation of food and talk yourself through it. Then you poke holes in it from an energy and sustainability perspective. How can we limit the amount of food waste? What kind of garbage are our customers creating at the kiosk and what opportunities do we have to salvage and reuse smallwares and such.

Because of the convenience of Grains & Greens the operation uses sustainable disposable dishes and utensils. However, I worked to design a disposable container that can also be on display. It looks intriguing to the consumer and continues to encourage people to be part of the sustainability process.

As for equipment, we use Energy Star whenever we can. We want to make sure that Grains & Greens can be assembled in any space and be implemented into the existing utilities without any issue by using the least power possible. If it’s placed into a hotel that is big into energy conservation or a LEED certified building, there’s less chance of running into an electrical issue.

I understand that Grains & Greens will be on display at the 2021 HX Experience. What are the next steps to make that happen?

Josh HX Experience provides the winner with a free booth – all costs are covered. Manufacturers who we specify will sponsor this booth by building out the space for us and will have their millwork and equipment on display without the traditional costs associated with taking a space at the show.

Can it operate at the trade show?

Josh It could certainly operate, but I’m not sure what will happen with respect to serving food at the show due to COVID restrictions.

Side note … Typically, the Grains & Greens prototype would have been built for the 2020 HX Experience show at the Javits Center, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Jim We are really hoping to see Grains & Greens come to life, but we can do a virtual walkthrough operation if necessary. It’s technology elite|studio e already utilizes.

What is the most unique aspect of the Grains & Greens concept?

Natalie It’s kind of cool how Jim developed the concept, and all the components are self-contained. It doesn’t rely on a back of house kitchen. Also, I don’t think any of us touched on Grains & Greens appealing to the health conscious. That’s really important!

Jim Once I started working with Farmshelf and seeing what they’re about, I really developed an appreciation for indoor agriculture and hydroponics. If you think about it, this kiosk was created spinning off of Farmshelf’s main idea to grow food on site. To create that is amazing and I think consumers will agree with me. With people eating all natural and healthy, and transparency in the kitchen being so trendy, this is a very big step. I think Grains & Greens brings a lot of those desires to the forefront.

Josh I love the flexibility for the different locations. You can put the Grains & Greens kiosk anywhere and it can be tweaked if a space requires it. The concept implementation is relatively low cost too. Think about it … there’s no plumbing cost because it involves wastewater tanks and freshwater tanks. It’s all self-contained – just requires an electrical supply, which Jim touched on earlier.

Does Grains & Greens address any challenges that we see in the foodservice and hospitality industry?

Josh Everyone wants to find ways to keep guests in a hotel and when you work in business and industry, keep the employees on site. Grains & Greens provides another menu offering that can easily pop up in a small space.

Jim With COVID at the forefront of everyone’s minds, having a completely touchless operation addresses a lot of concerns.

Natalie I think a lot of clients look for ways to incorporate dining amenities into underutilized spaces without huge construction costs. This concept certainly achieves that and maybe opens the door for similar ideas in these locations.

What did you all enjoy most about working on this project?

Jim Seeing the design come to life in Enscape was awesome. It was all Natalie but having designed it in Revit and then seeing what Natalie did in this software …. I was blown away. Seriously there are sound affects – you can hear birds in the background!

Natalie It’s like a developing a video game. It’s wild!

Josh The most exciting thing for me is having the ability to go for it and to work hard at creating this project. Also, I think any designer will say its enjoyable to design anything with no budget. You can just run with your creativity and innovation.

Natalie You know what I really enjoyed, the fact that this team was able to come together, put our minds to work and create this concept in a very very short time frame, and knowing we were the lucky few that had the opportunity to win!


Congratulations to Josh, Jim, Natalie and Melanie on this win! I bet the quinoa bowls are yummy and I can’t wait to experience Grains & Greens in person. Hopefully you’ll join us at the 2021 HX Experience November 14th and 15th at the Javits Center in New York. But, if you’re interested in opening a Grains & Greens before then sooner, we’d love to be your first customers!

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