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THE FCSI INTERVIEW


starred restaurant, which between 1976 and 1978 was generating $26m per year.”


During the coming years, Eaton worked on projects in the UK and the Middle East, but was never as happy as when creating something new for big projects in New York and Washington, DC. In DC, his designs have been seen in almost every building on the National Mall, from the capitol itself to the many museums of the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art. “We did the Smithsonian’s


National Air and Space Museum, but we also did projects such as the Williamsburg Inn expansion and the taverns at Colonial Williamsburg. We were working with General Services Administration, the government agency that deals with all federal buildings nationwide, and we worked with the State Department on embassies. When the two biggest competitors in the market merged – us and Harley Little – we moved into stadium and theme park projects,” Eaton recalls.


Looking back on a career that encompasses many huge projects, not least the WTC, it might seem surprising that some of Eaton’s favourite jobs were not the largest or the most demanding. Instead his choice of highlights often centres on the people involved, which speaks


“People are the most important thing in this industry. Ernie Bangs, Joe Baum and people like that teach you about the business, but also about human qualities such as ethics. Some people are not easy to work with, you still have to listen to, and admire, them.”


The real learning curve began as Eaton moved jobs and cities


volumes about a man who shows great gratitude for those who have helped him learn, and who has himself become a mentor to others. “Some that are dear to my heart are the ones that involve working with Restaurant Associates since 1975. They had a great team and worked on some great restaurants, like the ones in the MetLife Building. We worked on Stella 34 on the sixth floor of Macy’s – a big pizza restaurant that took the idea of Naples 45 in MetLife, which I worked on with the same team. We took the same idea into the food court of the Westfield Mall in Maryland, which opened a few weeks ago,” Eaton says.


“It is a carefully crafted project and I was working with the same team of personalities. It is important always to be challenged because that gets people thinking. People are the most important thing in this industry. Ernie Bangs, Joe Baum and people like that teach you about the business, but also about human qualities such as ethics. Some people are not easy to work with, but you still have to listen to, and admire, them. ”


Back on the farm Eaton’s life now is mostly spent on his farm in Maryland, but like many who have risen to the top of the industry, he cannot suddenly let it all go. His commitment to hard work is summed up in his favourite joke: ‘Are you only working a half-day today?’, which references his long days in the office, often from 6am to 8pm. Yet Eaton still finds time to support many organisations. As


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well as his work for FCSI, he is a Trustee and Life Member of the Cornell University Council and has played key roles in the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management, and the Cornell Hotel Society, of which he was international president. His commitment is to the job, but also to the people involved. “I’m finding retirement hard enough and here on the farm we have a lot of interconnected projects. All my old equipment, from my tractor to my chainsaw, has developed one problem or another in the three weeks since I retired, so that keeps me busy. But I’m still chairman of the board at Cini-Little, and I have told my clients that I am there if they need me. I’ve worked to a schedule for 50 years, so I still need one. “Whatever I do, I solve the


problem. I never pass it off. I make sure it is done right. I push for the best answer. If I haven’t seen a situation in the past 60 years, then it probably doesn’t exist, and what I have learned is that people are the most important thing.”


ONE DAY IN NEW YORK


Bill Eaton’s first involvement with designs for parts of New York’s World Trade Center was in 1971, when the towers were newly built and the first tenants were moving in. This connection ran until 1976 – from then on, he was involved in design and planning phases with the project almost constantly until 9/11. Eaton and John Cini would regularly arrive in New


York on the 6.30am flight to meet with Joe Baum, the restaurateur and innovator who created the first themed restaurants in the US, including The Four Seasons Restaurant, Windows on the World, and the restored Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Center. “Joe taught me more about foodservice than anyone else. We would work with him all day doing sketches. I made hundreds of round trips,” Eaton remembers. Baum died in 1998, but Eaton continued to visit the


WTC to work on projects and, on 9/11, had a meeting scheduled on the 74th floor. “I saw the second tower fall. It was devastating,”


he says. 43


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