The FSTC Takes a Ride into the Food Truck World…

Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

KianaHave you ever thought of taking the wheels off your food truck and transitioning to a brick-and-mortar restaurant? Or, conversely, putting some wheels on your foodservice establishment? Not sure what questions to ask or what potholes to avoid?

The PG&E Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) recently took a ride to the food truck side by bringing in Chef Walter Abrams of Dabba to tell his story at our Foodservice in Motion: From Food Truck to Brick & Mortar seminar on Tuesday, July 26th. Foodservice in Motion focused on how to transition your food truck to a brick-and-mortar establishment while saving energy, water, and money along the way.

Dabba Truck

The Dabba food truck parked outside the Food Service Technology Center prior to the Foodservice in Motion seminar on July 26th, 2016.

Chef Walter shared how his Marin-based, East Indian-inspired Dabba (Hindi for “lunchbox”) food truck transformed into a San Francisco restaurant with all its accompanying challenges and successes. FSTC senior engineer Mark Finck discussed how the FSTC was able to help Chef Walter & Dabba achieve this dream and offered attendees tips and tricks for making their own transition to opening a restaurant.

Foodservice in Motion

The FSTC’s Mark Finck (left) and Dabba’s Chef Walter (right) present ways to attract foodservice customers.

Finck and Chef Walter did a Q&A session hitting the following four key topics:

Dabba food truck initially focused on taking the truck to different round-up groups (e.g. Off the Grid) in Napa and catering private events (e.g. Bottle Rock). Participating in these different events helped engender a customer following for Dabba. That was an advantage as Dabba’s restaurant eventually took root in the San Francisco Financial District, where professionals go out five days a week for lunch. Mark Finck also stressed that, “The best restaurants thrive on their location, location, location.” When searching for a restaurant location, an operator must consider the surrounding city culture, foot traffic, and local demographics.

Value to the Customer
Dabba focuses on serving high quality product to their customers – 90% of their food product is organic or pesticide free, which stems from building partnerships with local farms. When serving customers from the food truck, ticket time for guests is usually under 10 minutes. If it runs longer, they try to foster relationships with their customers while they wait for their food. In the restaurant, ticket times are between 2-2 ½ minutes. Chef Walter’s vision is to deliver “delicious, healthful food by including a higher quality service experience for guests. I want you to sit down and use cloth napkins and silverware, while a host floats around and connects with guests.”

Chef Walter’s central takeaway: “Food trucks are a great way to raise money, market your brand, and build a concept.” The Dabba food truck experience was a crucial step toward establishing itself with its customers and the industry before venturing into the restaurant arena.

Dabba Truck 1

Dabba food truck prepares lunch for FSTC seminar attendees.

Operational Cost
The FSTC’s Mark Finck discussed how choosing ENERGY STAR® efficient equipment can dramatically lower operational costs. When selecting equipment, appliances using less energy will still meet your cooking requirements while significantly saving you in utility costs. This is an important consideration when moving from a food truck with limited gas supplies and electrical power from generators. When transitioning to mortar, power is no longer limited, so utility costs will significantly impact your profit margins.

Chef Walter stated that Dabba food truck’s profit was determined by event location and the most lucrative events were the ones that had a fixed number of meals to serve (e.g. catering events). When attending an event that was based on customer draw, often times the amount of food prepped did not align with the amount of food sold, which affected Dabba’s bottom line.

Signature Menu
Chef Walter discussed how Dabba is inspired by a restaurant known as Avatar’s, an institution in Marin County. Dabba restaurant serves East Indian flavored tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and salads. They focus on serving high quality product with “ethnic confusion… healthy and bold flavors.”

Dabba Truck 2

Foodservice in Motion seminar attendees wait in line at the Dabba food truck for seared chicken rice bowls.

The Dabba food truck was on-site for the seminar providing attendees with the opportunity to taste Chef Walter’s unique flavors for lunch.

With so many different food truck attendees looking to transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant (or vice versa), the FSTC hosted a vendor fair for the final part of the seminar. Vendors included: BlueCart, California Restaurant Association, Central Contra Costa County Sanitary District, Contra Costa County Environmental Health, Food Craft Institute, and Mr. Food Safety. Attendees had the opportunity to pose questions and start connections with these valuable foodservice resources.

The recent food truck boom has equipped many foodservice operators with an ambition to “go brick-and-mortar”. As this seminar demonstrated, the FSTC’s energy-saving expertise and numerous resources give food truck operators the support they need to succeed in any endeavor.

For the full Foodservice in Motion presentation, please visit

And, The Winner Is…

By Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

Kiana CabanHave you ever won a contest? Here at the FSTC, we wanted to encourage our friends to “like” us on Facebook so, we held a contest. All the “likes” between 200 and 300 were entered into a drawing. And the winner is…? Well, I’ll get to that but first, a little background:

If you remember reading the blog “Knowledge is Power: Kiana’s Gift”, our Director of Education, Richard Young, talked about the many projects Kiana (that’s me!) worked on while interning which included updating the ENERGY STAR page on One of my last projects was to increase our Facebook outreach. We want more Facebook “likes” so that we can let you know all the cool ways that we are helping food service professionals.

In the article Richard writes, “One way that you could pay her [me!] back for creating the very useful ENERGY STAR page is to keep those likes coming. In fact, I have a very nice, state of the art LED lamp that I am going to send to one randomly chosen person out of the next 100 likes.”

Jesse SelbertWell, the FSTC reached 100 more “likes” late in 2014 and…drum roll please…the lucky winner was Jesse Selbert at Western Pacific Distribution. Being a generous bunch, we didn’t just hand out one lamp; Jesse won the LED lamp, a Sideboard gift card, an FSTC water bottle, and some other goodies.

Selbert told us, “I installed the LED lamps as soon as I got home and look forward to a great meal at Sideboard.”

I would like to thank those of you who took the time to “like” our page and have continued to “like”, “post” and leave comments. We really appreciate all the support and interaction.

The first drawing was so much fun that we decided to do it again. Right now we are at 325 “likes” but we want to reach a new milestone of 500 so, the next 175 “likes” will be entered into a fresh drawing. If you haven’t visited our Facebook page, please go check it out and hit the “like” button. Perhaps you will be our next winner!

To get your name in the drawing, click: and give us the “thumbs up”.

Knowledge is Power: Kiana’s Gift

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

bio pic 020208b smallerLast week, the FSTC said goodbye to our gifted intern and social media specialist, Kiana Caban as she headed back to college for her senior year. Kiana will still help us with our Facebook and Linkdin pages throughout the year but, her real focus now will be graduating with top marks and a winning basketball season.

Before she left, Kiana finished one final project that just might be the most useful resource she could have created for the foodservice energy-efficiency community. Working with our webmaster, Greg Sorensen, she put together a master ENERGY STAR web page that organizes all the ENERGY STAR resources and knowledge base into one location. Here is the link so you can check it out for yourself:

You can also access this page by going to the FSTC homepage, clicking on the “Save Energy” menu at the top of the page and choosing “ENERGY STAR”.

The beauty of Kiana’s ENERGY STAR page is speed. She is a wicked good basketball player and when she is on the court, all she is thinking about is the shortest distance to the basket and quickly scoring another goal. Speed keeps you ahead of the competition. Kiana applied that same strategy to her resource page. If you need to find a piece of efficient equipment; or want to benchmark your energy use; or want to see if your efficient appliance qualifies for a rebate, the shortest distance to your goal is to use Kiana’s ENERGY STAR page. Got a story to share about efficiency in your own operation? Check out the “Share Your Story” link at the bottom of Kiana’s ENERGY STAR page.

Kiana Caban our gifted intern and social media specialist

Kiana Caban our gifted intern and social media specialist

There is no longer any reason to say that you cannot find an ENERGY STAR appliance or didn’t know that your ENERGY STAR equipment qualified for a utility incentive. Kiana has given you knowledge and knowledge is power – specifically, the power to lower your utility bills and save money.

One other project that Kiana worked on in her last few weeks was getting the FSTC more Facebook likes. Facebook is a quick and easy way for us to communicate the FSTC news, such as new reports, blog posts, seminars, etc., to our friends in the industry. One way that you could pay her back for creating the very useful ENERGY STAR page is to keep those likes coming. In fact, I have a very nice, state of the art LED lamp that I am going to send to one randomly chosen person out of the next 100 likes. So, don’t hesitate – here’s the link:

Finally, if you really want to do something nice for Kiana, you can root for her as she pushes the Oregon Tech women’s basketball team to victory this year. Thanks Kiana. Go Owls!

Is there a Twinkie hanging from your ceiling? What your lighting might really be saying about your “sustainable” restaurant.

bio pic 020208b smallerRichard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

People who have seen me speak at conferences, workshops and tradeshows are familiar with my technique of using humor to make a point about energy efficiency. I love nothing better than to poke a little fun at some of the energy-wasteful things that I see in the food service world – not to be bossy or pedantic – just to lighten the mood and perhaps illuminate some of the things that we might all be doing better. With that attitude in mind, I hope you will indulge me as we ponder the question of “the Twinkie hanging from your ceiling”.

But first, a little background: I love good food and I especially love good, locally-grown, freshly prepared food. In fact as I’m writing this I’m enjoying a cup of premium “third-wave” coffee and a vegetarian egg brioche with fresh figs, greens and walnuts on a gluten free bun. (This would be the appropriate time for my burger-and-fries friends to have a chuckle at my expense.) I’m sitting in a beautiful sunlit cafe in Oakland CA and right across the street I can see the super-popular, nationally-famous restaurant that first inspired the idea of these dangling twinkles that I want to talk about.

This restaurant is super-popular for a reason; the food is amazingly good, fresh, local, and creative and the chef/owner is completely dedicated to his craft. I’ve had some of my favorite meals here and it was in this restaurant, while I was having lunch with lighting expert Derry Berrigan, that I was first able to articulate what was bugging me so much about many of my favorite local restaurants and bars. Derry and I were talking about the current practice of using antique-looking Edison style lamps in so many new establishments. These lamps are not our favorites. Besides the fact that the last time these lamps were fashionable was back in the 90’s (that would be the 1890’s) they are incredibly inefficient light sources and they add lots of heat to the space. To a sustainability geek like myself, these are charming little eco-nightmares.

In a flash of insight it suddenly came to me: “Derry” I said, “this chef, who cares so much about food sustainability that he raises his own chickens, would never pull a Twinkie out of the package, throw it on a plate and add it to his desert menu, but his ceiling is filled with these antique space heaters masquerading as lighting. Seeing these lamps in a restaurant that prides itself on sustainability is just as weird as seeing a Twinkie on the menu.”


[Now don’t get me wrong. I love a Twinkie as much as the next guy. They are a much beloved snack food with an amazing shelf life. It’s just that they are not exactly farmer’s market fare.]

“Derry” I continued, “I think that if this chef and all his chef friends knew that these energy guzzlers were driving up their utility bills and wasting natural resources, they would find some alternative and this nostalgia fad would fade away.”

Derry, who is one of the Nation’s top LED experts and a forward thinking lighting designer, had a quick comeback. “Richard, you have to admit that these lamps do add a certain quaint charm to the space, especially in an old brick building like this. What’s your efficient alternative?”

Okay, point well taken. Derry always inspires me to think about the big picture. So here are a couple of thoughts regarding these lamps:

  1. If you really love the look of these lamps, please use them sparingly and think of them as “quaint decorations.” Then, make sure that you are using the most energy-efficient lighting in the rest of your business.
  2. Check out some of the efficient alternatives to these lamps. Manufacturers like Rambus and Plumen make some lamps with really interesting form factors.
  3. Consider using actual fixtures instead of just lamps on a cord. When did we decide as a culture that bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling were “good design”? An LED lamp inside a nice pendant fixture is a better looking alternative and the energy savings will pay for the extra up-front cost of the fixture itself.

The bottom line is this: If you really want to operate a truly green and sustainable restaurant, then you should not be lighting your space with the most inefficient, energy-wasting light bulb on the planet. No Twinkies on the menu – no Twinkies hanging from the ceiling!

FSTC presents at SCAA Annual Exposition in Boston

SCAA 25th expo

April 12-14th Richard Young attended and presented at the SCAA 25th Annual Expo in Boston. Richard co-presented with Meredith Taylor from SCAA and (in absentia) Kirstin Henninger a presentation titled “Creating a Sustainable Café with SCAA Tools: a How-To with Case Studies” (

Richard had a great time at the event and met with lots of key figures from the coffee industry. Attendees were very excited about the release of the Energy & Water Modules for the Green Guide

Your local cafe is getting greener…

Did you know that the FSTC has partnered with the Green Cafe Network and the Specialty Coffee Association of America to develop a comprehensive sustainability guide specifically for cafe and coffee shops?

green-guide-preview_Page_1The FSTC has contributed their technical expertise, key research and years of experience to create the Energy & Water Modules of the SCAA Green Guide. The Green Guide is a series of digital booklets, published in modules that will cover key strategies for cafe operators in energy conservation, waste reduction, water conservation, and toxics reduction. The goal is to link simple, practical steps with a broader industry effort. Module #1 offers structured guidance on how to reduce costs specific to lighting, refrigeration, appliances & HVAC.


The Green Guide is part of SCAA’s Low Impact Cafe Program.The SCAA Low Impact Cafe Program is a new program designed for coffee retailers. The goal of the program is to provide tips on how to lower your cafe’s operating costs and overall environmental impact that are both easy to understand and implement. The program also includes tools of measurement so that every participating retailer has the ability to quantify their efforts both for business purposes as well as to directly communicate to their customers.


There are two components of the program; the Green Guide and the START database. START is a powerful online database that allows retailers to input monthly utility use data related to their business and discover the impact of their sustainability efforts. The Green Guide provides a mechanism for measurement offered through START and a recognition vehicle for participating cafes.


The Low Impact Cafe program was designed with the cafe and coffee retailer in mind, and built to make sustainability at the cafe achievable!

landing-pageWe are currently working hard on the Water Module and it will be ready for the public early this summer! In the meantime, attend the 25th Annual SCAA Exposition on April 13th to hear Richard Young present on the Green Guide and give you key tips to energy conservation in your cafe!

Our Partners:


SCAA-logo2The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is the world’s coffee authority and largest coffee trade association with nearly 5,000 members including member companies and their employees. SCAA members are located in more than 40 countries and represent every segment of the specialty coffee industry, including producers, roasters, importers/exporters, retailers, manufacturers, baristas and coffee enthusiasts. SCAA is dedicated to creating a vibrant specialty coffee community, recognizing, developing and promoting specialty coffee by setting and maintaining quality standards for the industry; conducting research on coffee, equipment and perfection of craft; and providing education, training, resources and business services for its members.


Green Cafe Network

Green Cafe Ngreenetwork’s mission is make sustainability mainstream by greening the coffeehouse industry. In addition to their sustainability consulting and education services, GCN has built a growing network of member cafes across the United States that are committed to running green businesses.

Introducing Elan!

The FSTC is proud to introduce our newest and youngest (at just 23 years) engineer on the team: Elan Frantz. Elan is a recent graduate from the University of California, at Santa Barbara, where he holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Though Elan may be new to our lab, he’s no stranger to efficiency.

While a student at UCSB, Elan led an intern project that used thermoelectric (TE) devices to capture waste heat from central processing units (CPUs) and to generate power. He successfully built physical models that proved TE devices can be utilized to lower the temperature of the CPU using thermal absorption and by powering a fan. You can learn more about this project here.

Elan and Big Belly

Elan tackled many advanced projects through his department and single-handedly spearheaded a major campus-wide effort to improve the efficiency of the recycling/compost/waste-streams. He also gave the Class of 2012 Commencement Speech at graduation for the UCSB Science and Engineering Department!

Elan commencement speech

Below is an interview Lauren Mills conducted with Elan to celebrate National Engineers Week  (February of 2013).

Lauren Mills: Can you tell me a bit more about some of the projects you were responsible for at UCSB?

Elan Frantz: Well the big one was a waste streamlining effort I called “The Big Belly Project”. When I got to college freshman year we were presented with the challenge to write about improving some aspect of the campus. The first things that popped into my head were, like, solar-powered spaceships, rocket cars…all this stuff…and then, I had this idea to compact trash so that the garbage trucks don’t have to come as often. It turns out someone already does this, it’s a company called Big Belly out of Massachusetts, and they do it very well.

So, I worked over the next 4 years to try to refit the entire UCSB system with these trash bins. And on the day of my graduation, I got funding to do it. Now there are 18 Big Belly waste units on the campus and we are diverting tons of trash every day.

Mills: What bins are included with the units?

Frantz: There is recycling, trash, and one of the first compacting compost programs in the US, well, in the world. You can look at it from a couple of different angles: first of all, since we are compacting things, people aren’t going there as often. What were 14 trips a week for some facilities management people has turned into 2 trips a week. In the face of huge budget cuts, that gives these departments the resources to keep the campus clean, collect the trash that needs to be collected, and maintain the grounds. So it’s been a real blessing for them.

Also, because the bins trap the trash and lock it in, the contents cannot escape to the local ocean areas or even around the campus. Before, we had a big problem with raccoons diving into the trash cans and just tearing everything out. Even seagulls would get into it. As simple as it is, the Big Bellys are a closed system and they don’t let that happen.

Mills: Very cool…so risks of inadvertently polluting the surrounding areas are reduced and no more litter problem!

Frantz: The other cool thing is just the appearance of it. Everything is very clearly labeled and color coded: Yellow is compost, blue is recycling, black is trash.

Mills: So, it looks like from your history at the University you have a clear interest in not just energy efficiency and the efficiency of mechanical systems, but in sustainability and engineering sustainable solutions.

Frantz: Oh, most definitely.

Mills: Switching gears, can you tell us about what you are starting to work on here at the FSTC? Also, maybe what you would like to investigate and research in the future here?

Frantz: Of course. What I didn’t know when I came here, is that, if somebody wanted to make an energy efficient kitchen 25 years ago, they wouldn’t have the resources to do it. So the part I now play in this is the testing of the equipment.

Mills: What is your official title at the FSTC?

Frantz: Research Engineer. So, I try to set up real world kitchen situations in our lab to test the heavy-use efficiency of appliances. When someone is choosing a convection oven, an exhaust hood, a stovetop range, they are going to have a lot of options. I compare those options for them and present to them useful data that will hopefully help them select the most efficient option, with which they can also maintain a functional kitchen.

Elan and Fryer Challenge

Mills: Is this your first time working with ASTM test methods?

Frantz: Yes it is.

Mills: What appliances have you worked with here and applied the ASTM test methods to?

Frantz: Holding cabinets, a wok, a griddle, a fryer, some combis and convection ovens.

Mills: Did any one of them employ any interesting components or technologies that made them more efficient than your average unit?

Frantz: Yes! The wok pan employed some proprietary features that were pretty interesting. A normal wok pan may be only 10% efficient and the new wok pan, with these unique improvements, was tested to be 15% efficient. So it’s improved by 50%. With a 50% efficiency gain you can actually turn your temperature controls down to 2/3 of the original input.

I’ve also tested and reported on a wok range that was designed to reduce water consumption (needed for cooling the equipment) by featuring an air gap between the burner wells and the wok table surface.

Mills: Besides testing and getting familiar with the ASTM test methods, are you working on anything else at the lab?

Frantz: Well, I’m involved with the Green Team.

Mills: Tell me about that.

Frantz: Basically, the waste streams at the FSTC are really efficient. Most of the time there is no reason to throw anything in the waste stream because the majority of things here can be composted or recycled. In addition the appliances we use in house, like our lights and heating, are also efficient. The Green Team looks over all of that.

Mills: Do you have plans for applying some of your past experiences and interests to come up with some new protocols for the Green Team?

Frantz: Totally. Perhaps my first efforts will be looking into miniature ozone-generators to eliminate odors in the compost bins. I do have several ideas that I want to contribute this year and I’m excited to get start.

Mills: Great, well we are really glad to have you join our team at the FSTC and I look forward to future collaborations with you at the lab.


Every day at the FSTC our staff is working towards a more energy efficient and sustainable future. Read our blog and also visit our Facebook page to stay up to date with our growing rebate programs, in-lab testing, and our in-house green business efforts.

We look forward to additional testing on efficient wok ranges and will be providing updates as we collect more data. An appliance test report is available for the water-efficient wok that Elan tested on our website.


Ever wonder what ASTM Standard Test Method development looks like?

 Meat before test Meat testing in Cook & Hold Our fellow research technicians down at Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Foodservice Technology Center (FTC) just sent us these appetizing photos of their latest test method development efforts for the Cook & Hold equipment category (ASTM F26.06). A draft of this Standard Test Method (STM) has been submitted to the ASTM committee for ballot and we think that they will have no beef with the procedures!Meat after test

Sustainability: It’s Not a Fad

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

March was “sustainability month” around the FSTC. Thanks to the FSTC green team, we stepped up our in-house game and got our food waste composting program fully up and running. We also gave two Greener Restaurant Seminars, one in our NorCal shop and one down south at the beautiful new SDG&E Energy Innovation Center ( We were invited to contribute our knowledge to the upcoming National Restaurant Association Sustainability Report and we even helped a local high-school student with her own sustainability report. A common theme ran through all these activities: the greener restaurant is not a “feel-good fad” – sustainability is a technical challenge that is being embraced by the food service industry for solid business reasons.

The subject of “green” always generates a lot of dialogue and this was certainly the case in our Greener Restaurant seminars.  The FSTC speakers were joined by experts in recycling, composting, green building materials, green business certification and fat/oil/grease (FOG) pollution prevention. The discussion was deep, challenging, enlightening and above all, realistic. Here are some highlights:

  • We were introduced to Alameda County’s ground-breaking Green Materials Rebate Program by Wes Sullens at ( ). There have been incentives for water-conservation and energy-efficiency for years but the idea to offer rebates for green building materials is unique and forward thinking. Hopefully, this pilot project will blossom into standard practice for municipalities across the US. For a taste of this program in action check out Awaken Café in Oakland (
  • Paris Greenlee updated us on Bay Area Green Business Certification and explained how California Assembly Bill AB913 was helping this local initiative evolve into a statewide program ( California Green Business Certification is voluntary, free and verified by on-site visits from waste management, pollution prevention, and energy/water-efficiency experts.
  • Ana Carvalho, environmental specialist with the City of San Diego, led a dynamic and passionate discussion on why food waste reduction-rescue-and-recycling are so important. Ana runs a well-organized and highly-effective commercial Food Waste Recycling (composting) Program ( that turns garbage to gold in 10 weeks. But, she warned us, it is not without challenges. In an urban environment, they have to work smart to avoid odors and, to ensure top-quality compost, they are very selective about the waste they accept. The reality: about 63% of the commercially available compostable serving ware that Ana tested does not sufficiently biodegrade, so those items are still headed to the landfill. Ana’s take home was “Know the waste management best practices in your region.”
  • Recycling specialist, Eric Wolff, impressed us with examples of the huge amount of landfill waste – San Diego’s garbage could fill Qualcomm Stadium in less than three weeks – and the list of typical excuses for not recycling. Yes there are still folks who tell Eric that they “don’t believe there is a need to divert material from the landfill.” Fortunately, Eric came armed with case studies and examples of real savings like the casual dining restaurant that saves over $2,000 a year with their recycling program. The County of San Diego offers consultations, referrals and free recycling containers to their customers ( ). This is often the case, so check with your city/county to see what free resources are available for small commercial businesses and implement a smart plan. A successful recycling program should save you money.
  • Fats, oils and grease (FOG) are environmental pollutants that clog up sewer lines and cause headaches for sewage treatment plants. Nadia Borisova with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is determined to educate restaurants about FOG and she shared EBMUD’s online materials ( ).
  • Kong Sham from the FSTC’s green team talked about what it took to become a certified California Green Business. Kong and his colleagues, Lauren Mills and Todd Bell, rid the lab of dangerous chemicals, upgraded the space to more efficient lighting and set up recycling and composting. It wasn’t always easy but we’ve learned one big lesson: once you start going greener in your facility, you will develop a culture of sustainability and everyone will pitch in and embrace the process. It only takes one green champion to raise everyone’s awareness.