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Business Observer Friday, May 27, 2016 2 years ago

Front and center

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The race for the best, hippest and most funky-cool office space in the region has a possible winner in a global hospitality company. Rock walls and swings are just the beginning.
by: Steven Benna Staff Writer

Executive Summary
Company. Front Burner Brands Industry. Restaurants, hospitality Key. Company moved into newly renovated office geared toward motivating and retaining employees.

Bob Johnston knows the importance of meeting millennial needs with a modern-feeling office.

Through roundtable-style discussions with employees last January, Johnston, CEO of Tampa-based Front Burner, met with his employees to come up with some common themes of what they wanted in their new headquarters. Front Burner is the management firm behind the Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant franchise with 125 locations in 35 states and worldwide.
The Melting Pot was named the No. 1 casual dining restaurant in Nation's Restaurant News 2015 Consumer Picks report.

The new office space, unveiled at a May 12 event, is the epicenter for the firm's work with franchisees and other entities. The office, on 7886 Woodland Center Blvd., near Waters Avenue, is home to 68 employees, including eight hired this year. The company had $16.2 million in sales last year.

From the employee responses, Johnston compiled six core themes: fun, innovation, respect, excellence, integrity and teamwork. Those are now the six company principles, and are represented in multiple locations officewide.

Johnston hopes the newly renovated space will give Front Burner an attractive workplace and help with recruiting and employee creativity. He's also implemented unique company policies, such as weekly Toto Tuesdays, where one employee can bring their dog into work. “It's been so popular we're adding Thursdays, too,” he says. “It makes people comfortable and at home.”

Front Burner officials declined to disclose how much the project cost. The office, space the firm moved into, jumps on a millennial-office space theme that crosses industries: open floor plans. It creates a collaborative feel and makes more of less. “This building is 11,000 square feet,” Johnston says. “It's 1,500 square feet smaller than our last building, plus we had another 3,000 in an annex in Tampa. But this has the same number of workers as those combined.”

Here are a few of the features of the new Front Burner office:

One key of the renovated Front Burner office that stands out to Johnston: There are no private offices. This was done on purpose, mostly to avoid an environment where people are over-concerned with the size or location of their office. “In that kind of an environment, what your office looks like is supposed to be tied to who you are and your level of import to the company,” Johnston says. “We just don't believe in that. Everyone is equally important and the environment reflects that.”

No area in the redone Front Burner office was designed to serve one singular purpose. That's why there's a conference table and a pool table in the company's kitchen.

The cast iron stove logo has symbolic meaning as the company's logo and metaphorical meaning for Johnston. “It's the hardest working piece of equipment in the restaurant,” he says. “It gets heated and pots get slammed on it all day. But it's a metaphor for the consistent hard work from our team members.”

An at-home feeling at work is a key part of the layout at Front Burner. The front entrance features company logos and three TVs that rotate through photos of employees, their families and their recent travels.

The lounge areas are Johnston's favorite feature of the new office. The cafe-style feel of the lounge areas carry over to the kitchen, creating a space “where you can just huddle up and have these extemporaneous conversations that can result in amazing little sparks of an idea.” And there's a specially segmented section of the office for when those ideas pop up.

These two rooms, referred to by Johnston as the two central brainstorming rooms, have the least amount of technology in a tech-heavy workplace. That's done by design to encourage collaboration, Johnston says. Each room reflects a hemisphere in the brain. “You go in with a spark of an idea, bring in some team members who can help you put some meat on the bone and walk out with something fleshed out,” Johnston says.

An at-home feeling at work is a key part of the layout at Front Burner. The front entrance features company logos and three TVs that rotate through photos of employees, their families and their recent travels.

The cast iron stove logo has symbolic meaning as the company's logo and metaphorical meaning for Johnston. “It's the hardest working piece of equipment in the restaurant,” he says. “It gets heated and pots get slammed on it all day. But it's a metaphor for the consistent hard work from our team members.”

One key of the renovated Front Burner office that stands out to Johnston: There are no private offices. This was done on purpose, mostly to avoid an environment where people are over-concerned with the size or location of their office. “In that kind of an environment, what your office looks like is supposed to be tied to who you are and your level of import to the company,” Johnston says. “We just don't believe in that. Everyone is equally important and the environment reflects that.”

The lounge areas are Johnston's favorite feature of the new office. The cafe-style feel of the lounge areas carry over to the kitchen, creating a space “where you can just huddle up and have these extemporaneous conversations that can result in amazing little sparks of an idea.” And there's a specially segmented section of the office for when those ideas pop up.

These two rooms, referred to by Johnston as the two central brainstorming rooms, have the least amount of technology in a tech-heavy workplace. That's done by design to encourage collaboration, Johnston says. Each room reflects a hemisphere in the brain. “You go in with a spark of an idea, bring in some team members who can help you put some meat on the bone and walk out with something fleshed out,” Johnston says.

No area in the redone Front Burner office was designed to serve one singular purpose. That's why there's a conference table and a pool table in the company's kitchen.

Front Burner's project wall is the place where upcoming tasks and challenges can be publicly posted. “Problems that don't get seen don't get fixed,” Johnston says.

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