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Steve Carlson


As the leader of our firm, Steve borrows his motto from George S. Patton, who said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” He welcomes dissenting opinions and encourages each person to take on new responsibilities in order to leverage the variety of experiences, perspective and opinions of the whole team. In return, individuals enjoy the freedom to figure out how to get the job done and the responsibility and ownership of a successful project.

Watching them grow with each new design challenge is one of Steve’s favorite parts about his job; giving back is the other. He takes part in community organizations like Share Our Strength, Open Arms, and Second Harvest—where the goals are to deliver meals, feed kids, and end hunger.

Steve discovered foodservice design consulting as an undergraduate and knew it was the ideal fit for his two passions—food and design. He began his career as a draftsman for a stainless steel fabricator in Milwaukee followed by several years with an equipment supplier in Minneapolis, but his goal was to be a designer. He submitted his resume to Bob Rippe three times before he joined our team, clearly demonstrating the importance of persistence. He’s seen a tremendous change in retail food display over the years; back then a salad bar was a really big deal. Deli concepts were just starting, there certainly weren’t bakeries or coffee bars and a pizza station was pretty fancy stuff. Now its action cooking and made to order, which are right up Steve’s alley as a fine food appreciator.

Steve’s collection of restaurant recommendations have led him from Archie’s in LeMars, Iowa for an an excellent Vienna Red Hot to our first international project in Tokyo for sushi. Among his favorite experiences was at Arzak, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world in Spain, where every plate is a work of art. Whether it’s an out of the way hole-in–the-wall or four star dining, there really isn’t anywhere that he wouldn’t go for a good meal.

Which is all to say, Steve really loves food. He loves designing spaces to serve food and the satisfaction of seeing a project come together where everyone’s voice is heard, from the chefs who make it, the people who serve it and their customers who enjoy it. He approaches a project from what is practical, affordable and sustainable. He specializes in projects with short timelines, complicated renovations and large scale projects requiring complex organization and planning. His combination of creativity and sensibility is illustrated through his attention to detail and concern for quality, add that to his extensive industry knowledge and it equals successful designs specific to each project.

The past few years Steve and his wife have been traveling about to sample local cuisine and wineries from Spain to Chile, Argentina and a few spots in between. They also enjoy retreating to their cabin in Wisconsin, spending time hiking and fly fishing, cross country skiing, mountain biking and of course, eating. His definition of success is shown by operators and chefs who feel they designed the space themselves at the end of a project. The ability to listen so well to what his client’s needs are is the reason they keep coming back year after year.