Since its inception 25 years ago, ESI Group USA has maintained an experienced staff of over 50 professionals who helped complete nearly 300 projects for food industry leaders like Cargill, Kerry Ingredients, Land O’Frost, McKee Foods, Nestlé USA, Performance Food Group, Patrick Cudahy, Sargento, Sysco, The Bama Cos., US Foods, United Natural Foods (UNFI) and WinCo Foods, among others.

Case in point: ESI Group does more than just provide design-build services to the food process, beverage, grocery, foodservice and public refrigerated warehouse industries.

Whether developing a Greenfield facility, renovating an existing building or planning to execute a facility expansion, this Hartland, Wis.-based design-build architectural, engineering and construction management firm does it all. In fact, its “single-source” approach minimizes the common ordeal that comes with coordinating a project, yet allows customers to be involved in every step of the process.

“We take pride in our history, our work and our long-term client relationships,” says Brad Barke, president. “Our success is driven by avoiding disputes and providing value to help businesses thrive. By managing each project from concept to completion and maintaining a distinguished safety record, we’ve achieved an 85% rate of repeat clients.”

ESI Group has also received numerous awards, including the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin’s (ABC) Gold Award in the General Construction – Industrial category in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015, and again in 2016 for Grifols’ world-class, 83,500-squarefoot, temperature-controlled Plasma Logistics Center. ESI also received ABC’s Silver Award in 2011 and the Platinum Award of Honor for Zero Recordable Accidents in 2013.

How It All Began

Barke worked in construction growing up, and began his career as an estimator for a company called CM, Inc. After working in multiple capacities associated with the manufacturing and installation of insulated metal panels (IMPs) in Southern United States, he returned to the Midwest to setup a manufacturing plant for Insolare Panel Systems, a newly created division Concrete Materials, Inc. Here, he sold IMPs to subcontractors and installers like Delta T Construction, a contractor of cold storage, food processing, warehousing and distribution centers based in Menomonee Falls, Wis. There, he met now-retired Terry Frederikson and John Dohogne, both of who would later become his business partners at ESI Group.

Barke later moved on from Concrete Materials to work for Superior Industries, Columbus, Neb. It was when he was named president of Superior Industries that he saw the shift in the world of design and construction slowly making its way to design-build. That’s when he knew it was the right time to start a design-build firm in the Midwest.

“I took my experiences from other employers and applied them to create the type of business that would thrive. People can make or break a business; you have to be able to work well with others.” –Brad Barke, president

“I took my experiences from other employers and applied them to create the type of business that would thrive,” says Barke. “People can make or break a business; you have to be able to work well with others.”

Meanwhile, Dohogne, fresh out of school, joined Low Temp Insulation, where he met Jeff Bertelson. He worked there for five years before moving back to the Milwaukee area. While working for Low Temp Insulations under Bud Shay, he met Frederiksen. Today, Dohogne is president of ESI Design Services, the architecture/engineering component of ESI Group.

Bertelson’s career began working as an on-site construction superintendent and a construction manager for Low-Temp Insulations and Webber Smith, respectively. Bertelson, vice president of ESI Constructors, joined Barke, Dohogne and Fredericksen in 1995 to help grow Environmental Structures.

In 2006, Environmental Structures reorganized as two teams of accredited food facility specialists consisting of ESI Design Services and ESI Constructors. Together, these teams provide site search and evaluation, process layout, simulation and visualization, facility layout and design, material handling analysis and construction management, as well as experience in low-temperature refrigeration, controlled environments, FDA/USDA/SQF/BRC/AMI/AIB compliance and energy efficient design.

Building from the Ground Up

Design-build is a concept that has gone mainstream since the 1990s, bringing architects, engineers and contractors together, working toward a common goal. ESI Group utilizes the design-build methodology as a way to guarantee delivery on its promises.

In fact, its ESI Group’s attention to detail that secured its now 20-year relationship with US Foods, Rosemont, Ill.

In 1995, Barke placed a phone call to Paul Karpiak, who at the time was vice president of operations for J.P. Foodservices (now US Foods). They discussed a proposed project that was already awarded to another contractor, but told Barke that he could bid on an addition project in Streator, Ill. After winning the Illinois project bid, ESI Group was also awarded another addition project in Fort Wayne, Texas.

esi timeline

ESI Group built its first Greenfield distribution center for US Foods in Oklahoma City, Okla., in 1999. After that, US Foods and ESI Group formed a mutually beneficial partnership that would over time encompass more than 100 projects, including LEED-certified distribution centers, facility conversions, additions, renovations, high-performance culinary innovation centers and truck maintenance facilities with fueling islands.

Designing for Today’s Trends

Unlike years’ past, designing and building a food facility encompasses a lot more than just four walls and a roof. LEED certification, disaster recovery, truck servicing and fueling islands, temperature-controlled doors and panels, Greenfield construction and automated storage and retrieval systems are just some of the trends and technologies paving the way for improved design-build features.

That’s why ESI Group’s goal is to be more design-oriented, according to Barke.

“You can’t build a great building without having a great design,” he adds. “Really concentrating on the design side to improve the construction aspect is key.”

Despite the ever-growing government regulations, trends and technologies have overall changed for the better. For example, plant improvements for vapor barriers and process facility floor types boast enhanced opportunities in temperature-controlled design and construction.

“Housekeeping is a main point of interest for building owners,” says Bertelson. “How rooms are cleaned in order to keep food safe is a constant priority. Product separation, isolation from pre-cooler and transport are critical elements. There is also a huge initiative for animal welfare, which was not a priority when we started.”

Furthermore, enhanced refrigeration controls and equipment help companies improve energy efficiency.

“Control technologies for refrigeration systems result in higher efficiencies. There are improvements in the architectural aesthetics of IMPs. And, there’s a large diversity of doors now available for temperature-controlled spaces,” says Dohogne.

But, it was the introduction of LEED certification that really revamped the design-build industry. Since U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Washington, D.C., unveiled the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification system in March 2011, ESI Group has completed the design of over 2 million square feet of LEED refrigerated facilities, one being the industry’s first LEED-certified, multi-temperature warehouse.

ESI Group maintains more than 15 years’ experience conserving energy, and even incorporated green building concepts into their project designs long before LEED became an industry benchmark. With the launch of version 4, there will now be a category specific for warehouse and distribution centers as well as a continued focus on green design and further emphasis on how facilities perform long-term.

As part of the LEED program ESI Group recycles at the job site by recovering and recycling nearly 100% of all materials vs hauling waste to a landfill. ESI Group also partners with local affiliates to divert as much as 95% of all construction waste from entering landfills, reducing and reusing hundreds of tons of material. The critical thinking involved in these project-specific recycling strategies often leads to overall savings in waste disposal and material costs.

“Even in challenging times, we see food service providers continue to invest in facilities to allow them to offer high-quality products at competitive prices,” Barke says. “Our mission is to continue to offer clients flexible, efficient facilities by utilizing the most innovative methodologies as our standard practices. I view our longevity as an advantage to clients because there isn’t much in the industry we haven’t seen. We also are fortunate to have highly educated personnel who are passionate about their work.”