Randy Shelly, VP of Hospitality at Shawmut Design and Construction, New York, NY


Randy Shelly has worked at Shawmut Design and Construction for the past fourteen years and now serves as Vice President of Shawmut’s Hospitality Group. Randy and his team have spearheaded projects like renovations of Mario Batali’s La Sirena, Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin in addition to working on new Shake Shack locations from Virginia all the way up to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. We spoke to Randy to get his thoughts on his career in construction, how Shawmut has evolved in his time there and the challenges of building and renovating restaurants.

How did you get into the construction business?

I’ve been in construction all my life, since I was sixteen years old. I went to college at Bowling Green State University in a construction management program. I’ve only had two jobs since I graduated from college, one for seventeen years and now I have been with Shawmut for fourteen years. Hopefully I’ll spend my whole career here.

Who are Shawmut’s target clients and how has the company expanded over the years?

We work nationwide with some of the larger chains like Del Frisco’s, Cheesecake Factory and Benihana. However in large part we do high-end restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. The hospitality business also includes hotels and sports venues.

The company has expanded geographically as we now have offices in Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Overall we have stayed true to our core business strategy which is to work in places where we can add value.

La Sirena - Shawmut
Shawmut  recently completed the design of Mario Batali’s new La Sirena in Manhattan’s Chelsea district.  Photo by Shawmut Design and Construction
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What are some of the unique challenges of building a restaurant space?

The mechanical infrastructure, things like grease exhaust, grease traps and natural gas capacity is the biggest thing. A lot of buildings don’t have these things, especially in New York City. If a space is not prepared for a restaurant it can be a great expense to outfit the space.

Additionally we have the challenge of working over finished retail space or finished office space. These are sensitive spaces so we have to be careful with what we are building to make sure nothing leaks into the space below.

What would you say is different about Shawmut’s approach to projects?

We are really trying to differentiate ourselves from competition through the experience we offer. We identify problems before the exist, take preventative measures and communicate with our clients so they know what is going on. For example we have our own waterproofing standards and other requirements that guarantee these spaces won’t have issues down the road. We look out for the client beyond the contractual scope of our job.

Is there a trend toward “green” or sustainable construction in your industry? Is that something that you handle on the construction end as opposed to in design later on?

In some of our other business segments, like academic buildings we have seen movement toward that sort of thing. We have not seen much of it in restaurants. The LEED and green design has as much to do with the ongoing use of the space as it does the construction end, so we don’t see it often in the construction phase.

What advice can you give to restaurant owners who want to build a space? What should they look for in a construction company?

The traditional method is to take the approach of hiring an architect to design a space then bringing it to three or four contractors to get a price. It is known as the competitive bid process and the owner ends up with four bids but they all end up being way over budget. Now they have to go through a process of reducing costs before they hire a contractor, something they did not think they would have to do that takes time and money.

The better way to do it is to hire a contractor at the same time as an architect. That way we can give our input and try to add value. For example, do you really need eight different HVAC zones in your dining room when you could do it in four and save $200,000? If you get a contractor on board early to work with an architect to help manage the budget and get as much value as possible, you’ll be on a better track. Then you can decide if you want to go over budget or not, but at least as an owner your making a conscious decision along the way with input from the contractor.

What are the projects at Shawmut you are most proud of, and what is on the docket for future projects?

One of our favorites is Nobu Fifty Seven which as really stood the test of time. That was over ten years ago and is still one of the hottest spots in Manhattan. Nobu has been a client for a long time; we’ve done projects with them in Malibu, Los Angeles and Texas. We’re doing one now in D.C and then one on Broadway.

Nobu 57 shawmut
Nobu 57. Photo by Shawmut Construction and Design

We’re also doing the new Union Square Cafe with Danny Meyer. Danny has been a long time client. We have done Blue Smoke, Porchlight and Maialino with him.

Maialino Shawmut
Maialino. Photo by Shawmut Design and Construction

Do you see a lot of repeat clients such as Danny Meyer?

About eighty percent of our business is with repeat clients. Our goal is to treat our clients fairly and add value to their projects in order to make them lifelong clients. The other twenty percent represents our new clients as we continue to grow.

Thank you Randy for your insight and knowledge!

You can view Shawmut’s Hospitality Portfolio here at http://www.shawmut.com/portfolio/hospitality/fine-dining