Every kitchen has two things in it: rectangular metal pans known as hotel pans (plus the smaller pans which can fit inside them in configurations of 3, 6 or 9 to a pan). And deli cups, that is, the round plastic containers your delivery Chinese food comes in, which kitchens use to hold everything from rubber bands to leftover truffles. Do you begin to see the problem? Rectangular. Round. As Cary Taylor of The Southern says, "I've got a really small kitchen. How stupid are circles in a kitchen? Circles are beautiful things, but they don't work in kitchens." But where generations of chefs stopped there, Taylor decided to do something about it. And his new line of plastic, rectangular ModPans are set to take the industry by storm by the cool, clear logic of rectangular perfection.
Taylor says the problem with circular deli cups goes beyond just the obvious round-container-in-a-square-fridge problem of inefficiently-used space. "You can't stack them that high before they start to fall over. And they don't hold the same quantity as anything else in the kitchen. I can't tell you how many times I've seen cooks fill up a deli cup and have some sauce or whatever left over and just throw it away. Waste is our biggest enemy in this business."
Taylor looked at consumer-level plastic containers but they weren't the right size and in any case, were far too expensive one by one for restaurant use. "We needed something as cheap as a deli cup," he says. It might have ended there, but Southern owner Jim Lasky had a friend who sells polypropolene resin to the plastics industry, and so Taylor was able to bounce his idea off people who actually knew what they were talking about. Refining the design to include both quart and liter measurements, Taylor went from CAD drawings to a model produced on a 3D printer to having a die made in China. (He also patented them.) When it came to manufacturing, though, Taylor and Lasky decided to keep that local, at least for now, to make it possible to monitor production. The first 1-quart containers are rolling off an injection-molding line in Kenosha right now; 2 and 4-quart ones (equivalent to 6-pan and 3-pan metal containers) will follow in the next few months. "We're in the tool and die capitol of the world, so it made sense to make them where we could keep an eye on them," Taylor says.
The ModPans will be distributed by Trimark Marlinn, and other top distributors have shown interest as well. So does Taylor plan to ever leave cheffing behind to become (as advised in The Graduate) a plastics tycoon? Taylor doesn't think so. "Being a chef is all about working fast, making quick decisions, and when you're done for the night you're done. With manufacturing, everything takes three weeks to do. So you can do it alongside being a chef fairly easily, really."